Iron Condor Explained

The iron condor is an option trading strategy utilizing two vertical spreads – a put spread and a call spread with the same expiration and four different strikes. A long iron condor is essentially selling both sides of the underlying instrument by simultaneously shorting the same number of calls and puts, then covering each position with the purchase of further out of the money call(s) and put(s) respectively. The converse produces a short iron condor.

The position is so named because of the shape of the profit/loss graph, which loosely resembles a large-bodied bird, such as a condor. In keeping with this analogy, traders often refer to the inner options collectively as the "body" and the outer options as the "wings". 

The word iron in the name of this position indicates that, like an iron butterfly, this position is constructed using both calls and puts, by combining a bull put spread with a bear call spread. The combination of these two credit spreads makes the long iron condor (and the long iron butterfly) a credit spread, despite the fact that it is "long." 

This distinguishes the position from a plain Condor position (and the plain Butterfly), which would be constructed with all calls or all puts, by combining either a bull call spread with a bear call spread or a bull put spread with a bear put spread. Because the long, plain Condor (and Butterfly) combine a debit spread with a credit spread, that overall position is instead entered at a net debit (though usually small).

One of the practical advantages of an iron condor over a single vertical spread (a put spread or call spread), is that the initial and maintenance margin requirements[2] for the iron condor are often the same as the margin requirements for a single vertical spread, yet the iron condor offers the profit potential of two net credit premiums instead of only one. This can significantly improve the potential rate of return on capital risked when the trader doesn't expect the underlying instrument's spot price to change significantly.

Another practical advantage of the iron condor is that if the spot price of the underlying is between the inner strikes towards the end of the option contract, the trader can avoid additional transaction charges by simply letting some or all of the options contracts expire. If the trader is uncomfortable, however, with the proximity of the underlying's spot price to one of the inner strikes and/or is concerned about pin risk, then the trader can close one or both sides of the position by first re-purchasing the written options and then selling 

The formula for calculating maximum loss is given below:

  • Max Loss = Strike Price of Long Call - Strike Price of Short Call - Net Premium Received + Commissions Paid
  • Max Loss Occurs When Price of Underlying >= Strike Price of Long Call OR Price of Underlying <= Strike Price of Long Put