In options trading, a box spread is a combination of positions that has a certain (i.e. riskless) payoff, considered to be simply “delta neutral interest rate position”. For example, a bull spread constructed from calls (e.g. long a 50 call, short a 60 call) combined with a bear spread constructed from puts (e.g. long a 60 put, short a 50 put) has a constant payoff of the difference in exercise prices (e.g. 10) assuming that the underlying stock does not go ex-dividend before the expiration of the options. If the underlying asset has a dividend of x, then the settled value of the box will be 10+x. Under the no arbitrage assumption, the net premium paid out to acquire this position should be equal to the present value of the payoff.
They are often called “alligator spreads” because the commissions eat up all your profit due to the large number of trades required for most box spreads.
The box-spread usually combines two pairs of options; its name derives from the fact that the prices for these options form a rectangular box in two columns of a quotation.
A similar trading strategy specific to futures trading is also known as a box or double butterfly spread.
An arbitrage operation may be represented as a sequence which begins with zero balance in an account, initiates transactions at time t = 0, and unwinds transactions at time t = T so that all that remains at the end is a balance whose value B will be known for certain at the beginning of the sequence. If there were no transaction costs then a non-zero value for B would allow an arbitrageur to profit by following the sequence either as it stands if the present value of B is positive, or with all transactions reversed if the present value of B is negative. However, market forces tend to close any arbitrage windows which might open; hence the present value of B is usually insufficiently different from zero for transaction costs to be covered. This is considered typically to be a “Market Maker/ Floor trader” strategy only, due to extreme commission costs of the multiple-leg spread. If the box is for example 20 dollars as per lower example getting short the box anything under 20 is profit and long anything over, has hedged all risk .
To what extent are the various instruments introduced above traded on exchanges? Chaput and Ederington, surveyed Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s market for options on Eurodollar futures. For the year 1999–2000 they found that some 25% of the trading volume was in outright options, 25% in straddles and vertical spreads (call-spreads and put-spreads), and about 5% in strangles. Guts constituted only about 0.1%, and box-spreads even less (about 0.01%). [Ratio spreads took more than 15%, and about a dozen other instruments took the remaining 30%. This is considered typically to be a “Market Maker/Floor trader” strategy only, due to extreme commission costs of the multiple leg spread. If the box is for example 20 dollars as per lower example getting short the box anything under 20 is profit and long anything over, has hedged all risk. In 2019, the online-only brokerage Robinhood changed its risk management policy due to a box spread suffering assignment risk from Reddit user 1R0NYMAN.
- ^Claussen, Steve (10 December 2010). “An Important Word of Caution on Short Box-Spread Trades!”. Nasdaq.
- ^Langlois, Shawn (22 January 2019). “Trader says he has ‘no money at risk,’ then promptly loses almost 2,000%”. MarketWatch.
Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder of TBIL.co STATX Fund.