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Bull Put Spread: How This Options Strategy Works

By Brian Nibley · October 30, 2022 · 8 minute read

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Bull Put Spread: How This Options Strategy Works

A bull put spread is an options trading strategy that someone may use when they have a moderately bullish view of an asset, meaning they think the price will increase slightly. The strategy allows you to profit from an increase in an underlying asset’s price while limiting losses if an asset’s price declines.

Bull put spreads and options trading are not for everyone, but learning the ins and outs of this strategy may help your financial portfolio.

What Is a Bull Put Spread?

A bull put spread is an options trading strategy that involves buying a put option and selling another put option on the same underlying asset with the same expiration date, but at different strike prices. The trade is considered a neutral-to-bullish strategy, since it’s designed so the maximum benefit occurs when an asset’s price moderately increases.

To execute a bull put spread, a trader will simultaneously sell a put option at a specific strike price (the short leg of the trade) and buy a put option with a lower strike price (the long leg of the trade).

The trader receives a premium for selling the option with a higher strike price but pays a premium for buying the put option with a lower strike price. The premium paid for the long leg put option will always be less than the short leg since the lower strike put is further out of the money. The difference between the premium received and the premium paid is the maximum potential profit in the trade.

The goal of the bull put spread strategy is to finish the trade with the premium earned by selling the put (sometimes referred to as writing a put option) and lose no more than the premium paid for the long put.

A bull put spread options trading strategy is sometimes called a short put spread or a credit put spread.

💡 Recommended: Options Trading 101: An Introduction to Stock Options

How a Bull Put Spread Works

Bull put spreads focus on put options, which are options contracts that give the buyer the right – but not always the obligation – to sell a security at a given price (the strike price) during a set period of time.

The bull put spread strategy earns the highest profit in situations where the underlying stock trades at or above the strike price of the short put option – the put option sold with the higher strike price – upon expiration. This strategy, therefore, works best for assets that the traders of a bull put spread believe will trade slightly upwards.

The strategy provides a way to profit from a stock’s rising price without having to hold shares. An options strategy like this also caps downside risk because the maximum loss is the difference between the strike prices of the two puts minus the net premium received.

Even though the risk is limited, there can still be times when it makes sense to close out the trade.

💡 Recommended: How to Trade Options: An In-Depth Guide for Beginners

Max Profit and Risk

A bull put spread is meant to profit from a rising stock price, time decay, or both. This strategy caps both potential profit and loss, meaning its risk is limited.

The profit of a bull put spread is capped at the premium you receive by selling the short leg of the trade, minus the premium you spent to buy the long leg put option. You achieve this maximum profit if the underlying asset finishes at any price above the strike price of the short leg of the trade.

Maximum profit = premium received for selling put option – premium paid for buying put option

The maximum losses (i.e., the risk) of a bull put spread is the difference between the strike price of the short put option and the strike price of the long put option, minus the net premium you received.

Maximum loss = strike price of short put – strike price of long put – net premium received

The breakeven point of a bull put spread is the price the underlying asset trades at expiration so that the trader will come away even. The breakeven point will equal the difference between the net premiums you receive up front and the strike price of the short put option. At the breakeven, the trader neither makes nor loses money, not including commissions and fees.

Breakeven point = strike price of short put – net premium received

Bull Put Spread Example

Alice would like to use a bull put spread for XYZ stock since she thinks the price will slowly go up a month from now. XYZ is trading at $150 per share. Alice sells a put option for a premium of $3 with a strike price of $150. At the same time, she buys a put option with a premium of $1 and a strike price is $140. Both put options have the same expiration date in a month.

Alice will collect the difference between the two premiums, which is $2 ($3 – $1). Since each option contract is usually for 100 shares of stock, she’d collect a $200 premium when opening the bull put spread.

Maximum Profit

As long as XYZ stock trades at or above $150 at expiration, both puts will expire worthless, and she will keep the $200 premium she received at the start of the trade, minus commissions and fees.

Maximum profit = $3 – $1 = $2 x 100 shares = $200

Maximum Loss

Alice will experience the maximum loss if XYZ stock trades below $140 at expiration, the strike price of the long leg of the trade. In this scenario, Alice will lose $800, plus commissions and fees.

Maximum loss = $150 – $140 – ($3 – $1) = $8 x 100 shares = $800

Breakeven

If XYZ stock trades at $148 at expiration, Alice will lose $200 from the short leg of the trade with the $150 stock price. However, this will be balanced out by the initial $200 premium she received when opening the positioning. She neither makes nor loses money in this scenario, not including commissions and fees.

Breakeven point = $150 – ($3 – $1) = $148

Bull Put Spread Exit Strategy

Often, trades don’t go as planned. If they did, trading would be easy, and everyone would succeed. What sets successful traders apart from the rest of the pack is the ability to make winning trades, mitigate risk, and limit losses.

Having an exit strategy can help by providing a plan to cut losses at a predetermined point, rather than being caught off guard or simply “waiting” and “hoping” that the market turns around in your favor.

An exit strategy may be a little complicated for a bull put spread. Before the expiration date, you may want to exit the trade so you don’t have to buy an asset you may be obligated to purchase because you sold a put option. You may also decide to exit the position if the underlying asset price is falling and you want to limit your losses rather than take the maximum loss.

To close out a bull put spread entirely would require that the trader buy the short put contract to close and sell the long put option to close.

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Pros and Cons of Bull Put Spreads

The following are some of the advantages and disadvantages of bull put spreads:

Bull Put Spread Pros

Bull Put Spread Cons

Protection from downside risk; the maximum loss is known at the start of the trade The gains from the strategy will be limited and may be lower than if the trader bought the underlying asset outright
The potential to profit from a modest decline in the price of the underlying asset price Maximum loss is usually more substantial than the maximum gain
You can tailor the strategy based on your risk profile Difficult trading strategy for novice investors

Impacts of Variables

Several variables impact options prices, and options trading terminology describes how these variables might change in a given position.

Because a bull put spread consists of a short put and a long put, the way specific changes in different variables impact the position can be different than other options positions. Here’s a brief summary.

1. Stock Price Change

A bull put spread does well when the underlying security price rises, making it a bullish strategy. When the price falls, the spread performs poorly. This is known as a position with a “net positive delta.” Delta is an options measurement that refers to how much the price of an option will change as the underlying security price changes. The ratio of a stock’s price change to an option’s price change is not usually one-to-one.

Because a bull put spread is made up of one long put and one short put, the delta often won’t change much as the stock price changes if the time to expiration hasn’t changed. This is known as a “near-zero gamma” trade. Gamma is an estimation of how much the delta of a position will change as the underlying stock price changes.

2. Changes in Volatility

Volatility refers to how much the price of a stock might fluctuate in percentage terms. Implied volatility (IV) is a variable in options prices. Higher volatility usually means higher options prices, assuming other factors stay the same. But a bull put spread changes very little when volatility changes, and everything else remains equal.

This is known as a “near-zero vega” position. Vega measures how much an option price will change when volatility changes, but other factors are unmoved.

3. Time

Time decay refers to the fact that the value of an option declines as expiration draws near. The relationship of the stock price to the strike prices of the two put options will determine how time decay impacts the price of a bull put spread.

If the price of the underlying stock is near or above the strike price of the short put (the option with a higher strike price), then the price of the bull put spread declines (and makes money) as time goes on. This occurs because the short put is closest to being in the money and falls victim to time decay more rapidly than the long put.

But if the stock price is near or below the long put’s strike price (the option with a lower strike price), then the price of the bull spread will increase (and lose money) as time goes on. This occurs because the long put is closer to being in the money and will suffer the effects of time decay faster than the short put.

In cases where the underlying asset’s price is squarely in-between both strike prices, time decay barely affects the price of a bull put spread, as both the long and short puts will suffer time decay at more or less the same rate.

4. Early assignment

American-style options can be exercised at any time before expiration. Writers of a short options position can’t control when they might be required to fulfill the obligation of the contract. For this reason, the risk of early assignment (i.e., the risk of being required to buy the underlying asset per the option contract) must be considered when entering into short positions using options.

In a bull put spread, only the short put has early assignment risk. Early assignment of options usually has to do with dividends, and sometimes short puts can be assigned on the underlying stock’s ex-dividend date (the date someone has to start holding a stock if they want to receive the next dividend payment).

In the money puts with time value that doesn’t match the dividends of the underlying stock are likely to be assigned, as traders could earn more from the dividends they receive as a result of holding the shares than they would from the premium of the option.

For this reason, if the underlying stock price is below the short put’s strike price in a bull put spread, traders may want to contemplate the risk of early assignment. In cases where early assignment seems likely, using an exit strategy of some kind could be appropriate.

Start Investing Today With SoFi

Trading options isn’t easy and can involve significant risk. Many variables are involved in options trading, some of which have been notorious for catching newbie traders by surprise. While we’ve answered the fundamental question “what is a bull put spread” here, new investors looking to implement this strategy will still have a lot to learn.

For investors not quite ready to dive into bull put spreads and other options trading strategies, you can still start building a portfolio with SoFi. With a SoFi Invest® online investment account, you can trade stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with no commissions for as little as $5.

Ready to start investing the simple way? Open a SoFi account today.


Photo credit: iStock/kate_sept2004

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