Options Blueprint Series: Perfecting the Butterfly Spread

NYMEX_DL:CL1!   Light Crude Oil Futures
Introduction to the Butterfly Spread Strategy

A Butterfly Spread is an options strategy combining bull and bear spreads (calls or puts), with a fixed risk and capped profit potential. This strategy involves three strike prices, typically employed when little market movement is expected. It's an excellent fit for the highly liquid energy sector, particularly CL WTI Crude Oil Futures Options, where traders seek to capitalize on stability or minor price fluctuations.

Understanding CL WTI Crude Oil Futures Options

WTI (West Texas Intermediate) Crude Oil Futures are one of the world's most traded energy products. These futures are traded on the NYMEX and are highly regarded for their liquidity and transparency. The introduction of Micro WTI Crude Oil Futures has further democratized access to oil markets, allowing for more granular position management and lower capital requirements.

Key Contract Specifications for Crude Oil Futures:
  • Standard Crude Oil Futures (CL)
  • Contract Size: Each contract represents 1,000 barrels of crude oil.
  • Price Quotation: Dollars and cents per barrel.
  • Trading Hours: 24 hours a day, Sunday-Friday, with a 60-minute break each day.
  • Tick Size: $0.01 per barrel, equivalent to a $10.00 move per contract.
  • Product Code: CL

Micro Crude Oil Futures (MCL):
  • Contract Size: Each contract represents 100 barrels of crude oil, 1/10th the size of the standard contract.
  • Price Quotation: Dollars and cents per barrel.
  • Trading Hours: Mirrors the standard CL futures for seamless market access.
  • Tick Size: $0.01 per barrel, equivalent to a $1.00 move per contract.
  • Product Code: MCL

Options on Crude Oil Futures: Options on WTI Crude Oil Futures offer traders the ability to hedge price risk or speculate on the price movements. These options provide the flexibility of exercising into futures positions upon expiration.

Constructing a Butterfly Spread

The essence of a Butterfly Spread lies in its construction: It involves buying one in-the-money (ITM) option, selling two at-the-money (ATM) options, and buying one out-of-the-money (OTM) option. For CL WTI Crude Oil Futures Options, this could translate into buying an ITM call or put, selling two ATM calls or puts, and buying an OTM call or put, all with the same expiration date. The goal is to profit from the premium decay of the ATM options faster than the ITM and OTM options, especially as the futures price gravitates towards the middle strike price.

Using call options would typically generate positive delta making the strategy slightly bullish. Using put options would typically generate negative delta making the strategy slightly bearish.

  1. Selection of Strike Prices: Identify suitable ITM, ATM, and OTM strike prices based on current crude oil futures prices and expected market movement. (The below chart example uses Support and Resistance UFO price levels to determine the optimal Strike Selection.)
  2. Determine Expiration: Choose an expiration date that balances time decay with your market outlook.
  3. Manage Premiums: The premiums paid and received for these options should result in a net debit, establishing your maximum risk.

Advantages and Risks

  • Defined Risk: The maximum potential loss is known at the trade's outset, limited to the net debit of establishing the spread.
  • Profit Potential: Profits are maximized if the futures price is at the middle strike at expiration.
  • Flexibility: Suitable for various market conditions, especially in a range-bound market.

  • Limited Profit: The strategy caps the maximum profit, which is achieved under very specific conditions.
  • Commission Costs: Multiple legs mean higher transaction costs, which can erode profits.
  • Complexity: Requires careful planning and monitoring, making it less suitable for novice traders.

The construction of a Butterfly Spread in the context of CL WTI Crude Oil Futures Options highlights the strategic depth required to navigate the volatile energy market. Meanwhile, understanding its advantages and inherent risks equips traders with the knowledge to apply this strategy effectively, balancing the potential for profit against the complexity and costs involved.

Market Scenarios and Butterfly Spread Performance

The performance of a Butterfly Spread in CL WTI Crude Oil Futures Options is highly contingent on market stability and slight fluctuations. Given crude oil's propensity for volatility, identifying periods of consolidation or mild trend is crucial for this strategy's success.

  • Neutral Market Conditions: Ideal for a Butterfly Spread, where prices oscillate within a narrow range around the ATM strike price.
  • Volatility Impact: Sudden spikes or drops in crude oil prices can move the market away from the strategy's profitable zone, reducing its effectiveness.

Understanding these scenarios helps in planning entry and exit strategies, aligning them with expected market movements and historical price behavior within the crude oil market.

Executing the Strategy

Executing a Butterfly Spread involves precise timing and adherence to a pre-defined risk management plan. The entry point is critical, often timed with expected market stagnation or minor fluctuations.

  • Entry Criteria: Initiate the spread when volatility is expected to decrease, or ahead of market events predicted to have a muted impact.
  • Adjustments: If the market moves unfavorably, adjustments can be made, such as rolling out the spread to a further expiration or adjusting strike prices.
  • Exit Strategy: The ideal exit is at expiration, with the futures price at the ATM option's strike. However, taking early profits or cutting losses based on predefined criteria can optimize outcomes.

Case Study: Applying Butterfly Spread to Crude Oil Market

Let's explore a hypothetical scenario where a trader employs a Butterfly Spread in anticipation of a stable WTI Crude Oil market. The futures are trading at $80.63 per barrel. The trader expects the price to move down slowly due to mixed market signals even though key support and resistance (UFOs) price levels would indicate a potential fall.

As seen on the below screenshot, we are using the CME Group Options Calculator in order to generate fair value prices and Greeks for any options on futures contracts.

Underlying Asset: WTI Crude Oil Futures or Micro WTI Crude Oil Futures (Symbol: CL1! or MCL1!)
  • Strategy Setup:
    Buy 1 ITM put option with a strike price of $82.5 (Cost: $3.00 per barrel)
    Sell 2 ATM put options with a strike price of $78 (Credit: $0.92 per barrel each)
    Buy 1 OTM put option with a strike price of $73.5 (Cost: $0.24 per barrel)
  • Net Debit: $1.40 per barrel ($3.00 - $0.92 - $0.92 + $0.24)
  • Maximum Profit: Achieved if crude oil prices are at $78 at expiration.
  • Maximum Risk: Limited to the net debit of $1.40 per barrel.

Over the following days/weeks, crude oil prices could fluctuate mildly due to competing factors in the market but ultimately close at $78 at the options' expiration. The trader's maximum profit scenario is realized, demonstrating the strategy's effectiveness in a stable market.

Risk Management Considerations

Executing a Butterfly Spread or any options strategy without a robust risk management plan is perilous.

The following considerations are essential for traders:
  • Use of Stop Loss Orders: To mitigate losses in unexpected market moves.
  • Hedging: Employing alternative positions to protect against adverse price movements.
  • Defined Risk Exposure: Always know the maximum potential loss before entering any trade.
  • Market Analysis: Continuous monitoring and analysis of the crude oil market for signs that may necessitate strategy adjustment.


The Butterfly Spread is a nuanced strategy that, when applied carefully, can offer traders of CL WTI Crude Oil Futures Options a means to capitalize on relatively slow market moves. While the potential for profit is capped, so is the risk, making it an attractive option for those with a precise market outlook. It exemplifies the strategic depth available to options traders, allowing for profit in less volatile market conditions.

When charting futures, the data provided could be delayed. Traders working with the ticker symbols discussed in this idea may prefer to use CME Group real-time data plan on TradingView: This consideration is particularly important for shorter-term traders, whereas it may be less critical for those focused on longer-term trading strategies.

General Disclaimer:
The trade ideas presented herein are solely for illustrative purposes forming a part of a case study intended to demonstrate key principles in risk management within the context of the specific market scenarios discussed. These ideas are not to be interpreted as investment recommendations or financial advice. They do not endorse or promote any specific trading strategies, financial products, or services. The information provided is based on data believed to be reliable; however, its accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed. Trading in financial markets involves risks, including the potential loss of principal. Each individual should conduct their own research and consult with professional financial advisors before making any investment decisions. The author or publisher of this content bears no responsibility for any actions taken based on the information provided or for any resultant financial or other losses.

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