Options Blueprint Series: Leveraging Diagonals with Corn Futures

CBOT_DL:ZC1!   Corn Futures
Introduction to Corn Futures (CBOT)

Corn Futures, central to the commodities market, are traded on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). These futures contracts are standardized agreements to buy or sell 5,000 bushels of corn, providing traders with a mechanism to hedge against price changes or to be exposed to future price movements in the agricultural sector.

Contract Specifications:
  • Contract Size: 5,000 bushels
  • Quotation: Cents per bushel
  • Minimum Tick Size: ¼ cent per bushel, equivalent to $12.50 per contract
  • Trading Hours: Sunday to Friday, electronic trading from 7:00 PM to 7:45 AM CT, and Monday to Friday, daytime trading from 8:30 AM to 1:20 PM CT
  • Contract Months: March, May, July, September, December, with additional serial months providing year-round trading opportunities
  • Margin Requirements: Margins are set by the exchange and can vary, with initial margins typically being a fraction of the contract value to secure a position ($1,300 at the time of this publication)

The liquidity and volume in Corn Futures make them an attractive market for traders. Factors influencing corn prices include weather patterns affecting crop yields, global supply and demand dynamics, and changes in energy prices due to corn's role in ethanol production.

Understanding Diagonal Spreads

Diagonal Spreads are a sophisticated options strategy that involves simultaneously buying and selling options of the same type (either calls or puts) with different strike prices and expiration dates. This approach is designed to leverage the time decay (theta) and volatility differences between contracts, making it particularly suitable for markets with expected directional moves and distinct volatility characteristics, like Corn Futures.

Key Components:
  • Long Leg: Involves buying an option with a longer expiration date. This option acts as the foundational position, typically chosen to be in-the-money (ITM) to capitalize on intrinsic value while also benefiting from time decay at a slower rate due to its longer duration.
  • Short Leg: Consists of selling an option with a shorter expiration date and a different strike price, usually out-of-the-money (OTM). This leg generates immediate income from the premium received, which helps offset the cost of the long leg.

Strategic Advantages:
  • Directional Flexibility: Diagonal spreads can be tailored to bullish or bearish outlooks depending on the selection of calls or puts, strikes and expirations.
  • Time Decay Harnessing: By selling a shorter-term option, the strategy aims to benefit from the rapid acceleration of time decay on the sold option, improving the position's overall theta.

Given the cyclical nature of the agricultural sector and the specific factors influencing corn prices, diagonal spreads offer a strategic method to trade Corn Futures options. They provide a balance between long-term market views and short-term income generation through premium collection on the short leg.

Application of Diagonal Spreads to Corn Futures

In applying Diagonal Spreads to Corn Futures, we focus on a bearish strategy to capitalize on an anticipated gap fill below the current price level. This strategic choice is driven by the analysis of Corn Futures' price action, indicating potential downward movement. A bearish diagonal spread can be particularly effective in such scenarios, offering the flexibility to benefit from both time decay and directional movement.

Bearish Diagonal Spread Setup:
  1. Long Leg (Buy Put): Select a put option with a longer expiration date to serve as the foundation of your bearish position. Choose a strike price that is at-the-money or in-the-money (ATM/ITM) to ensure intrinsic value.
  2. Short Leg (Sell Put): Sell a put option with a shorter expiration date at a lower strike price that is out-of-the-money (OTM).

Trade Example:
  • Assumption: Corn Futures are trading at 434 cents per bushel.
  • Long Put: Buy a 47-day put option with a strike price of 435 cents, paying a premium of 7.49 cents per bushel ($374.5 – point value =$50).
  • Short Put: Sell a 19-day put option with a strike price of 415 cents, receiving a premium of 1.01 cents per bushel ($50.5 – point value =$50).

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

The goal is for Corn Futures to decline towards the 415-cent level (origin of the gap).

Risk Considerations: While diagonal spreads can offer controlled risk (premium paid = 6.48 = 7.49 – 1.01 = $324 – point value =$50) and strategic flexibility, it's crucial to be mindful of the potential for loss, particularly if the market moves sharply in an unintended direction. Employing risk management techniques can help mitigate these risks:
  • Adjustments and Rolls: Proactively manage the position by adjusting or rolling the short leg to a different strike price or expiration date in response to market movements or changes in volatility. This can help collect additional premium and potentially offset losses on the long leg.
  • Use of Stop Losses: Implement stop-loss orders based on predefined risk tolerance levels. This could be set as a percentage of the initial investment or based on the technical levels in Corn Futures prices.
  • Diversification: While not specific to the strategy, diversifying your portfolio beyond just Corn Futures options can help manage overall market risk. Different markets may react differently to the same economic indicators or geopolitical events, spreading your risk exposure.
  • Regular Monitoring: Given the dynamic nature of Corn Futures and the options market, regular monitoring is crucial. Stay informed about market conditions, news impacting agricultural commodities, and changes in volatility that could affect your position.

Diagonal spreads in Corn Futures offer a strategic avenue for traders looking to exploit market conditions and time decay with a defined risk profile. However, the key to successful implementation lies in diligent risk management, including making informed adjustments, employing diversification, and maintaining a disciplined approach to monitoring and exiting positions.


In this edition of the Options Blueprint Series, we explored the strategic application of Diagonal Spreads to Corn Futures traded on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). This advanced options strategy offers traders a nuanced approach to potentially capitalize on market movements, leveraging the inherent time decay of options to enhance potential returns.

Employing Diagonal Spreads allows traders to express a directional bias—bearish, in our case study—while managing the investment's risk profile through a combination of long-term and short-term options. By buying a longer-dated, in-the-money put and selling a shorter-dated, out-of-the-money put, traders can set up a position that benefits from both the expected downward movement towards a gap fill and the accelerated time decay of the sold option.
However, as with any sophisticated trading strategy, understanding and managing the associated risks is paramount. Directional risks, volatility changes, and the potential for early assignment on the short leg require vigilant management and a readiness to adjust the position as market conditions evolve.

By adhering to disciplined risk management practices—such as making timely adjustments, employing stop losses, and maintaining portfolio diversification—traders can seek to navigate the complexities of the options market and aim for consistent, strategic gains.
The Corn Futures market, with its dynamic price movements influenced by a range of factors from weather to global supply and demand dynamics, provides a fertile ground for applying Diagonal Spreads. Traders who invest the time to understand both the underlying market and the intricacies of this options strategy may find themselves well-positioned to exploit opportunities that arise from market volatility.

In summary, Diagonal Spreads present a strategic option for traders looking to leverage market insights and options mechanics in pursuit of their trading objectives. As always, education and practice are key to mastering these techniques, with paper trading offering a risk-free way to hone one's skills before venturing into live markets.

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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