How to Trade Options in Bear Market

Bear markets reflect slowing economic growth and corporate financial problems. Fearful traders panic and dump their holdings at a loss, which pushes stock prices down further and ignites a fresh round of selling. Investors can use several bear-option strategies to profit from a market-wide selling frenzy.

Step 1

Buying put options is a straightforward bear strategy with low risk/high reward potential. The goal is for the stock price to drop below the put option strike price so the option is in the money prior to expiration. The amount of risk is limited to the option price plus the commission. For example, a stock is trading at $45 a share. You buy an out-of-the-money put with a strike price of $40 for $3 multiplied by the 100 stock shares one option controls, for a total cost of $300. You profit when the stock trades below $40 a share before the option expires.

Step 2

Trading bear put spreads limits your loss while providing a good return. The trade works by buying an in-the-money put and simultaneously selling an out-of-the-money put. The maximum profit is reached when the stock closes below the out-of-the-money put prior to expiration. The maximum loss is the amount you pay to enter the trade plus commission. Looking at another example, a stock is trading at $28 a share. You buy an in-the-money put with a strike price of $30 for $20 and simultaneously sell an out-of-the-money put with a strike price of $25 for $17, for a net debit of $300 ($20-$17=$3 x 100=$300). If the stock price remains below the $25 strike price of the short put at expiration, your profit is the difference between the strike prices minus the cost to enter the trade: Strike prices of $30 - $25 = $5 x 100 = $500 minus the net debit of $300 = $200 profit less commission.

Step 3

Collect money upfront by trading a low-risk bear call spread. The profit is the premium paid by selling out-of-the-money calls while simultaneously buying in-the-money calls. The out-of-the-money calls act as insurance in case the market moves against you and limits your loss to the difference between the strike prices less commission. For example, a stock is trading at $27 a share. You sell one $30 out-of-the-money call for $100 and buy one $25 in-the-money call for $200 at a cost of $100. Subtract the difference between the strike prices: $30 - $25 = $5 x 100=$500 minus the $100 cost for a net credit of $400 less commission. As long as the stock price remains below the $30 higher strike price, you have a profit.

Items you will need

  • Online options trading account

Tip

  • One option controls 100 stock shares, so multiply the put or call option price times 100 to get the total buy or sell cost.

Warning

  • Bear markets have brief rallying periods before continuing their downward march. Monitor your option trades and have an exit strategy in place.

Photo Credits

  • George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

About the Author

Based in St. Petersburg, Fla., Karen Rogers covers the financial markets for several online publications. She received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of South Florida.

Zacks Investment Research

is an A+ Rated BBB

Accredited Business.