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Short Box (Arbitrage) Options Trading Strategy Explained

Published on Thursday, April 19, 2018 | Modified on Sunday, July 21, 2019

Short Box (Arbitrage)

Short Box (Arbitrage) Options Strategy

Strategy LevelAdvance
Instruments TradedCall + Put
Number of Positions4
Market ViewNeutral
Risk ProfileNone
Reward ProfileLimited
Breakeven Point

Short Box is an arbitrage strategy. It involves selling a Bull Call Spread (1 ITM and I OTM Call) together with the corresponding Bear Put Spread (1 ITM and 1 OTM Put), with both spreads having the same strike prices and expiration dates.

The short box strategy is opposite to Long Box (or Box Spread). It is used when the spreads are overpriced with respect to their combined expiration value.

This strategy is the combination of 2 spreads (4 trades) and the profit/loss calculated together as 1 trade. Note that the 'total cost of the box remain same' irrespective to the price movement of underlying security in any direction. The expiration value of the box spread is actually the difference between the strike prices of the options involved.

The usual box spread look like as below for NIFTY current index value as 10550 (NIFTY Spot Price):

Short Box Orders
OrdersNIFTY Strike Price
Bull Call SpreadSell 1 ITM CallNIFTY18APR10400CE
Buy 1 OTM CallNIFTY18APR 10700CE
Bear Put SpreadSell 1 ITM PutNIFTY18APR10700PE
Buy 1 OTM PutNIFTY18APR10400PE

Note:

  • Call Spread meaning 2 calls, one ITM and one OTM.
  • Put Spread meaning 2 puts, one ITM and one OTM.
  • ITM is 'In the money' and OTM is 'Out of the money'. For Nifty Spot Price at 10550, the 10400 Call Option is ITM and 10700 Call is OTM.
  • Arbitrage strategy is a way to earn small profits with very little or zero risk. In this a trader buys the call and put have the same strike value and expiration The resulting portfolio is delta neutral.

As you see in the above table, this is a delta neutral strategy. The trader is selling and buying equivalent spreads. As long as the price paid for the box is significantly higher than the combined expiration value of the spreads, a riskless profit can be earned. We will discuss this in detail in an example below.

As the profit from the short box is small. In many cases it is offset by the expenses i.e. brokerage and taxes. It's very important to consider the trading cost (brokerage, fee, taxes etc.) before trading in this strategy.

When to use Short Box (Arbitrage) strategy?

Being risks free arbitrage strategy, this strategy can earn better return than earnings in interest from fixed deposits for any investor. The earning from this strategy varies with the strike price chosen by the trader. i.e. Earning from strike price '10400, 10700' will be different from strike price combination of '9800,11000'.

The short box strategy should be used when the component spreads are overpriced in relation to their expiration values. In most cases, the trader has to hold the position till expiry to gain the benefits of the price difference.

Note: If the spreads are underpriced, another strategy named Long Box (or Box Spread) can be used for a profit.

This strategy should be used by advanced traders as the gains are minimal. The brokerage payable when implementing this strategy can take away all the profits. This strategy should only be implemented when the fees paid are lower than the expected profit.

Example

Short Box Example 1

Let's take a simple example of a stock trading at ₹55 (spot price) in June. The option contracts for this stock are available at the following premium:

  • July 50 call - ₹7
  • July 60 call - ₹1.50
  • July 50 put - ₹2
  • July 60 put - ₹7

Lot size: 100 shares in 1 lot

  1. Sell a Bull Call Spread = Sell 'July 50 call' + Buy 'July 60 call'

    Bull Call Spread Cost = (₹7*100) – (₹1.5*100) = ₹550

  2. Sell Bear Put Spread = Sell 'July 60 put' + Buy 'July 50 put'

    Bear Put Spread Cost = (₹7*100) – (₹2*100) = ₹500

The total cost of the box spread is: ₹500 + ₹550 = ₹1050

The expiration value of the box is computed to be: (₹60 - ₹50) x 100 = ₹1000

Profit: ₹1050 - ₹1000 = ₹50

Net Profit = ₹50 - Brokerage - Taxes

In above example, since the total cost of the box spread is higher than its expiration value, a risk-free arbitrage is possible with the short box strategy. Now let's discuss about the possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: Stock price remain unchanged at ₹55

The July 50 put and the July 60 call expire worthless while both the July 50 call and the July 60 put expires in-the-money with ₹500 intrinsic value each. So the total value of the box at expiration is: ₹500 + ₹500 = ₹1000.

Scenario 2: Stock price reaches to ₹60

Only the July 50 call expires in-the-money with ₹1000 in intrinsic value. So the box is still worth ₹1000 at expiration.

Scenario 3: Stock price falls to ₹50

A similar situation as scenario 2 happens but this time it is the July 60 put that expires in-the-money with ₹1000 in intrinsic value while all the other options expire worthless. Still, the box is worth ₹1000.

In all the possible scenarios, the box worth remains at ₹1000 on expiry resulting in profit of ₹50.

Short Box Example 2

Let's take an example of NIFTY Options which is traded in lot size of 75.

Short Box Example for NIFTY Options
Strike PricePremium (₹)Premium Paid (₹)
(Premium * Lot Size of 75)
Bull Call SpreadSell 1 ITM Call10400-182.55-13691.25
Buy 1 OTM Call1070020.351526.25
Bear Put SpreadSell 1 ITM Put10700-174.00-13050.00
Buy 1 OTM Put1040028.002100.00
Total22072.50
Bull Call Spread Cost=(-13691.25+1526.25)-12165.00
Bear Put Spread Cost=(-13050.00+2100.00)-10950.00
Total Box Spread Cost-23115.00
Expiration value of the box=(10400-10700)*75-22500.00
Profit=(-23115.00-22500.00)615
Brokerage + Taxes=8 trades * ₹20 + taxes₹200
Net Profit₹415 (1.8%)

Note the Net Profit changes when you buy options at different the strike price using the same strategy.

Market View - Neutral

The market view for this strategy is neutral. The movement in underlying security doesn't affect the outcome (profit/loss). This arbitrage strategy is to earn small profits irrespective of the market movements in any direction.

Actions

  • Buy Call Option 2
  • Sell Call Option 1
  • Buy Put Option 2
  • Sell Put Option 1 (2>1)

Say for XYZ stock, the component spread is relatively overpriced than its underlying. You can execute execute Short Box strategy by selling 1 ITM Call and 1 ITM Put while buying 1 OTM Call and 1 OTM Put. There is no risk of loss while the profit potential would be the difference between two strike prices minus net premium.

Risk Profile of Short Box (Arbitrage)

None

The Short Box Spread Options Strategy is a relatively risk-free strategy. There is no risk in the overall position because the losses in one spread will be neutralized by the gains in the other spread.

The trades are also risk-free as they are executed on an exchange and therefore cleared and guaranteed by the exchange.

The small risks of this strategy include:

  1. The cost of trading - Some brokers charges high brokerage/fees, which along with the taxes could make the overall loss-making trade.
  2. The box spread can be liquidated by an offsetting transaction easily and transparently on an exchange with minimal loss/profit.

Reward Profile of Short Box (Arbitrage)

Limited

The reward in this strategy is the difference between the total cost of the box spread and its expiration value. Being an arbitrage strategy, the profits are very small.

It's an extremely low-risk options trading strategy.

Advantage of Short Box (Arbitrage)

  1. In short box, you are taking money in, so there's no capital tied up.
  2. This is an Arbitrage strategy. This strategy is to earn small profits with very little or zero risks.

Disadvantage of Short Box (Arbitrage)

  1. It's a professional strategy and not for retail investors. The opportunities are closely monitored by High-Frequency algorithms. These arbitrage opportunities are usually for the high-frequency algorithms and need large pools of money to make it worth it and usually with better brokerage commission schemes.
  2. This strategy has high margin maintenance requirements and in many cases, the trader won't have the margin available to do that.
  3. For retail investors, the brokerage commissions don't make this a viable strategy. Only low-fee traders can take advantage of this.
  4. In theory, this strategy sounds good but in reality, it may not as profits are small.
  5. Locking the box - Trader has to wait until to expiry by keeping the money stuck in the box.

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2 Comments

Shashank P Tripathi
2. Shashank P Tripathi  Jun 18, 2020 00:58 I Like It. | I Don't Like It. | Report Abuse Reply
I am not sure how your calculation showing 22072.50 in total
PCS
1. PCS  Oct 29, 2019 17:50 I Like It. | I Don't Like It. | Report Abuse Reply
The cost of capital of two lots ( both sell side) are to be taken into account while calculating return on investments.








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