What Is a Bear Spread?

A bear spread is an options strategy used when one is mildly bearish and wants to maximize profit while minimizing losses. The goal is to net the investor a profit when the price of the underlying security declines. The strategy involves the simultaneous purchase and sale of either puts or calls for the same underlying contract with the same expiration date but at different strike prices.

A bear spread may be contrasted with a bull spread, which is utilized by investors expecting moderate increases in the underlying security.

Key Takeaways

  • A bear spread is a bearish options strategy used when an investor expects a moderate decline in the price of the underlying asset.
  • There are two types of bear spreads that a trader can initiate—a bear put spread and a bear call spread.
  • The strategy involves the simultaneous purchase and sale of either puts or calls for the same underlying contract with the same expiration date but at different strike prices.
  • Bear spreads achieve maximum profit if the underlying asset closes at or below the lower strike price.

Understanding Bear Spreads

The main impetus for an investor to execute a bear spread is that they expect a decline in the underlying security, but not in an appreciable way, and want to either profit from it or protect their existing position. There are two main types of bear spreads that a trader can initiate: a bear put spread and a bear call spread. Both instances would be classified as vertical spreads.

A bear put spread involves simultaneously buying one put, so as to profit from the expected decline in the underlying security, and selling (writing) another put with the same expiry but at a lower strike price to generate revenue to offset the cost of buying the first put. This strategy results in a net debit to the trader's account.

A bear call spread, on the other hand, involves selling (writing) a call to generate income and buying a call with the same expiry but at a higher strike price to limit the upside risk. This strategy results in a net credit to the trader's account.

Bear spreads can also involve ratios, such as buying one put to sell two or more puts at a lower strike price than the first. Because it is a spread strategy that pays off when the underlying declines, it will lose if the market rises. However, the loss will be capped at the premium paid for the spread.

Bear Put Spread

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Bear Put Spread Example

Say that an investor is bearish on stock XYZ when it is trading at $50 per share and believes the stock price will decrease over the next month. The investor can put on a bear put spread by buying a $48 put and selling (writing) a $44 put for a net debit of $1.

The best-case scenario is if the stock price ends up at or below $44. The worst-case scenario is if the stock price ends up at or above $48, options expire worthless and the trader is down the cost of the spread.

  • Break even point = 48 strike - spread cost = $48 - $1 = $47
  • Maximum Profit = ($48 - $44) - spread cost = $4 - $1 = $3
  • Maximum Loss = spread cost = $1

Bear Call Spread Example

One can also use a bear call spread. An investor is bearish on stock XYZ when it is trading at $50 per share and believes the stock price will decrease over the next month. The investor sells (writes) a $44 call and buys a $48 call for a net credit of $3.

If the stock price ends up at or below $44, then the options expire worthless and the trader keeps the spread credit. Conversely, if the stock price ends up at or above $48, then the trader is down the spread credit minus ($44 - $48) amount.

  • Break even point = 44 strike + spread credit = $44 + $3 = $47
  • Maximum Profit = Spread credit = $3
  • Maximum Loss = Spread credit - ($48 - $44) = $3 - $4 = $1

Benefits and Drawbacks of Bear Spreads

Bear spreads are not suited for every market condition. They work best in markets where the underlying asset is falling moderately and not making large price jumps.  Moreover, while bear spreads limit potential losses, they also cap possible gains.

Pros
  • Limits losses


  • Reduces costs of option-writing


  • Works in moderately rising markets

Cons
  • Limits gains


  • Risk of short-call buyer exercising option (bull call spread)