What Is Gamma Neutral?

A gamma neutral options position is one that has been immunized to large moves in an underlying security. Achieving a gamma neutral position is a method of managing risk in options trading by establishing an asset portfolio whose delta's rate of change is close to zero even as the underlying rises or falls. This is known as gamma hedging. A gamma-neutral portfolio is thus hedged against second-order time price sensitivity.

Gamma is one of the "options Greeks" along with delta, rho, theta, and vega. These are used to assess the different types of risk in options portfolios.

Key Takeaways

  • A gamma neutral portfolio is an options position that does not change its delta even if the underlying security moves significantly up or down.
  • This is achieved by adding additional options contracts to a portfolio, usually in contrast to the current position in a process known as gamma hedging.
  • Delta-gamma hedging is often used to lock in profits by creating a gamma-neutral position that is also delta-neutral.

Understanding Gamma Neutrality

The directional risk of an options portfolio can be managed through delta hedging, creating a delta neutral, or directionally ambivalent portfolio. The issue is that an option's delta itself will change as the price of the underlying moves, meaning that a delta neutral position could gain or lose deltas and become a directional bet, especially if the underlying moves substantially. Gamma hedging tries to neutralize such a change in the delta.

A gamma neutral portfolio can be created by taking positions with offsetting gamma values. This helps to reduce variations due to changing market prices and conditions. A gamma neutral portfolio is still subject to risk, however. For example, if the assumptions used to establish the portfolio turns out to be incorrect, a position that is supposed to be neutral may turn out to be risky. Furthermore, the position has to be rebalanced as prices change and time passes. Gamma neutral options strategies can be used to create new security positions or to adjust an existing one. The goal is to use a combination of options leaving the overall gamma value as close to zero as possible. At a value near zero, the delta value should not move when the price of the underlying security moves.

Note that if the goal is to achieve a durable, delta neutral strategy one would employ delta-gamma hedging. But, alternatively, a trader may want to maintain a specific delta position, in which it could be delta positive (or negative) but gamma neutral.

Locking in profits is a popular use for gamma neutral positions. If a period of high volatility is be expected and an options trading position has made a good profit to date, instead of locking in the profits by selling the position, thus reaping no further rewards, a delta neutral gamma neutral hedge can effectively seal in the profits.

Gamma Neutral vs. Delta Neutral

A simple delta hedge could be created by purchasing call options and shorting a certain number of shares of the underlying stock at the same time. If the stock's price remains the same but volatility rises, the trader may profit unless time value erosion destroys those profits. A trader could add a short call with a different strike price to the strategy to offset time value decay and protect against a large move in delta; adding that second call to the position is a gamma hedge.

As the underlying stock rises and falls in value, an investor may buy or sell shares in the stock if they wish to keep the position neutral. This can increase the trade's volatility and costs. Delta and gamma hedging don't have to be completely neutral, and traders may adjust how much positive or negative gamma they are exposed to over time.