Risk Reversal

What is a Risk Reversal?

A risk reversal is a hedging strategy that protects a long or short position by using put and call options. This strategy protects against unfavorable price movements in the underlying position but limits the profits that can be made on that position. If an investor is long a stock, they could create a short risk reversal to hedge their position by buying a put option and selling a call option.

In foreign exchange (FX) trading, risk reversal is the difference in implied volatility between similar call and put options, which conveys market information used to make trading decisions. 

Risk Reversal Explained

Risk reversals, also known as protective collars, have a purpose to protect or hedge an underlying position using options. One option is bought and another is written. The bought option requires the trader to pay a premium, while the written option produces premium income for the trader. This income reduces the cost of the trade, or even produces a credit. While the written option reduces the cost of the trade (or produces a credit), it also limits the profit that can be made on the underlying position.

Risk Reversal Mechanics

If an investor is short an underlying asset, the investor hedges the position with a long risk reversal by purchasing a call option and writing a put option on the underlying instrument. If the price of the underlying asset rises, the call option will become more valuable, offsetting the loss on the short position. If the price drops, the trader will profit on their short position in the underlying, but only down to the strike price of the written put.

If an investor is long an underlying instrument, the investor shorts a risk reversal to hedge the position by writing a call and purchasing a put option on the underlying instrument. If the price of the underlying drops, the put option will increase in value, offsetting the loss in the underlying. If the price of the underlying rises, the underlying position will increase in value but only up to the strike price of the written call.

Risk Reversal and Foreign Exchange Options

A risk reversal in forex trading refers to the difference between the implied volatility of out of the money (OTM) calls and OTM puts. The greater the demand for an options contract, the greater its volatility and its price. A positive risk reversal means the volatility of calls is greater than the volatility of similar puts, which implies more market participants are betting on a rise in the currency than on a drop, and vice versa if the risk reversal is negative. Thus, risk reversals can be used to gauge positions in the FX market and convey information to make trading decisions.

Key Takeaways

  • A risk reversal hedges a long or short position using put and call options.
  • A risk reversal protects against unfavorable price movement but limits gains.
  • Holders of a long position short a risk reversal by writing a call option and purchasing a put option.
  • Holders of a short position go long a risk reversal by purchasing a call option and writing a put option.
  • FX traders refer to risk reversal as the difference in implied volatility between similar call and put options.

Real World Example of a Risk Reversal

Say Sean is long General Electric Company (GE) at $11 and wants to hedge his position, he could initiate a short risk reversal. Let’s assume the stock currently trades near $11. Sean could buy a $10 put option and sell a $12.50 call option.

Since the call option is OTM, the premium received will be less than the premium paid for the put option. Thus, the trade will result in a debit. Under this scenario, Sean is protected against any price moves below $10, because below this, the put option will offset further losses in the underlying. If the stock price rises, Sean only profits on the stock position up to $12.50, at which point the written call will offset any further gains in the General Electric’s share price.

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