Know What You Own: Options-Based Hedging Strategies
Understanding the Diversity of Options Strategies
Options-based strategies have seen a lot of recent growth in both assets under management and number of products available.
To keep pace with the growth of options-based strategies, Morningstar released a new category called “Options-Based” to encompass those mutual funds and ETFs that heavily use options.
The Morningstar Options-Based Category
Morningstar defines the Options-Based category as funds where options are a central component of their investments strategies and where trading options may introduce “asymmetric return properties to an equity investment portfolio.” It goes further to list the variety of strategies: “put writing, covered call writing, option spread, options-based hedged-equity, and collar strategies.”
While the addition of this category is certainly a step forward and a welcome development, we believe the category can be further divided into distinct sub-categories.
Three Subcategories of Options-Based Funds
The potential to mix and match different option positions and core holdings provides an almost limitless range of profit/loss scenarios, it helps to classify option strategies into one of three sub-categories, namely:
- Hedging strategies
- Income strategies
- Alpha/trading strategies
While no classification system is perfect, most options strategies will fall into one of these primary categories. But more importantly, these categories are defined by what the strategy is trying to achieve.
This post will discuss the options-based hedging strategy with future posts focusing on the other two.
Options-Based Hedging Strategies
Hedging strategies are defined as having a core, long portfolio but also taking active steps to hedge downside market risk via options. Investopedia defines a hedge as “an investment to reduce the risk of adverse price movements in an asset. Normally, a hedge consists of taking an offsetting position in a related security.” In our opinion, options are an ideal instrument for removing price risk from a portfolio.
It is important to note that many strategies include the term “hedge” in their name but might not be directly reducing market risk. For this subclassification, we are limiting our definition of hedging strategies to those that explicitly seek to offset market risk.
Variations within the Category
Within this category, there may be variability since there are many ways to implement a hedging strategy. Some elements that can affect each strategy are:
- the inclusion of additional trades to offset the hedging cost
- where the levels of hedge protection are set
- the amount spent on hedging
- time to expiration of the hedges used
- if the strategy is always hedged or on a “risk-on/risk-off” approach
These variables will undoubtedly lead to a dispersion of results within the sub-category. For example, of the 38% that could be quantified as hedged equity (24 funds), only six funds appear to utilize puts expiring between 120 days and 365 days out, while four funds (all Swan) use puts expiring greater than 365 days out. Fourteen funds utilize shorter-term hedging of less than 120 days and six funds use put spreads to hedge (limited protection).
The time to expiration and type of hedge will have a great impact on how each of these funds will perform during a bear market. If the bear market extends beyond 120 days, most could run into a very cost prohibitive hedging environment.
When It Works
Hedging strategies do best when markets sell off. After all, that is what hedging is designed to do. Generally speaking, the bigger the sell-off, the more valuable the hedges become. Given the fact that correlations tend to spike across most asset classes and strategies during a true market rout, direct, explicit hedging is one of the best ways to offset market risk.
Possible Risks and Drawbacks
Lag in an Upward Market
The drawback to a hedging strategy is that it will likely lag in an upward market. If the hedge is expected to rise in value if the market falls, then it stands to reason the hedge should fall in value if the market rises. This can cause investors to view the hedge as a “cost” during upward markets.
Price Paid for the Hedge
Another risk to hedging strategies is the price paid for the hedge. The price of hedging is driven by supply and demand. During times of complacency, hedging can be cheap. However, when markets start selling off and investors panic, the price of hedging can skyrocket. A good hedging strategy should anticipate the price of hedging will increase when hedging is most needed and have a plan to accommodate that outcome.
If one owns a hedge that is designed to pay off handsomely if the value of an asset falls, one should be sure that the counterparty in the agreement is in a position to pay. This risk was realized during the Global Financial Crisis, when some hedges were endangered by the counterparty’s inability to meet their contractual obligations. Since the GFC, there has been a big push for hedging and derivative contracts to move to exchanges where the terms are standardized, and the backing is provided by clearinghouses.
Finding the Strategy that Fits
Options-based strategies can be quite diverse and one of the best ways to make sense of them is to identify their objectives, benefits, and risks. Each strategy has different objectives and risk/return characteristics and understanding this will help advisors and investors make better informed decisions about which strategies to include in their financial plans.
In the next two posts, I will dive deeper into income strategies and alpha/trading strategies.
About the Author
Marc Odo, CFA®, CAIA®, CIPM®, CFP®, Client Portfolio Manager, is responsible for helping clients and prospects gain a detailed understanding of Swan’s Defined Risk Strategy, including how it fits into an overall investment strategy. Formerly, Marc was the Director of Research at Zephyr Associates for 11 years.
Important Notes and Disclosures
Swan Global Investments, LLC is a SEC registered Investment Advisor that specializes in managing money using the proprietary Defined Risk Strategy (“DRS”). SEC registration does not denote any special training or qualification conferred by the SEC. Swan offers and manages the DRS for investors including individuals, institutions and other investment advisor firms. Any historical numbers, awards and recognitions presented are based on the performance of a (GIPS®) composite, Swan’s DRS Select Composite, which includes non-qualified discretionary accounts invested in since inception, July 1997, and are net of fees and expenses. Swan claims compliance with the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®).
All Swan products utilize the Defined Risk Strategy (“DRS”), but may vary by asset class, regulatory offering type, etc. Accordingly, all Swan DRS product offerings will have different performance results due to offering differences and comparing results among the Swan products and composites may be of limited use. All data used herein; including the statistical information, verification and performance reports are available upon request. The S&P 500 Index is a market cap weighted index of 500 widely held stocks often used as a proxy for the overall U.S. equity market. Indexes are unmanaged and have no fees or expenses. An investment cannot be made directly in an index. Swan’s investments may consist of securities which vary significantly from those in the benchmark indexes listed above and performance calculation methods may not be entirely comparable. Accordingly, comparing results shown to those of such indexes may be of limited use. The adviser’s dependence on its DRS process and judgments about the attractiveness, value and potential appreciation of particular ETFs and options in which the adviser invests or writes may prove to be incorrect and may not produce the desired results. There is no guarantee any investment or the DRS will meet its objectives. All investments involve the risk of potential investment losses as well as the potential for investment gains. Prior performance is not a guarantee of future results and there can be no assurance, and investors should not assume, that future performance will be comparable to past performance. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Further information is available upon request by contacting the company directly at 970–382-8901 or www.swanglobalinvestments.com. 440-SGI-110118