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Options Greeks: Delta,Gamma,Vega,Theta,Rho

First of all I would like to give credit to Liying Zhao (Options Analyst at HyperVolatility) for helping me to conceptualize this article and provide the quantitative analysis necessary to develop it. The present report will be followed by a second one dealing with second order Greeks and how they work.

Options are way older than one might imagine. Aristotele mentioned options for the first time in the “Thales of Miletus” (624 to 527 B.C.), Dutch tulip traders began trading options at the beginning of 1600 while in 1968 stock options have been traded for the first time at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). The pricing of options has always attracted academics and mathematicians but the first breakthrough in this field was pioneered at the beginning of the 1900 by Bachelier. He literally discovered a new way to look at option valuation, however, the real shift between academia and business occurred in 1973 when Black, Scholes and Merton developed the most popular and used option pricing model. Such a discovery opened an entire new era for both academics and market players. Being one of the most crucial financial derivatives in the global market, options are now widely adopted as an effective tool to leverage assets or control portfolio risk. Nowadays, it is easy to find articles, researches and studies on option pricing models but this article will instead focus on options Greeks and in particular first-order Greeks (derived in the BSM world). Options Greeks are important indicators for assessing the degree of risk coming from exogenous variables, in fact, they measure option premium’s sensitivities to small changes in different parameters. Mathematically, Greeks are the partial derivatives of the option price with respect to different factors such as volatility, interest rate and time decay.

The purpose of this article is to explain, as clearly as possible, how Options Greeks work but we will concentrate only on the most popular ones: Delta, Gamma, Vega (or Kappa), Theta and Rho. It is worth mentioning that all the charts that will be presented have been extrapolated by assuming that the underlying is a WTI futures contract, that the options have a strike price (X) of 100, that the risk-free interest rate (r) is 0.5%, that the cost of carry (b) is 0 while implied volatility is 10%.

Delta: Delta measures the sensitiveness of the option’s price to a $1 fluctuation in the underlying asset price. The chart displays how the Delta moves in respect to the underlying price S and time to maturity T:

options delta

The chart clearly shows that in-the-money call options have much higher Delta values than out-of-the-money options while ATM options have a Delta which oscillates around 0.5. Call options have a Delta which ranges between 0 and 1 and it gets higher as the underlying approaches the strike price of the option which means that out-of-the-money call options will have a Delta close to 0 while ITM options will have a Delta fluctuating around 1. Many traders think of Delta as the probability of an option expiring in-the-money but this interpretation is not correct because the N(d) term in its formula expresses the probability of the option expiring ITM but only in a risk-neutral world.  In real trading conditions higher Delta calls do have a higher probability to expire ITM than lower Delta ones, however, the number itself does not provide a reliable source of information because everything depends on the underlying. The Delta simply expresses the exposure of the options premium to the underlying: a positive Delta tells you that the premium will rise if the underlying asset will trend higher and it will decrease in the opposite scenario. Put options, instead, have a negative Delta which ranges between -1 and 0 and the below reported chart displays its fluctuation in respect to the underlying asset.

put option delta

It is easy to notice that as the underlying asset moves below the $100 threshold (the strike price of our hypothetical put option) the Delta approaches -1, which implies that ITM put options have a negative Delta close to -1, while OTM options have a Delta oscillating around 0. In practical trading the value of the Delta is very important because it tells you how the options premium is going to change in the case the underlying moves by $1. Let’s assume you purchase a 100 call options on crude oil with a Delta of +0.5 and the premium was $1,000.  If the option is at-the-money the WTI (the underlying asset) will be at $100 but if oil futures go up by $1 dollar to $101 the premium of your long call will move to $1,500. The same applies to put options but in this case the ATM Delta will be -0.5 and your long put option position will generate a profit if WTI futures move from $100 to $99.

Gamma: Gamma measures Delta’s sensitivity to a $1 movement in the underlying asset price and it is identical for both call and put options. Gamma reaches its maximum when the underlying price is a little bit smaller, not exactly equal, to the strike of the option and the chart shows quite evidently that for ATM option Gamma is significantly higher than for OTM and ITM options.

option gamma

The fact that Gamma is higher for ATM options makes sense because it is nothing but the quantification of how fast the Delta is going to change and an ATM option will have a very sensitive Delta because every single oscillation in the underlying asset will alter it.

How Gamma can help us in trading? How do we interpret it?

Again, the value of Gamma is simply telling you how fast the Delta will move in the case the underlying asset experience a $1 oscillation. Let’s assume we have an ATM call option on WTI with a Delta of +0.5 while futures prices are moving around $100 and Gamma is 0.08, what does that imply? The interpretation is rather simple: a 0.08 gamma is telling us that our ATM call, in the case the underlying moves by $1 to $101, will see its Delta increasing to +0.58 from +0.5

Vega (or Kappa): Vega is the option’s sensitivity to a 1% movement in implied volatility and it is identical for both call and put options. The below reported 3-D chart displays Vega as a function of the asset price and time to maturity for a WTI options with strike at 100, interest rate at 0.5% and implied volatility at 10% (the cost of carry is set to 0 because we are dealing with commodity options).

option vega

The chart clearly highlights the fact that Vega is much higher for ATM options than for ITM and OTM options. The shape of Vega as a function of the underlying asset price makes sense because ATM options have by far the highest volatility potential but what does Vega really tell us in real trading conditions? Again, Vega (or Kappa) measures the dollar change in case of a 1% shift in implied volatility, therefore, an at-the-money WTI options whose value is $1,000 with a Vega of , say, 100 will be worth $1,100 if the implied volatility moves from 20% to 21%. Vega is a very important risk measure for options traders because it estimates how your P/L is going to change as a function of implied volatility. Implied volatility is the key factor in options pricing because the price of a single options will vary according to this number and this is precisely why implied volatility and Vega are essential to options trading (the HyperVolatility Forecast service provides analytical, easy to understand projections and analysis on volatility and price action for traders and investors).

Theta: Theta measures option’s sensitivity to a small change in time to maturity (T). As time to maturity is always decreasing it is normal to express Theta as negative partial derivatives of the option price with respect to T.  Theta represents the time decay of option prices in terms of a 1 year move in time to maturity and to view the value of Theta for a 1 day move we should divide it by 365 or 252 (the number of trading days in one year). The below reported chart shows how Theta moves:

option theta

Theta is evidently negative for at-the-money options and the reason behind this phenomenon is that ATM options have the highest volatility potential, therefore, the impact of time decay is higher. Think of an option like an air balloon which loses a bit of air every day. The at-the-money options are right in the middle because they could become ITM or they could get back into the OTM “limbo” and therefore they contain a lot of air, consequently, if they have got more air than all other balloons they will lose more than others when the time passes. Let’s look at a practical example. Let’s assume we are long an ATM call option whose value is $1,000 and has a Theta equals to -25, if the day after both the underlying price and volatility are still where they were 1 day before our long call position will lose $25.

Rho: Rho is the option’s sensitivity to a change in the risk-free interest rate and the next chart summarises how it fluctuates with respect to the underlying asset:

option rho

ITM options are more influenced by changes in interest rates (negative Rho) because the premium of these options is higher and therefore a fluctuation in the cost of money (interest rate) would inevitably cause a higher impact on high-premium instruments. Furthermore, it is rather clear that long dated options are much more affected by changes in interest rates than short-dated derivatives. The below reported chart displays how Rho oscillates when dealing with put options:

put option rho

The Rho graph for put options mirrors what it has been stated for calls: ITM have a larger exposure than ATM and OTM put options to interest rate changes and long term derivatives are much more affected by Rho than in the short term (even in this case the 3-D graph displays negative values). As previously mentioned Rho measures how much the option’s premium is going to change when interest rates move by 1%. Hence, an increase in interest rates will augment the value of a hypothetical call option and the rise will be equal to Rho. In other words, the value of the call option will increase by $50 if interest rates move from 5% to 6% and our WTI call option has a premium of $1,000 but Rho equals 50.

As stated at the beginning of the present report this is only the first part and a second article dealing with second order Greeks will be posted soon.

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