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Options spreads are the basic building blocks of many options trading strategies. A spread position is entered by buying and selling equal number of options of the same class on the same underlying security but with different strike prices or expiration dates. The three main classes of spreads are the horizontal spread, the vertical spread and the diagonal spread. They are grouped by the relationships between the strike price and expiration dates of the options involved. Vertical spreads, or money spreads, are spreads involving options of the same underlying security, same expiration month, but at different strike prices.
Horizontal, calendar spreads, or time spreads are created using options of the same underlying security, same strike prices but with different expiration dates. Diagonal spreads are constructed using options of the same underlying security but different strike prices and expiration dates. They are called diagonal spreads because they are a combination of vertical and horizontal spreads. Any spread that is constructed using calls can be referred to as a call spread, while a put spread is constructed using put options. If a spread is designed to profit from a rise in the price of the underlying security, it is a bull spread.
A bear spread is a spread where favorable outcome is obtained when the price of the underlying security goes down. If the premiums of the options sold is higher than the premiums of the options purchased, then a net credit is received when entering the spread. If the opposite is true, then a debit is taken. Spreads that are entered on a debit are known as debit spreads while those entered on a credit are known as credit spreads.
There are also spreads in which unequal number of options are simultaneously purchased and written. When more options are written than purchased, it is a ratio spread. When more options are purchased than written, it is a backspread. Many options strategies are built around spreads and combinations of spreads. A box spread consists of a bull call spread and a bear put spread. The calls and puts have the same expiration date. A box spread position has a constant payoff at exercise equal to the difference in strike values.