What Is Delta Hedging?

Delta Hedging Explained

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Delta hedging is an investing strategy that combines the purchase or sale of an option as well as an offsetting transaction in the underlying asset to reduce the risk of a directional move in the price of the option.

Learn how delta hedging works, read examples, and understand its pros and cons.

Definition and Example of Delta Hedging

Delta hedging is a strategy in which an investor hedges the risk of a price fluctuation in an option by taking an offsetting position in the underlying security. That means that if the price of the option changes, the underlying asset will move in the opposite direction. The loss on the price of the option will be offset by the increase in the price of the underlying asset.

If the position is perfectly hedged, the price fluctuations will be perfectly matched so that the same total dollar amount of loss on the option will be gained on the asset.

In general, hedging is a strategy used to reduce risk. An investor hedges a position in a particular security to minimize the chance of a loss. The nature of a hedge, though, also means the investor will give up potential gains as well.

For example, an investor with an options contract for Company ABC that benefits from the stock price falling would purchase shares of that company just in case the stock price rose.

How Delta Hedging Works

A delta hedge requires the purchase or sale of both an option and the underlying asset. The purpose is to reduce the risk of a price change in the option. To completely hedge the delta risk, the fluctuation in the asset price needs to perfectly match the change in the option price.

To initiate a delta hedge you need to first understand what delta is, how it works, and know the delta value for the option you hold.

Delta is a measure of how much an options price will change in relation to a change in the price of the underlying asset. For example, assume a call option has a delta of 0.5. That means the price of the call option will increase by 50 cents for every $1 increase in the price of the underlying stock that the call option is written on. Now suppose you have purchased a call option on that stock for $5 and the price of the stock is $60. If the stock’s price rises to $65, then the options price will rise to $7.50.

Creating the Delta Hedge

An investor can hedge delta risk in the previous example by buying the call option, then short-selling the underlying stock. The amount of the underlying stock that must be sold to exactly offset the delta risk is based on the delta.

Delta is also known as the “hedge ratio” because it tells you how much of the underlying asset is needed to offset the delta risk.

As in our example, if the delta is 0.5, then the investor needs to sell half of the number of securities that are covered by the call option contract. Since a typical option contract covers 100 shares of the underlying security, the investor would need to short 50 shares of the underlying stock to have a delta-neutral position.

Pros and Cons of Delta Hedging

  • Protects against price fluctuations

  • Delta is not constant

  • Could be expensive

Pros Explained

  • Protects against small price fluctuations: Hedging with delta makes your portfolio less sensitive to small price changes in the securities you’ve invested in.

Cons Explained

  • Delta is not constant: Because delta can change over time, delta hedging requires you regularly balance your portfolio to maintain the desired hedge.
  • Could be expensive: The number of transactions you need to make to keep your portfolio balanced can result in numerous transaction fees.

Delta hedging can be used to protect an investor from small fluctuations in price. However, delta values change as the price of stocks and options change. An investor that is employing a delta-hedging strategy will have to regularly rebalance the portfolio to maintain a delta-neutral position. This could generate significant costs.

Key Takeaways

  • Delta hedging reduces or eliminates the risk of a price movement in the option driven by a change in the underlying assets price.
  • Delta hedging involves taking an offsetting position in an option and the underlying asset.
  • Delta is not constant, so portfolios will need to be adjusted regularly. This could be time-intensive and costly to implement.