What is implied volatility in bitcoin and ether options trading?

In the world of cryptocurrency options trading, understanding implied volatility (IV) is crucial for making informed decisions. Implied volatility represents the market's expectation of how volatile an asset will be in the future. In this guide, we'll delve into what implied volatility is, why it matters in options trading, and how it specifically impacts bitcoin and ether options trading.

What is implied volatility?

Implied volatility is a measure derived from the prices of options. It reflects the market's consensus on the future volatility of an underlying asset over the option's lifespan. High implied volatility suggests that traders expect significant price fluctuations, while low implied volatility indicates expectations of relatively stable prices.

Unlike historical volatility, which measures the realized volatility of a cryptocurrency’s price, implied volatility measures only the expected price movements based on an option’s price. It is termed "implied" because it reflects the future volatility anticipated by the crypto market for a given crypto option.

Why does implied volatility matter in options trading?

Implied volatility (IV) directly influences the price of options contracts. All else being equal, higher implied volatility leads to higher options prices, while lower implied volatility results in cheaper options. The options price is also known as the premium paid for the particular options contract.

In practice, IV is a plug number calculated using various options models, such as Black-Scholes-Merton or, more commonly in crypto, a stochastic volatility model. Without getting into the math, it uses known variables such as the strike price, the price of the underlying asset, interest rates, and time to expiration of the option. The unknown variable for the formula is the volatility implied by the premium — or cost — of the options being traded. Once all the known variables and premium of the option are entered into the model, we get the implied volatility number, which gives us a standardized number to know how the market perceives the option. 

IV also provides traders with insights into the perceived risk associated with an asset. Higher implied volatility suggests higher risk and potential rewards, while lower implied volatility indicates lower risk but also lower potential returns. 

Traders use implied volatility to select appropriate trading strategies. For instance, in high IV environments, traders might prefer selling options to capitalize on inflated premiums, while in low IV environments, buying options might be more attractive to benefit from potential price movements.

High IV Environment


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In a high implied volatility environment, options premiums are relatively inflated. This makes selling options an attractive strategy because traders can collect higher premiums. Here's how a trader might proceed using the Deribit crypto derivatives exchange:

  1. Identify High IV: The trader monitors the market and identifies that implied volatility for specific bitcoin options is significantly high.
  2. Choose an Options Contract: The trader selects a bitcoin options contract with a high premium. For instance, a bitcoin call option with a strike price of $80,000 expiring in one month. A call gives the owner the right, but not the obligation, to buy the underlying asset at a set price at a specified date and time. 
  3. Sell the Option: The trader sells the call option on Deribit, receiving a premium of 0.05 BTC +0.33% per contract due to the high IV.
  4. Manage the Position: The trader monitors the position. If the price of bitcoin stays below the strike price by expiration, the option expires worthless, and the trader keeps the premium. If bitcoin's price rises above $80,000, the trader might need to buy back the option or let it be exercised, accepting potential losses that could exceed the premium collected.

Low IV Environment

In a low implied volatility environment, options premiums are relatively lower, making buying options more attractive as the cost is cheaper, and there is potential for larger price movements to increase the value of the options. Here's how a trader might proceed on the same cryptocurrency derivatives exchange:

  1. Identify Low IV: The trader observes that implied volatility for specific ether options is low.
  2. Choose an Options Contract: The trader selects an ether options contract with a relatively low premium. For instance, an ether put option with a strike price of $3,000 expiring in one month. A put gives the owner the right, but not the obligation, to sell the underlying asset at a set price at a specified date and time. 
  3. Buy the Option: The trader buys the put option on Deribit, paying a premium of 0.02 ETH -0.64% per contract due to the low IV.
  4. Monitor and Potential Exit: The trader keeps an eye on the market. If ether's price drops significantly below $3,000, the value of the put option increases, allowing the trader to profit by selling the option at a higher price or exercising it.

By using implied volatility to inform their strategy, traders on derivatives exchange such as Deribit, OKX and Binance can optimize their options trading approach to capitalize on market conditions.

Hedging and selling premium trading strategies

Traders can capitalize on high implied volatility by employing strategies such as straddles or strangles. These strategies involve buying both call and put options to profit from significant price movements. A straddle involves buying a call and put option at the same strike price and expiration, while a strangle involves buying a call and put option with different strike prices but the same expiration.

While selling premiums in anticipation of lower volatility can be lucrative, it carries significant risk, particularly in the highly volatile cryptocurrency market.

Options traders can use options contracts to hedge against potential losses resulting from adverse price movements. Adjusting the hedge based on changes in implied volatility is crucial for effective risk management. 

Implied volatility plays a vital role in options trading, particularly in the dynamic and volatile world of cryptocurrency. Traders in bitcoin and ether options markets must understand how IV impacts pricing, risk assessment, and strategy selection. By staying informed about IV dynamics and implementing appropriate trading strategies, traders can navigate the volatile cryptocurrency options market more effectively and improve their chances of success.

Disclaimer: This article was produced with the assistance of OpenAI’s ChatGPT 3.5/4 and reviewed and edited by our editorial team.

© 2023 The Block. All Rights Reserved. This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.

About Author

Brian McGleenon is a UK-based markets reporter for The Block. He has worked as a financial journalist and producer for multiple news outlets over the years, such as Fuji Television, The Independent, Yahoo Finance, The Evening Standard, and The Daily Express. Brian is also a screenwriter and producer with one feature film produced and one in development with Northern Ireland Screen. Apart from web3 and cryptocurrency developments, he is also interested in geopolitics, environmental issues, artificial intelligence, and longevity research. Get in touch via email [email protected].