Understanding Volatility Skew in Options Trading

Volatility skew curve: higher implied volatility for OTM puts than ATM, lower for OTM calls compared to ATM, highlighting market sentiment.



3/5/20244 min read

chart trading
chart trading

Volatility skew is a concept that plays a crucial role in the options market. It refers to the disparity in premiums between call options and put options with the same strike price but different strike prices. This phenomenon is visually represented as a skewed curve on a graph showing implied volatility as a function of the strike price.

What is Implied Volatility?

Before diving into the intricacies of volatility skew, it is important to understand the concept of implied volatility. Implied volatility is a measure of the market's expectation of future price fluctuations of an underlying asset. It is derived from the prices of options and reflects the market participants' consensus on the potential magnitude of future price movements.

Implied volatility is a crucial component in options pricing models, as it directly affects the premium of an option. Higher implied volatility leads to higher option premiums, while lower implied volatility results in lower premiums.

The Basics of Options Trading

To fully grasp the significance of volatility skew, it is essential to have a basic understanding of options trading. Options are financial derivatives that give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset at a predetermined price (strike price) within a specified period (expiration date).

There are two types of options: call options and put options. A call option gives the holder the right to buy the underlying asset, while a put option grants the holder the right to sell the underlying asset.

Options traders use various strategies to profit from market movements and manage risk. These strategies can involve buying or selling options, or a combination of both. The volatility skew plays a crucial role in determining the optimal strategy for traders.

Understanding Volatility Skew

The volatility skew is a graphical representation of the implied volatility of options at different strike prices. It illustrates the market's perception of the potential upside and downside risks associated with the underlying asset.

A typical volatility skew curve exhibits higher implied volatility for out-of-the-money (OTM) put options compared to at-the-money (ATM) put options. Conversely, it shows lower implied volatility for OTM call options compared to ATM call options.

Why does volatility skew occur? One explanation is that market participants are generally more concerned about downside risks and are willing to pay a higher premium for put options to protect against potential losses. This demand for downside protection drives up the prices of OTM put options, leading to higher implied volatility.

On the other hand, the lower implied volatility for OTM call options can be attributed to market participants' relatively lower expectations of significant upside movements. As a result, the premiums for these options are lower.

Factors Influencing Volatility Skew

Several factors can contribute to the formation and shape of the volatility skew:

  1. Market Sentiment: Market sentiment plays a significant role in shaping the volatility skew. During periods of heightened uncertainty or negative market sentiment, the demand for downside protection increases, leading to a steeper skew.

  2. Supply and Demand Dynamics: The supply and demand dynamics of options contracts at different strike prices can also impact the volatility skew. If there is a higher demand for put options compared to call options, it can lead to a steeper skew.

  3. Underlying Asset Characteristics: The characteristics of the underlying asset, such as its sector, industry, or specific events, can influence the formation of the volatility skew. For example, stocks in certain industries may exhibit a more pronounced skew due to their unique risk profiles.

  4. Expiration Dates: The expiration dates of options contracts can also impact the volatility skew. Options with longer expiration dates may exhibit a flatter skew compared to options with shorter expiration dates.

Implications for Options Traders

Understanding volatility skew is crucial for options traders as it can help inform their trading strategies and risk management decisions. Here are some key implications:

  1. Option Pricing: Volatility skew affects the pricing of options. Traders need to consider the skew when analyzing the relative value of different options contracts.

  2. Strategy Selection: The shape of the volatility skew can influence the choice of trading strategies. For example, a steeper skew may favor strategies that involve buying OTM put options for downside protection.

  3. Risk Management: Volatility skew provides insights into the market's perception of risk. Traders can use this information to adjust their risk exposure and hedge their positions accordingly.


Volatility skew is a crucial concept in the options market that reflects the disparity in premiums between call options and put options with the same strike price but different strike prices. It is represented as a skewed curve on a graph showing implied volatility as a function of the strike price.

Understanding volatility skew is essential for options traders as it can influence option pricing, strategy selection, and risk management decisions. By analyzing the volatility skew, traders can gain valuable insights into market sentiment and adjust their trading strategies accordingly.

Overall, volatility skew is a valuable tool that allows options traders to navigate the complex world of options trading and make informed decisions based on market dynamics and risk considerations.

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a tall building with a red light at the top of it

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