A Newbie’s Guide to Reading an Options Chain

Options have a language all of their very own, and whenever you begin to trade options, the knowledge could seem overwhelming. When taking a look at an options chart, it first looks like rows of random numbers, but options chain charts provide helpful information in regards to the security today and where it is likely to be moving into the longer term.

Not all public stocks have options, but for people who do, the knowledge is presented in real-time and in a consistent order. Learning the language of an option chain may help investors change into more informed, which may make all of the difference between making or losing money in the choices markets.

Key Takeaways

  • An option chain has two sections: calls and puts. A call option gives the proper to purchase a stock while a put gives the proper to sell a stock.
  • The value of an options contract is named the premium, which is the upfront fee that an investor pays for purchasing the choice.
  • An option’s strike price can also be listed, which is the stock price at which the investor buys the stock if the choice is exercised.
  • Options list various expiry dates, which impact an option’s premium.

Finding Options Information

Real-time option chains will be found on many of the financial web sites online with stock prices. These include Yahoo Finance, The Wall Street Journal Online, and online trading sites, corresponding to Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade.

On most sites, if you happen to find the chart of the underlying stock, there will likely be a link to the related options chains.

What an Options Chain Tells You

Options contracts allow investors to purchase or sell a security at a preset price. Options derive their value from the underlying security or stock, which is why they’re considered derivatives.

Calls and Puts

Options chains are listed in two sections: calls and puts. A call option gives you the proper (but not the duty) to buy 100 shares of the stock at a certain price as much as a certain date. A put option also gives you the proper (and again, not the duty) to sell 100 shares at a certain price as much as a certain date. Call options are at all times listed first.

Expiration Date

Options have various expiry dates. For instance, you possibly can buy a call option on a stock expiring in April, or one other expiring in July. Options with lower than 30 days to their expiry date will start losing value quickly, as there’s less time to execute them. The order of columns in an option chain is as follows: strike, symbol, last, change, bid, ask, volume, and open interest.

Each option contract has its own symbol, identical to the underlying stock does. Options contracts on the identical stock with different expiry dates have different options symbols.

Strike Price

The strike price is the value at which you’ll be able to buy (with a call) or sell (with a put). Call options with higher strike prices are almost at all times cheaper than lower striked calls. The reverse is true for put options—lower strike prices also translate into lower option prices. With options, the market price must cross over the strike price to be executable. For instance, if a stock is currently trading at $30.00 per share and you purchase a call option for $45, the choice shouldn’t be price anything until the market price crosses above $45.

Premium

The last price is probably the most recent posted trade, and the change column shows how much the last trade varied from the day past’s closing price. Bid and ask show the costs that buyers and sellers, respectively, are willing to trade at straight away.

Consider options (identical to stocks) as big online auctions. Buyers are only willing to pay a lot, and the vendor is simply willing to simply accept a lot. Negotiating happens at each ends until the bid and ask prices start coming closer together.

Finally, either the client will take the offered price or the vendor will accept the client’s bid and a transaction will occur. With some options that don’t trade fairly often, you could find the bid and ask prices very far apart. Buying an option like this generally is a big risk, especially if you happen to are a brand new options trader.

The value of an options contract is named the premium, which is the upfront fee that a buyer pays to the vendor through their broker for purchasing the choice. Option premiums are quoted on a per-share basis, meaning that an options contract represents 100 shares of the stock. For instance, a $5 premium for a call option would mean that that investor would want to pay $500 ($5 * 100 shares) for the decision choice to buy that stock.

Fluctuation

The choice’s premium fluctuates consistently as the value of the underlying stock changes. These fluctuations are called volatility and impact the likelihood of an option being profitable. If a stock has little volatility, and the strike price is way from the stock’s current price out there, the choice has a low probability of being profitable at expiry. If there’s little likelihood the choice will likely be profitable, the premium or cost of the choice is low.

Conversely, the upper the probability a contract could possibly be profitable, the upper the premium.

Other aspects impact the value of an option, including the time remaining on an options contract in addition to how far into the longer term the expiration date is for the contract. For instance, the premium will decrease as the choices contract draws closer to its expiration since there’s less time for an investor to make a profit.

Conversely, options with more time remaining until expiry have more opportunities for the stock price to maneuver beyond the strike and be profitable. Because of this, options with more time remaining typically have higher premiums.

Open Interest and Volume

While the quantity column shows what number of options traded in a selected day, the open interest column shows what number of options are outstanding. Open interest is the variety of options that exist for a stock and include options that were opened in days prior. A high variety of open interest signifies that investors are fascinated with that stock for that exact strike price and expiration date.

Open interest is vital because investors need to see liquidity, meaning there’s enough demand for that option in order that they’ll easily enter and exit a position. Nonetheless, high open interest doesn’t necessarily provide a sign that the stock will rise or fall, since for each buyer of an option, there is a seller. In other words, simply because there is a high demand for an option, it doesn’t suggest those investors are correct of their directional views of the stock.

In- or Out-of-the-Money Options

Each call and put options will be either in or out of the cash, and this information will be critical in making your decision about which option to take a position in. In-the-money options have strike prices which have already crossed over the present market price and have underlying value.

For instance, if you happen to buy a call option with a current strike price of $35 and the market price is $37.50, the choice already has an intrinsic value of $2.50. Intrinsic value is merely the difference between the strike price of an option and the present stock price. You possibly can buy it and immediately sell it for a profit. That guaranteed profit is already built into the value of the choice, and in-the-money options are at all times far costlier than out of the cash ones.

In other words, the premium for the choice also comes into play in determining profitability. If the $35 strike option had a $5 premium, the choice would not be profitable enough to exercise (or money out) although there’s $2.50 in intrinsic value. It is vital that investors consider the associated fee of the premium when calculating the potential profitability of a trade.

If an option is out of the cash, it means the strike price hasn’t yet crossed the market price. You’re wagering the stock will go up in price (for a call) or down in price (for a put) before the choice expires. If the market price doesn’t move within the direction you wanted, the choice expires worthless.

Below is a table that shows the connection between an option’s strike price and the stock’s price for call and put options. Please note that the term underlying represents the value of the stock that is being traded through the choices contract.

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2020

The Bottom Line

Knowing tips on how to read options chains is an integral skill to master since it can make it easier to make higher investing decisions and are available out on the winning side more often.

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