Before we continue, we need to introduce some more terminology that has been deliberately withheld until now for the fact that it will be easier to understand at this point. There are three main classifications for options. First, there are two types of options: calls and puts. Second, all options of the same type and same underlying represent a class of options. Therefore, all eBay calls or all eBay puts (regardless of expiration) make up a class. Third, all options of the same class, strike price, and expiration date make up a series. For instance, all July $32.50 calls form a series.
At the time these quotes were taken, eBay stock was trading for $37.11, which you can see in the upper right corner of Table 1-1. The first column is labeled “calls” and several columns to the right you will find one labeled “puts.” The first call option on the list is 05 Jul 32.50. The “05 Jul” tells us that the contract expires in July ‘05 and the “32.50” designates that it is a $32.50 strike price. The last trading day for this option will be the third Friday in July ‘05. All you have to do is look at a calendar and count the third Friday for July ‘05 and that is the last day you can trade the option (which happens to be July 15 for this particular year). Remember, you can buy, sell, or exercise this option on any day, but the last day to do so is July 15. All 05 July options will expire on the same date regardless of the strike price or whether they are calls or puts.
The “XBAGZ-E” notation is the symbol for that option. Just as every stock has a unique trading symbol, each option carries a unique symbol. However, you can forget about the “dash E,” as the letter E is a unique identifier for the CBOE, which just tells us these quotes are coming from that exchange. If you wanted to buy or sell this option online, you’d enter the symbol “XBAGZ.” Your broker, however, may require you to follow this symbol with “.O” to show that it is an option (for example, XBAGZ.O). Your broker will make it very clear if he has these requirements, but the actual symbol (XBAGZ in this example) will always remain the same regardless of which brokerage firm you use.
Your brokerage firm may list option symbols as “OPRA” codes. The committee named for consolidating all of the option quotes and reporting them to the various services is called the Options Price Reporting Authority or “OPRA.” An OPRA code is the same thing as the option symbol. You can read more about OPRA at www.OpraData.com.
The $32.50 strike means that the owner of this “coupon” has the right, not the obligation, to buy 100 shares of eBay for $32.50 through the third Friday of Jul ‘05. No matter how high a price eBay may be trading, the owner of this call option is locked into a $32.50 purchase price. Now this seems like a pretty good deal since the stock is trading much higher at $37.11. It appears that if you got the $32.50 call, you could make an immediate profit of $37.11 – $32.50 = $4.31. In other words, it appears that if we could get our hands on this coupon, we could buy the stock for $32.50 and immediately sell it for the going price of $37.11 thus making an immediate profit of $4.31. However, you must remember that call options, unlike pizza coupons, are not free. It will cost us some money to get our hands on it.
How much will it cost to buy this coupon? We can find out by looking at the “ask” column, which shows how much you will have to pay to buy the option. It shows a price of $4.90 to buy this call. This means the apparently free $4.31 is no longer free since you’re paying $4.90 for $4.31 worth of immediate benefit. In fact, you will find that you must always pay for any immediate advantage that any call or put option gives you. The main point is that you cannot use options to collect “free money” in the market. When traders are first introduced to options, they often think they can buy a call option that gives them an advantageous price and then immediately exercise the call for a free profit. They overlook the fact that the price of the option will more than reflect that benefit. Why would someone pay $4.90 for $4.31 worth of immediate benefit? Because there is time remaining on the option. It is certainly possible that the option will, at some point in time, have more than $4.31 worth of benefit, and traders are willing to pay for that time.
The $4.90 price is also called the premium. The premium really represents the price per share. Since each contract controls 100 shares of stock, the total cost of this option will be $4.90 * 100 = $490 plus commission to buy one contract. So if you spend $490, you can control 100 shares of eBay through the expiration date of the contract. That’s certainly a lot less than the $3,711 it would cost to buy 100 shares of stock. If you buy two contracts, you will control 200 shares and that will cost $980 plus commissions, etc. Remember, we said that all options control 100 shares when they are first listed but it is possible for them to control more shares, which is usually due to a stock split. If that happens, it is possible for the contract size to change, which we will expand on more in Chapter Four. The main point to understand is that you always multiply the option premium by the number of shares that the contract controls in order to find the total price of the option. In most cases, you will multiply by 100.
Bid and Ask Prices
Let’s take a brief detour here to learn more about what the bid and ask represent since they can be confusing to new traders. Notice that the $32.50 call shows a bid price of $4.70 and an ask price of $4.90. You have to remember that the options market, just like the stock market, is a live auction. There are traders continuously placing bids to buy and offers to sell. The bid price is the highest price that someone is willing to pay at that moment. The asking price is the lowest price at which someone will sell at that moment. If these terms are confusing, think of the terms you use when buying or selling a home. If you wish to buy a home, you submit a bid. Buyers place bids. If you were selling your home, you’d say I am “asking” such-and-such a price for it. Sellers create asking prices. Sometimes you will hear the word “offer” instead of “ask” but they mean the same thing. If the bid represents the highest price someone is willing to pay that means you can receive that price if you are selling your option. You are selling to a buyer and the trade can get executed. Notice that you cannot sell at the $4.90 asking price because that is a seller too and you cannot execute a trade by matching a seller with a seller.
Likewise, if you are buying this option, you should refer to the asking price to see how much it will cost you. Since the asking price shows the lowest price that someone will sell, we know you can buy the option for that price. In this case, you are buying from a seller and the trade can get executed. This is important to remember since the price you pay or receive depends on the bid and ask. This trade may appear to be a good deal if you can sell for $4.90 but you will be disappointed if you find that you only receive $4.70. You need to be aware of which price applies to your intended action. In summary, if you are selling then you should reference the bid price. If you are buying, you should look at the asking price. This is especially critical for options traders since the volume on options is not as high as it is for the stock and, consequently, options will have larger spreads between the bid and ask. For example, in the upper right corner of Table 1-1, you can see that the stock (eBay) is bidding $37.10 and asking $37.11, which represents a one-cent spread between the buyers and sellers. However, the $32.50 call option is bidding $4.70 and asking $4.90, which is a 20-cent spread. The bigger that spread, the more critical it is to understand what these numbers mean, otherwise you could be in for an unpleasant surprise when trading. We’ll learn more about the bid and ask in Chapter Four when we examine the Limit Order Display Rule and how you can use it to your advantage to lessen the effect of the spread.
The “bid” price represents the highest price that a BUYER is willing to pay. It is consequently the price at which you can sell the option.
The “ask” price represents the lowest price that a SELLER is willing to receive. It is consequently the price at which you can buy the option.
To be continued….