The trading of options has become increasingly popular among retail investors as they become aware of the different ways that options can be used to generate profits. The interesting thing about option strategies is that investors can use them in all types of market conditions; the primary question becomes which securities should be used when implementing a certain strategy.

Key Takeaways

  • Trading options on stocks can be used in versatile ways, from hedging and spreading to speculation.
  • Not all stocks, however, have listed options available for trading.
  • You can determine if a stock has listed options by checking with your broker, with an options exchange, or with the options industry council.

Stocks with Options on Them

Many beginning option traders quickly discover that not all securities have an option chain associated with them. This means there may be no options available to buy or sell on a certain security, leaving the investor no choice but to buy or sell the underlying instrument to get exposure. Exchanges require minimum listing criteria to be met before they will add options. For instance, Under rules established at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), there are four criteria a publicly company must meet before options on its stock can be traded on the options exchange:

  • The underlying equity security must be listed on the NYSE, AMEX or Nasdaq.
  • The closing price must have a minimum per-share price for a majority of trading days during the three prior calendar months.
  • The company must have at least 7,000,000 publicly held shares.
  • The company must have at least 2,000 shareholders.

If a company does not meet any one of these criteria, options exchanges such as the Chicago Board Options Exchange will not allow any options to be traded on the underlying security. Additionally, because of the second condition listed above, a company cannot have options traded on it until at least three months after its initial public offering date. (To learn more about this subject, see our article: What requirements must a company meet before exchanges will allow options on the company to be traded?)

The easiest way to find out which securities have options is to check directly using your broker, which is particularly easy if you use an online broker. Many of these platforms have an options chain or options series function that allows you to look up the options on a stock, if there are any.

You can also visit the websites of the exchanges where the majority of equity options are traded. The exchange listing has grown tremendously in recent years, with current primary operations at Boston Options Exchange (BOX), CBOE - including CBOE BZX, C2 and EDGX Options Exchanges; MIAX and MIAX PEARL Options Exchanges, Nasdaq BX, MRX and GEMX Options; the International Securities Exchange (ISE); The Philadelphia Stock Exchange (PHLX), NYSE American Options (AMEX) and NYSE Arca Options. Each website has a directory of options that are available for trading on that given exchange. For example, you can click here to go to the symbol directory for options listed on the CBOE Exchange Inc..

The Options Industry Council (OIC) is another resource for finding options series. The OIC is a cooperative formed in 1992 by U.S. options exchanges and the Options Clearing Corporation (OCC) to educate investors and financial advisers regarding the benefits and risks of exchange-traded equity options. 

Using Equity Options

Equity options are derived from a single equity security. Investors and traders can use equity options to take a long or short position in a stock without actually buying or shorting the stock. This is advantageous because taking a position with options allows the investor/trader more leverage in that the amount of capital needed is much less than a similar outright long or short position on margin. Investors/traders can, therefore, profit more from a price movement in the underlying stock. 

For example, buying 100 shares of a $10 stock costs $1,000. Buying a call option with a $10 strike price may only cost $0.50, or $50 since one option controls 100 shares ($0.50 x 100 shares). If the shares move up to $11 the option is worth at least $1, and the options trader doubles their money. The stock trader makes $100 (position is now worth $1,100), which is a 10% gain on the $1,000 they paid. Comparatively, the options trader makes a better percentage return.

If the underlying stock moves in the wrong direction and the options are out of the money at the time of their expiration, they become worthless and the trader loses the premium they paid for the option.

Another popular equity options technique is trading option spreads. Traders take combinations of long and short option positions, with different strike prices and expiration dates, for the purpose of extracting profit from the option premiums with minimal risk.