What Is Assign?

Broadly speaking, to assign is to transfer the rights or property from one person or business to another. An assignment can be any transfer of any sort of rights. In the financial markets, the term "assign" generally relates to the party that is required to deliver on an options contract. In the wider business world, it may also refer to the transfer of trademarks, banknotes, or other property rights. Mortgage assignments involve transferring mortgage deeds, while lease assignments transfer lease contracts.

Key Takeaways

  • To assign in the options market is to randomly match buyers and sellers for maturing or exercised options contracts.
  • The assigned party is required to deliver the assets underlying the options to the contract holder at the date established by the contract.
  • More generally, to assign is to transfer rights or property from one party to another.

Understanding Assign

To assign means one of two actions taken in transferring rights. It refers either to the transfer of property rights from one individual or entity to another individual or entity or when an options contract is exercised. When an options contract is exercised, the owner of the contract assigns an options writer to the obligation to fulfill the requirements of the contract.

In the options and futures contract markets, assign is the matching of counterparties. The process is random and carried out by clearinghouses and brokerages. Once the assignment is made, the underlying securities or commodities are delivered to the holders of maturing or exercised contracts.

For example, if one trader is looking to purchase a May futures corn contract and another trader is looking to sell a May futures corn contract, the clearinghouse would match the requests of both traders, assigning them the appropriate contracts. The traders themselves will not have to search for the corresponding contract but just execute their orders, which are then matched by the clearinghouse.

Not all options contracts will be exercised or tendered. The ones that are exercised or tendered must be settled with the delivery of the underlying security. These are randomly assigned to brokerages that, in turn, randomly select which of their clients will be assigned.

During an assignment of options or futures contracts, the clearinghouse assigns an option writer who will be the required buyer or seller of the underlying contract upon its exercise.

Assign and Options

Options offer the right but not the obligation to buy an underlying asset at a specific price. In the U.S. markets, options can be exercised anytime, while options in the European markets are exercised only on the option expiration date. If an option is exercised, the assignment will be made immediately.

When an option is exercised, the option writer, who is the call seller, in this case, must fulfill the obligations of the contract. The call writer could be obligated to sell a specific number of underlying securities for a specific price, for example.

Options buyers speculate on the future movements of stocks or other assets. Option buyers believe that the underlying asset will move one way, while option sellers, who are called writers, are betting that the asset moves in the opposite direction.

Brokerages and clearinghouses are needed to connect buyers and sellers of options contracts. The seller and writer of a call option will sell a set number of shares at a set price if the option is exercised. If the option is called, the brokerage assigns a client with a short position, again at random, to deliver the stock to another client with a long position in the same contract. The brokerage will randomly select the counterparty who must deliver the asset when the contract requires it to be delivered.

Assign and Property

In regards to property, assign refers to the transfer of rights. This can refer to any asset, whether tangible or intangible, property, or contract. The assignment is completed via an agreed-upon written document.

For example, a mortgage assignment is when the mortgage deed allows an individual interest in a property in return for payments received. Many banks that have mortgages sell their mortgages to other lenders in return for a lump payment in order to free up their balance sheet to make new mortgages. The bank would be assigning their mortgages to another lender.

Another form of property assignment includes wage assignments, where a court rules that a portion of a person's wages must be withheld in order to make specific payments, such as alimony.

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