What Is A Stock Option? Detailed Guide

what is a stock option
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Stock options are popular financial tools for asset management firms, portfolio managers, and overseas institutional investors, among other things. It provides the advantages of betting with a large exposure based on a precise insight into the stock price movement in a specific direction.

Meaning Of Stock Option

A stock option (sometimes referred to as an equity option) grants an investor the right, but not the duty, to buy or sell a stock at a predetermined price and date. There are two sorts of options: puts, which bet on a stock falling, and calls, which gamble on a stock rising. 

Stock options are a type of equity derivative that may also be referred to as equity options because their underlying asset is shares of stock (or a stock index).

Employee stock options (ESOs) are a type of equity remuneration provided by corporations to certain employees or executives in the form of call options. These differ from listed equity options on publicly traded stocks in that they are limited to a single firm offering them to its own personnel.

Stock Option Parameters

American vs. European Styles

There are two styles to choose from: American and European. American options can be exercised at any time between the date of purchase and the date of expiration. European options, which are less frequent, can only be exercised on the date they expire.

Date of Expiration

Options contracts are only available for a limited time. This is referred to as the expiration date. Options with longer expiration dates have more time value since there is a greater likelihood of an option getting in-the-money as the underlying stock moves around. Option expiration dates are specified on a defined schedule (known as an options cycle) and commonly range from daily or weekly expirations to monthly expirations and up to one year or more.

Strike Price

The strike price decides whether or not an option is exercised. It is the price at which a trader expects the stock to be at the expiration date.

For example, if a trader believes that International Business Machine Corp. (IBM) will rise in the future, they may purchase a call for a specified month and strike price. For example, a trader believes IBM’s stock will surpass $150 by the middle of January. They could then purchase a January $150 call.

Contract Size

Contracts represent the number of underlying shares that a trader intends to purchase. Each contract represents 100 shares of the underlying stock.

Continuing with the previous scenario, a trader decides to purchase five call contracts. The trader now has five January $150 calls. If the stock price climbs over $150 before the expiration date, the trader will have the option to exercise or purchase 500 shares of IBM stock for $150, independent of the current stock price. If the stock is worth less than $150, the options will expire worthless, and the trader will lose the whole premium paid to purchase the options.


The premium is the price paid for an option. It is calculated by multiplying the call price by the number of contracts purchased, then multiplying by 100.

In our example, a trader would spend $500 if he purchased five January IBM $150 Calls for $1 per contract. If a trader wanted to bet on the stock falling, they would buy puts.

The underlying security’s volatility is an important notion in options pricing theory. In general, the larger the premium required for all options published on that security, the higher the volatility.

Stock Option Trading

Several exchanges, including the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), the Philadelphia Stock Exchange (PHLX), and the International Securities Exchange (ISE), list stock options for trade.

Depending on the trading technique, options can be bought or sold. Continuing with the previous example, if a trader believes IBM shares are about to rise, they can purchase the call or sell or write the put. In this case, the seller of the put would receive the premium rather than paying it. A seller would receive $500 for five IBM January $150 puts.

If the price trades over $150, the option will expire worthless, allowing the put seller to keep the entire premium. If the stock closes below the strike price, the seller must purchase the underlying stock at the strike price of $150. When this occurs, the trader would lose the premium as well as additional capital because the stock is now valued at $150 per share, although trading at lower prices.

Trading option spreads is another popular equity option approach. Traders combine long and short option positions with multiple strike prices and expiration dates in order to profit from option premiums with the least amount of risk.

Stock Option Example

In the following example, a trader believes Nvidia Corp’s (NVDA) stock will grow to more than $170 in the future. They decide to purchase ten January $170 calls at a cost of $16.10 per contract. The trader would have to spend $16,100 to purchase the calls. However, in order for the trader to benefit, the stock must climb beyond the strike price and the cost of the calls, or $186.10. If the stock does not climb over $170, the options expire worthless, and the trader loses the whole price. 

Furthermore, if the trader wants to gamble on Nvidia falling in the future, they might purchase 10 January $120 Puts for $11.70 each contract. The trader would have to pay a total of $11,700. In order for the trader to profit, the stock must go below $108.30. The options would expire worthless if the stock closed above $120, resulting in a loss of the premium.

Benefits Of A Stock Option

Given that employee stock options and options in general are a superior technique of hedging risk, it is critical to grasp other such benefits before engaging in such transactions. Let us go over the benefits in further detail in the explanation below.

#1. Leverage

Purchasing shares necessitates a significant capital outflow at the outset. However, with a smaller initial investment, an investor can gain significant exposure to the underlying asset via an option.

#2. Ease of Shorting

Short selling shares carries a high level of risk and legal ramifications. With options, however, one can readily take a short position by paying a premium based on supposition or unique information.

#3. Flexibility

Options can be constructed to meet the requirements of investors. A straddle, stranded, and bull call spread are examples of trading methods in which the trader speculates on a limited price assessment of the stock. In this case, the trader bets on the same stock using two call options for the upper and lower strike price ranges, a bull call spread, and other strategies that allow investors to create and profit from large profits.

Drawbacks of A Stock Option

Despite the numerous advantages described above, there are some considerations on the other end of the spectrum. Let us go over the disadvantages of normal or employee stock options in the points below.

#1. Risk

Option buyers’ losses will be restricted to the premium amount paid. However, the option writer will bear a significant risk. It could possibly be infinite. As a result, stock options carry a much higher risk than direct purchases.

#2. No Stock Holder Privileges

Once purchased, shares can be sold at any time, even after a century. There is, however, a set, predefined expiry date by which an instrument must be squared off in options. As a result, even if the investor loses money, they must square off the instrument even if they are losing money.

#3. Constant Market Price Observation for Premium Payoffs

In most cases, the investor pays the purchase price in share investment. Following that, no payment is required. However, the option seller must constantly monitor market prices. This is in order to resolve the market-to-market price of an instrument at the end of the day.

How to Determine the Worth of Your Stock Options

If the firm for which you own options is publicly listed, the value of your stock options is determined by the current stock price. Calculate how much it would be worth if you bought or sold the amount of shares you have an option on at the current market price. Then, compute how much it would be worth to acquire or sell the same number of shares at your option price. The difference is the monetary value of your stock option.

It becomes more difficult if the company is not publicly traded. If the company has gotten a valuation that establishes how much each share is worth, it can provide you with a starting point for valuing your options. However, that is still a theoretical figure.

The quantity of shares (or options) available influences the value of yours as well. The greater the number of shares (for example, if most employees have stock options that can be exercised), the lower the value of each individual share in the business.

The value of your options is likewise affected by the value of the stock. If you have an employee stock option to purchase 20,000 shares at $2 per share, but the stock is now trading at $1 per share, your option is worthless. However, if the share price rises to $3, your stock options will be worth $20,000.

How to Exercise Stock Options

When you exercise your stock options, you are actually buying or selling them. Employees who have stock options, for example, can only exercise them once they have vested.

If you buy shares through an option, you pay the option price regardless of the stock’s current price. So, if you are an employee with the opportunity to purchase 12,000 shares of stock at $1 per share, you must pay a total of $12,000. You would then be the sole owner of the shares. You could either sell them or keep them.

If you don’t have the funds, you can still exercise your stock options in a few ways:

  • Purchase your options through a brokerage firm and instantly sell them. The brokerage that handles the sale will effectively allow you to utilize the proceeds of the sale to reimburse the cost of purchasing the shares.
  • Exercise-and-sell-to-cover: Purchase your shares through a brokerage firm, then sell only enough to cover the transaction costs. You keep the remaining shares.

Taxes on Stock Options

You must pay taxes on any profit you gain if you exercise your stock options. The method by which your taxes are computed is determined by the type of option you have and the length of time you wait between exercising your option and selling your shares.

Statutory Stock Option Taxes

Employee stock purchase plans or incentive stock options (ISO) are used to give statutory stock options. When you are granted this type of option, you are not taxed. When you exercise the option, you will almost always be taxed. If this occurs, your income will be reported on your annual W-2 form by your employer.

If you are taxed after exercising your option, you will be taxed on the bargain component, which is the difference between the market value and the price you paid. For example, if the public price was $2 a share and you exercised an option to purchase 10,000 shares at $1 each, you would owe taxes on the $10,000 difference.

When you sell your shares, you must also pay capital gains tax. If you hold the shares for less than a year after selling them, they are considered a short-term capital gain (or loss) and are taxed at your regular income rate. If you keep them for more than a year, you will be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate (which varies based on your income and filing status).

Nonstatutory Stock Option Taxes

Nonstatutory stock options are not given under an ISO plan or an employee stock purchase plan. You may have taxable income when you receive the option in this situation. The taxable income you are regarded to have for nonstatutory stock options is decided by how easily ascertained the fair market value of the option can be.

If the stock is openly traded, the fair market value is easily ascertainable. The option is then considered as taxable income at the moment it is given to you. The tax rate on the income is determined by your overall income and tax bracket. You do not have to pay tax on any amount of income from the option if you later exercise it.

However, most nonstatutory stock options do not have a clearly recognized fair market value. In that instance, it is not considered income until the option is exercised or transferred. After that, you must report as taxable income the fair market value of the shares you received (less the amount you paid). Typically, this is taxed as a capital gain or loss.

What is The Difference Between A Stock And A Stock Option?

A stock is an ownership stake in a corporation that rises and lowers in value over time depending on the firm’s profitability. An option, on the other hand, is a side bet among traders on what price a stock will be worth by a given period.

Who Creates Stock Options?

An option writer, also known as a granter or seller, sells an option and earns a premium from the buyer by opening a position. The answer to the question of who is an option writer is someone who produces a new options contract and sells it to a trader who wants to buy that contract.

Who Approves Stock Options?

A stock option plan must be approved by the company’s directors and, in some situations, by the shareholders.

Do Stock Options Expire?

Stock options often expire if they are not exercised within 10 years of being granted. Many companies exit or become public within ten years. However, in the current economic context, some companies are keeping private for extended periods of time.

In Conclusion

Options are derivatives that provide the holder the right to buy (in the case of a call) or sell (in the case of a put) a predetermined amount of the underlying security at a specified price (the strike price) before the contract expires. Stock options are sold in conventional quantities of 100 shares each contract, and many are traded on exchanges where investors and traders can easily buy and sell them. Options pricing is a significant financial accomplishment, with volatility acknowledged as a key component of options theory.

ESOs are a type of equity remuneration given to employees and executives by firms. An ESO, like a standard call option, grants the holder the right to purchase the underlying asset—the company’s stock—at a predetermined price for a limited time. ESOs are not the only type of equity compensation available, but they are one of the most frequent.

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