How to Read an Option Symbol
If you're new to option trading, all those digits in an option symbol can be intimidating. But don't worry, they're easy to decode.
The basic parts of an option symbol (from left to right) are:
Stock Symbol - This is the stock's "ticker" symbol ("MSFT" for Microsoft)
Expiration Year - The last two digits of the year ("13" for 2013)
Expiration Month - Two digits for the month ("04" for April)
Expiration Day - Two digits for the date ("20" for the 20th)
Call or Put - "C" for call or "P" for put
Strike Price - The first five digits are for dollars and the last three for cents ("00030000" for $30)
You can see how this works for a Microsoft option below:
Most stocks offer only monthly options, which always expire on the Saturday after the third Friday of the month. (They effectively expire at the close of trading on the third Friday.) If you only see one call or put option symbol per strike price, only monthly options are available for that stock.
But sometimes you'll find more than one call or put option symbol for your strike price. Let's say you go to Yahoo Finance or MarketWatch and find three symbols for a September $43 put on Wells Fargo (WFC):
You'll notice that they all have a "P" after the date for "put" option. And they all have "00043000," indicating the $43 strike price. They all have "1309" as well, meaning that they expire in the ninth month (September) of 2013.
The only difference is that these three options expire on different days – Friday the 6th, Friday the 13th, and Saturday the 21st.
Heavily traded stocks – like Wells Fargo – often offer weekly options. A weekly option may expire on any Friday of the month other than the "third Friday." So in our example, the 21st is a standard monthly option and the other two are weeklies.
One standard option contract represents 100 shares. But some securities – Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN), and ETFs for gold (GLD) and the S&P 500 (SPY) – now have "mini-options" available. A mini-option contract represents 10 shares. Mini-option symbols are represented by a "7" behind the stock ticker.
Here are the symbols for the Apple October $525 standard and mini-calls:
Mini-options are often listed alongside standard options, but they're easy to recognize. You can pick them out of a list because the extra digit makes their symbols longer than standard options.
You can learn more about mini-options on the Chicago Board Options Exchange website. And you can always contact your brokerage's customer service department for questions about its website.
Amber Lee Mason and Brian Hunt
Former editors, DailyWealth Trader
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