Quick! Figure out what this means: GMCO170701C00010500.
It is, in appearance, either a nuclear launch code or the reason why finance bloggers should not start drinking before they sit down to write. It is in fact a stock option ticker symbol, and it is something that any options trader will absolutely need to know.
Once you break this down it is really not that complicated.
An option ticker symbol has four individual components. From our example above, they are:
GMCO – The underlying stock symbol.
170701 – The expiration date.
C – The contract type.
00010500 – The strike price.
The Stock Symbol
The first piece of information in a stock options ticker is the symbol of the underlying stock. If the option were trading against General Electric, for example, it would be GE. A Microsoft stock option would begin MSFT and Apple AAPL.
In the example above, the stock symbol GMCO signifiies the fictional company GameCo.
The Expiration Date
Next is the date that the option contract expires, expressed as a two-digit year, month, then day. The format is YYMMDD and includes zeroes. So, in the example, the expiration date of July 1, 2017 is expressed as 17 (2017) 07 (July) 01 (first).
The Contract Type
Options contracts come in two varieties: puts and calls. This is critical information for a trader to know since they are completely different animals. A put contract gives the holder the right to sell a given stock at a given price. A call contract gives them the right to buy it.
In the option ticker, these are denoted by a capital P or a capital C, respectively. So, in the example above, the “C” indicates that this is a call option.
The Strike Price
Finally, the strike is the price at which a trader can exercise their option. In the case of a put option, this is the price for which the holder can sell the underlying stock if he or she chooses. In a call option, the strike is the price for which the holder can buy the asset.
In the option ticker, this is always expressed as an eight-digit number. The first five digits are the dollar value, the last three digits are the cents (expressed out to three decimal places). So, in the example above, 00010500 means a strike price of $10.50.
There are exceptions to the rules, but be careful about reading too much into them. For example, some guides will tell you that all four letter stocks are assigned a special option ticker symbol. This can be true, but it is not always. See, for example, Apple’s options trading merrily away under the symbol AAPL.
However, it is true that sometimes a stock will get assigned a special option ticker symbol. The other major exception that comes up is for an exotic option contract outside the boundaries of the ordinary call or put. These can have their own special symbols; however that is a subject outside the scope of this article. For more information, check out this report here.
All Put Together
Putting it back together then, look again at the original option ticker of GMCO170701C00010500. This represents a call option traded against GameCo’s stock. It has an expiration date of July 1, 2017 and a strike price of $10.50.
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