History of the options markets – Introduction
This article written by Akshit GUPTA (ESSEC Business School, Master in Management, 2019-2022) presents an introduction to the History of the Options markets.
Options are a type of derivative contracts which give the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying security at a pre-determined price and date. These contracts can either be traded over-the-counter (OTC) through dealer or broker network or can be traded over an exchange in a standardized form.
A brief history
The history of the use of options can be dated back to ancient times. In early 4th century BC, a philosopher, and an astronomer, named Thales of Miletus calculated a surplus olive harvest in his region during the period. He predicted an increase in demand for the olive presses due to an increase in the harvest. To benefit from his prediction, he bought the rights to use the olive presses in his region by paying a certain sum. The olive harvest saw a significant surplus that year and the demand for olive presses rose, as predicted by him. He then exercised his option and sold the rights to use the olive presses at a much higher prices than what he actually paid, making a good profit. This is the first documented account of the use of option contracts dating back to 4th century BC.
The use of option contracts was also seen during the Tulip mania of 1636. The tulip producers used to sell call options to the investors when the tulip bulbs were planted. The investors had the right to buy the tulips, when they were ready for harvest, at a price pre-determined while buying the call option. However, since the markets were highly unstandardized, the producers could default on their obligations.
But the event laid a strong foundation for the use of option contracts in the future.
Until 1970s, option contracts were traded over-the-counter (OTC) between investors. However, these contracts were highly unstandardized leading to investor distrust and illiquidity in the market.
In 1973, the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE)) was formed in USA, laying the first standardized foundation in options trading. In 1975, the Options clearing corporation (OCC) was formed to act as a central clearing house for all the option contracts that were traded on the exchange. With the introduction of these 2 important bodies, the option trading became highly standardized and general public gained access to it. However, the Put options were introduced only in 1977 by CBOE. Prior to that, only Call options were traded on the exchange.
With the advent of time, options market grew significantly with more exchanges opening up across the world. The option pricing models, and risk management strategies also became more sophisticated and complex.
The participants in the options markets can be broadly classified into following groups:
- Market makers: A market maker is a market participant in the financial markets that simultaneously buys and sells quantities of any option contract by posting limit orders. The market maker posts limit orders in the market and profits from the bid-ask spread, which is the difference by which the ask price exceeds the bid price. They play a significant role in the market by providing liquidity.
- Margin traders: Margin traders are market participants who make use of the leverage factor to invest in the options markets and increase their position size to earn significant profits. But this trading style is highly speculative and can also lead to high losses due to the leverage effect.
- Hedgers: Investors who try to reduce their exposure in the financial markets by using hedging strategies are called hedgers. Hedgers often trades in derivative products to offset their risk exposure in the underlying assets. For example, a hedger who is bearish about the market and has shares of Apple, will buy a Put option on the shares of Apple. Thus, he has the right to sell the shares at a high price if the market price for apple shares goes down.
- Speculators: Speculative investors are involved in option trading to take advantage of market movements. They usually speculative on the price of an underlying asset and account for a significant share in option trading.
Types of option contracts
The option contracts can be broadly classified into two main categories, namely:
A call option is a derivative contract which gives the holder of the option the right, but not an obligation, to buy an underlying asset at a pre-determined price on a certain date. An investor buys a call option when he believes that the price of the underlying asset will increase in value in the future. The price at which the options trade in an exchange is called an option premium and the date on which an option contract expires is called the expiration date or the maturity date.
For example, an investor buys a call option on Apple shares which expires in 1 month and the strike price is $90. The current apple share price is $100. If after 1 month,
The share price of Apple is $110, the investor exercises his rights and buys the Apple shares from the call option seller at $90.
But, if the share prices for Apple falls to $80, the investor doesn’t exercise his right and the option expires because the investor can buy the Apple shares from the open market at $80.
A put option is a derivative contract which gives the holder of the option the right, but not an obligation, to sell an underlying asset at a pre-determined price on a certain date. An investor buys a put option when he believes that the price of the underlying asset will decrease in value in the future.
For example, an investor buys a put option on Apple shares which expires in 1 month and the strike price is $110. The current apple share price is $100. If after 1 month,
The share price of Apple is $90, the investor exercises his rights and sell the Apple shares to the put option seller at $110.
But, if the share prices for Apple rises to $120, the investor doesn’t exercise his right and the option expires because the investor can sell the Apple shares in the open market at $120.
Different style of options
The option style doesn’t deal with the geographical location of where they are traded. However, the contracts differ in terms of their expiration time when they can be exercised. The option contracts can be categorized as per different styles they come in. Some of the most common styles of option contracts are:
American style options give the option buyer the right to exercise his option any time prior or up to the expiration date of the contract. These options provide greater flexibility to the option buyer but also comes at a high price as compared to the European style options.
European style options can only be exercised on the expiration or maturity date of the contract. Thus, they offer less flexibility to the option buyer in terms of his rights. However, the European options are cheaper as compared to the American options.
Bermuda options are a mix of both American and European style options. These options can only be exercised on a specific pre-determined dates up to the expiration date. They are considered to be exotic option contracts and provide limited flexibility to the option buyer to exercise his claim.
Chapter 10 – Mechanics of options markets, pg. 235-240, Options, Futures, and Other Derivatives by John C. Hull, Ninth Edition
Wikipedia Options (Finance)
The Street A Brief History of Stock Options
▶ Gupta A. Analysis of the Rogue Trader movie
▶ Gupta A. Market maker – Job description
▶ Gupta A. Tulip mania of 1636
About the author
Article written in June 2021 by Akshit GUPTA (ESSEC Business School, Master in Management, 2019-2022).