4 Must Know Options Expiration Day Traps to Avoid

It’s options expiration day and time to decide what to do with your current positions right? If you sell options, it’s probably an anticipated event. When you buy options, it’s something usually something to dread. Either way, there are things you must know, and steps you should take, to avoid any unpleasant surprises on the third Friday of each month.

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Here are our Top 4 MUST-KNOW traps to avoid during this volatile time and some pointers for handling any crazy positions…

#1 Don’t Exercise Your Option

You really shouldn’t consider exercising options at expiration – it’s just not worth it unless you are a big “fan” of the stock and company. Unless you bought a call or put so that you could take a longer term position in the stock you are generally better off closing the option trade and purchasing the shares outright. In addition, exercising options come with additional fees that you don’t want or need to pay.

#2 European Options Are Different

A majority of the 5,000+ people who frequent this blog daily trade American style options. However, we do have visitors from a lot of the major countries in Europe and elsewhere. So we wanted to make sure everyone knew the differences between American and European style options. Most options are American-style options that you and I will trade and all the rules you already know apply to them. However, some options are European style (and no, they do not trade only in Europe) which have slight variations.

Most index options are European style exercising. European style exercising means that you can ONLY exercise that option AT expiration vs. American when you can exercise the option at anytime up until expiration. This is JUST for exercising purposes and doesn’t mean that you are “stuck” in a position until expiration. These are index options and not ETF options I’ll remind you, so the SPDR S&P 500 (NYSE: SPY), PowerShares QQQ Trust (NASDAQ: QQQQ) and iShares Russell 2000 Index (NYSE: IWM) are all American-style options.

#3 Don’t Hold Positions To The Last Minute End

Letting go is the hardest part of trading. You have a losing trade and you don’t want to give it up because you “could” make money at the end of the day right? Or you have some money on the table in profits but you “could” make more money right? Either way the last couple of days are the worst time to exit trades. You paid good money for the option contract so don’t let it all waste away to time decay during the last couple days. Let some other guy trade those last couple of pennies in value praying for the “big move”. Of course if you’re a net option seller like us, option expiration is a great time! We just let our positions expire worthless and keep the entire premium we collected at expiration as profit. Honestly we should start having expiration day parties!

#4 Check Option Open Interest

Most traders don’t take the time to check out option open interest. This is the number of open contracts for both puts and calls in a given month. The theory behind this is that the more “overlap” there is in the strike prices, the more likely the market will tend to trade towards that level at expiration. Since we know that most contracts expire worthless at expiration, it’s safe to assume that the market will move into an area that causes the “most pain” for option buyers.

  • Christine

    Okay, at the fear of sounding really silly, open interest is the amount of contracts out there that could be bought or sold?

    • Kirk – Admin

      No stupid questions Christine…A common misconception is that open interest is the same thing as volume of options and futures trades. This is not true. Open interest is the total number of options and/or futures contracts that are not closed on a particular day and thus left "open" for trading the next day. Hope this helps!!

  • Christine

    Okay so if I am understanding this correctly volume has nothing to do with open interest? What does it mean when an option has 3300 open interest and 0 volume? Thanks!

    • Kirk – Admin

      that means 3,300 contracts are still open but no volume on the trading day…

  • Christine

    Oh, sorry I meant Jan not Dec.

  • cashalot

    Then when is a good time to close your position?

  • John

    Hi, #4 what do you mean by “overlap” in the strike prices.

    • http://optionalpha.com/ Kirk Du Plessis

      Meaning you want to look for areas where there is big open interest and volume on BOTH the call and put side. That area might be where the market things the stock will close at expiration.