How to Read an Options Chain

  • August 21, 2018

Watch our video on how to read an options chain.

How Do You Use an Options Chain & What is It?

  1. This is what an options chain is and how to use it:
  2. An option chain shows all the major components of a contract.
  3. Such as expiration, open interest, volume, strike prices and Greeks.
  4. Pick trading strategy and expiration date.
  5. Look for high open interest and volume.
  6. Choose strike prices.
  7. Determine entry and exit strategy.
  8. Place trade.

An OC makes up the foundation of trading options. Knowing how to read an option chain properly is key when options trading. The video above gives you an in depth tutorial on how to understand an option chain. 

An OC is the hub of options trading. Options chains show everything from calls and puts to strike prices. It's the location where all options trades are placed.

Hence the ability to read options chains are critical. The majority of brokers have everything needed to place an options trade in a chain. Options have many moving parts that affect price and profit.

The options chain has everything there for quick scanning of activity, especially when you trade weekly options.

1. Basics of an Options Chain

They contain all the information needed to place a trade. It's set up in a matrix and can be customized. You may have an options trading strategy where you look for certain things.

As a result, you're able to add in filters to find what you're looking for. An options chain displays open interest, price change, bid/ask spreads and volume.

Everything is listed in an easy to understand manner. You're shown strike prices and expiration dates that allow you to find the right premium.

Options give you the right but not the obligation to buy (call) or sell (put) a stock at a specified price (strike). The chains are also laid out in a format that shows if a strike is in the money, at the money and out of the money.

Tight bid/ask spreads coupled with high open interest are the best kinds of options contracts to trade. All of this is available to options traders right in the options chart.

Without the options chart you can't trade. With this in mind, it's important to realize just how important options chains are.

options chain

2. Where Are Calls and Puts Found in Options Chains?

You can't trade options without calls and puts. Calls take the bullish side of the market. Whereas puts are the bearish side. One of the great things about puts is the ability to short sell if you're broker doesn't have many shares to short.

As a result, you can make money in a market that goes up and down. The importance of that is the ability to make money no matter what. There are some traders who can only make money in a bullish market. This is where selling options becomes so important.

However, the market trades in cycles. As a result, what goes up must come down. That means options trading has the bearish and bullish options on the options chart.

The calls are located on one side. The puts on the other. The strike prices along with the expiration dates are in the middle separating the two.

Calls and puts are pretty important to options trading. Choosing the right direction is imperative to profit potential. They also make up different strategies such as iron condors and spreads.

What is OI in an Option Chain?

  • OI aka open interest shows the total number of outstanding contracts on an option chain. Each strike price has a different number of OI. Typically, the higher the open interest the higher the interest and better the liquidity of getting in and out of the trade.

You can make the layout of your options chain to fit your trading style. There may be things that are important to you; such as open interest and volume.

You may only want to see the Greeks on your options chain or intrinsic and extrinsic value. You may even want all of it showing. However, that may be too many things to look at at once.

Open interest is a good thing to have on your options chain. It shows you how many other traders are interested in a strike price. You may want to buy a call on a stock with a $10 but the open interest is only 120.

Whereas the open interest on the put side is 2,346. That tells you a lot more traders thing that stock is going bearish. You may then want to reconsider and take a look at the charts to see what the patterns are telling you (check out our stock market basics page).

options chain

1. Options Trading Strategies & Options Chain

There are many different options trading strategies because you can make money in any market. Hence the appeal of options. There's a strategy if the market is up, down and even trading sideways.

Options chains have the different strategies already in there for you. For example, a stock is trading in a narrow range and not moving much. You can trade an iron condor and make money on a stock trading sideways.

Let's say you want to trade a stock that's moving up but you don't have a lot of money to risk. You can trade vertical spread. You're limiting your risk by not placing a lot of capital into the trade.

Naked calls and puts are also there to be traded. If you see a stock that's ripping in either direction and you want in, you can trade a call or put. The great thing about options is that one contract controls 100 shares.

So you get the advantage of trading 100 shares per contract without having to pay the price for owning 100 shares. In essence, no matter your strategy, it's all there in the options chain for you. Take our options trading course.

The Bottom Line

An options chain is where traders go to get important information. Options chains allow you to place the trade you want. Even taking the time to understand an options chain is important. 

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