When options trading began in 1973, a limited number of securities traded on the market.
But decades later, with the growing number of optionable stocks, indexes and LEAPs available, it was becoming difficult to create unique symbols using the existing three-to-five character system that was in place.
So, on February 12, 2010, all options tickers became 21 characters long. Although this seems like it would make the symbology much more difficult to understand, it actually created a uniform format that could be universally understood by everyone in the markets.
Let’s go back to the example of the Apple 600 call. You are bullish, hence the call option, and you want to give the stock a little time to move, so you are looking at options with expiration a few months out. So you might want to look at the July 600 Call.
Now, at first glance, AAPL120721C00600000 looks pretty confusing. But let’s take it apart:
AAPL 12 07 21 C 00600000
Options Root — Year — Month — Expiration Date — Type of Option — Strike Price
• Options Root – AAPL — This is the options root that’s between one and six letters, indicating the underlying security (in this case, it’s the Apple stock).
• Year – 12 — These two characters tell you the year in which the option expires. In this case, it’s 2012.
• Month – 07 — The next two characters tell you the month that the option expires. Our Apple option expires in July.
• Expiration Date – 21 — These two characters are the day the option expires. Options technically expire the third Saturday of each month, but because the markets are closed on Saturdays, the options actually expire on day before, on Friday. So in this case, our option technically expires Saturday, July 21, 2012.
• Type of Option – C — This letter tells you whether the option is a call or a put. “C” indicates a call option. A put option would be indicated by a “P.”
• Strike Price – 00600000 — The strike price is comprised of one to nine numbers. The first five are for the strike dollar and the last four are for the strike decimal. In our trade, this number chain indicates a $600 strike price.
Review this chart below for a few more examples:
With all this said regarding option symbols, a few brokers have chosen to use their own format. It is important to know the format your broker is using. What we have described above reflects the industry standard.