News & Analysis

Understanding ‘At the Money’

7 August 2021 By GO Markets


Options trading is a complex and fascinating arena that offers traders a wide array of strategies and opportunities to profit from price movements in various financial assets. One fundamental concept that traders encounter frequently is the term “at the money,” often abbreviated as “ATM.” In this article, we will delve into the meaning of “at the money” in options trading, its significance, and how it influences trading decisions.

Understanding “At the Money”
In options trading, the phrase “at the money” refers to a specific situation where the price of the underlying asset is approximately equal to the strike price of the option. In other words, when an option is considered “at the money,” it means that the market price of the underlying asset and the strike price of the option are very close or nearly identical.

To illustrate, let’s say you hold a call option on Stock ABC with a strike price of $50. If the current market price of Stock ABC is hovering around $50, that call option would be described as “at the money.” Similarly, if you have a put option with a $50 strike price and the market price of Stock ABC is also $50, that put option would be “at the money.”

Why “At the Money” Matters
The designation of “at the money” is crucial because it has a significant impact on the pricing, behavior, and potential profitability of an option. In fact, it serves as a dividing line between two other key options classifications: “in the money” (ITM) and “out of the money” (OTM).

In the Money (ITM): An option is considered “in the money” when the market price of the underlying asset is favorable for the option holder’s position. For call options, this means the market price is above the strike price. For put options, it means the market price is below the strike price.

Out of the Money (OTM): Conversely, an option is classified as “out of the money” when the market price of the underlying asset is not favorable for the option holder’s position. In the case of call options, this means the market price is below the strike price, while for put options, it means the market price is above the strike price.

“At the money” is the point where neither party (call option holder or put option holder) has a clear advantage. It signifies a neutral position, where the cost of exercising the option is approximately equal to the current market value of the underlying asset. This neutrality is reflected in the option’s premium or price, which tends to be lower than for options that are “in the money.”

Pricing of “At the Money” Options

The pricing of options, including “at the money” options, is influenced by several factors, known as the option’s “Greeks.” The most important Greek that relates to the pricing of options at or near the money is the “Delta.”

Delta: Delta measures how much an option’s price is expected to change in response to a $1 change in the underlying asset’s price. For “at the money” options, the delta is typically around 0.50, meaning there is a 50% probability that the option will finish “in the money” by expiration.
For example, if you have an “at the money” call option with a delta of 0.50, and the underlying asset’s price increases by $1, the option’s price is expected to rise by approximately $0.50. Conversely, if the underlying asset’s price decreases by $1, the option’s price should decline by about $0.50.

This delta value of 0.50 for “at the money” options highlights their near-neutral position in terms of potential profit or loss. Traders often use delta as a way to gauge the likelihood of their option ending up “in the money” or “out of the money” and to manage their risk accordingly.

Trading Strategies Involving “At the Money” Options
Traders employ various strategies when dealing with “at the money” options, depending on their market outlook and risk tolerance. Here are a few common strategies:

Long Straddle: This strategy involves buying both a call and a put option with the same strike price, typically “at the money.” Traders use this strategy when they anticipate a significant price movement in either direction but are uncertain about the direction of the move. The goal is to profit from the volatility that often accompanies such price swings.

Covered Call Writing: In this strategy, investors who already own the underlying asset sell “at the money” call options. By doing so, they generate income from the premium received while also providing some downside protection if the stock price declines slightly. If the stock rises significantly above the strike price, they may be required to sell the asset but will still profit from the premium received.

Protective Put: Traders and investors can buy “at the money” put options as insurance against potential declines in the value of their holdings. If the underlying asset’s price falls below the strike price, the put option can help offset the losses.

Risks and Considerations
While “at the money” options can be a versatile part of an options trading strategy, it’s essential to understand the risks involved. Options, in general, can expire worthless if not exercised, leading to a loss of the premium paid for the option.

Additionally, the price movement required for “at the money” options to become profitable can be significant, as they are closer to the boundary between “in the money” and “out of the money.” Traders should carefully assess the market conditions, implied volatility, and their risk tolerance when considering “at the money” options in their trading decisions.

In conclusion, “at the money” options play a crucial role in options trading, representing a neutral position where the market price of the underlying asset aligns closely with the option’s strike price. Understanding the significance of “at the money” options, their pricing factors, and the various trading strategies that involve them can empower traders to make more informed decisions in the dynamic world of options trading. However, it’s essential to remember that options trading carries inherent risks, and it’s advisable to seek professional advice or conduct thorough research before engaging in options trading activities.

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Disclaimer: Articles are from GO Markets analysts and contributors and are based on their independent analysis or personal experiences. Views, opinions or trading styles expressed are their own, and should not be taken as either representative of or shared by GO Markets. Advice, if any, is of a ‘general’ nature and not based on your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Consider how appropriate the advice, if any, is to your objectives, financial situation and needs, before acting on the advice. If the advice relates to acquiring a particular financial product, you should obtain and consider the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Financial Services Guide (FSG) for that product before making any decisions.