Home Trading Options Trading UK Guide 2022
Kane Pepi

Options are financial derivatives that allow you to profit from rising and falling markets. The main concept is that you get to access your chosen asset class by paying a small premium. Unlike futures, options give you the right, but not the obligation, to purchase or sell the respective asset.

As such, an unsuccessful trade would only result in you losing the premium that you paid to access the market. With that said, options trading is a lot more complex than investing in stocks, ETFs, or bonds – so there is much to learn before you take the plunge.

In our UK Options Trading Guide, we cover everything there is to know. We explain the basics of how options trading in the UK works, what assets you can access, how you make money, and what you need to do to get started today.

In This Guide

What is Options Trading?

what is options trading?Options are financial derivatives that allow traders to access their chosen asset class in a low-risk environment. Unlike traditional financial products such as stocks, ETF trading, or UK bonds – there is no requirement to purchase the underlying instrument in full.

Instead, options simply require an upfront premium.  Before entering the market, you first need to determine whether you think the asset will increase or decrease in value before the options contracts expire. For example, a Tesla stock options contract might be priced at $400 with an expiry date 25th November 2020.

If your prediction is successful, you can exercise your right to buy or sell the asset at the contract price. In this case, that would be $400 per Tesla stock. If your prediction is incorrect, you simply lose the premium. This is often 5-10% of the options contract price, albeit, this will vary depending on the market and your choice of broker.

Crucially, understanding how options trading in the UK works can take time. With that in mind, we are going to elaborate on some of the key terms you need to know before getting started.

In particular, we are going to cover:

  • Calls and Puts
  • Expiry Date
  • Strike Price
  • Premium
  • Contact Value

Once you read through the following sections in full, the mist should clear.

Call Options and Put Options

First and foremost, you might have come across the terms ‘calls’ and ‘puts’ in your journey towards understanding options trading. In its most basic form, these two terms simply dictate which way you think the markets will go. With that in mind, calls and puts operate much like buy and sell orders. This you will likely know if you have traded other asset classes like stocks, cryptocurrencies, forex, or commodities.

For example:

  • If you think the asset is likely to increase in value, you will be purchasing a call options contract. This is much the same as placing a buy order.
  • If you think the asset is likely to decrease in value, you will be purchasing a put options contract. This is much the same as placing a sell order.

Crucially, this means that options trading allows you to go both long and short on your chosen asset. This means you can profit from rising, as well as falling markets.

Expiry Date

UK options trading durationMuch like futures, options contracts will always have an expiry date. The length of the contract can vary. For example, the length of the contract might be 3-months, 1-month, 1-week, or even 1-day.

This gives you great flexibility in choosing a market that most meets your needs. No matter how long the options contract is active, it will always have a specified date in which it will expire.

When it does, you will have the right, but not the obligation, to purchase or sell the asset (depending on whether you are in possession of calls or puts). You will only exercise your right to purchase or sell the asset if your prediction was successful. If it wasn’t, you simply lose the premium that you paid to access the options market. More on this shortly.

It is important to note that the vast majority of options traders will exit their position before the expiry date. In most cases, you can do this at any given time from when the position goes live, to the date in which the contracts expire. In this sense, the longer the options contract, the more likely you will end up ‘in the money’.

Strike Price

An additional key term is that is unique to the UK options trading arena is that of the ‘strike price’. Put simply, this is the price that you need the asset to surpass to make a profit. This will either be above or below the strike price, depending on whether you’re holding calls or puts.

The strike price will be set by the market, and will almost always be different from the current value of the asset.

For example:

  • Let’s suppose that you are looking to trade Facebook stock options
  • We’ll say that the social-media giant has a current stock price of $291
  • The stocks have been performing well over the past few months, and the market expects this trend to continue in the short-to-medium term.
  • As such, a 3-month options contract on Facebook has a strike price of $320
  • It is then your job to assess whether you think the price of Facebook stocks will be higher or lower than $320, on or before the options contracts expire.

To clarify, if you thought that Facebook stocks will be worth more than $320 within the next three months, you would need to purchase call options. If you think the opposite, you’d need to opt for put options.

Crucially, the strike price will also vary depending on the length of the contract. For example, a contract expiring in November might have a strike price of $320, and $340 for December. As we cover in the next section, the length of the contract will also play a part in what premium you pay to access your chosen options market.

Premium

As we have noted thus far, the premium is what you need to pay to access an options market. It is somewhat similar to a non-refundable security deposit, not least because you will bear the cost of the premium no matter which way the markets go. For example, if your trade is unsuccessful, you lose the premium. If it’s successful, you need to subtract the premium from your gains.

There is no hard-and-fast rule as to what the premium should be priced at, as it depends on several factors such as:

  • The asset class you are looking to trade
  • The length of the options contract
  • The strike price
  • The broker behind the contract

With that being said, a good rule of thumb to follow is that the premium will amount to 5-10% of the total contract price. This might not mean anything to you if you have never traded contracts previously, so let us elaborate with an example.

To keep things consistent, we’ll stick with the 3-month Facebook stock options contract that we mentioned just a moment ago

  • Facebook has a current stock price of $291. You are looking to purchase call options on a 3-month contract with a strike price of $320.
  • The premium required to access the market is $16 per contract. This amounts to 5% of the strike price ($320).
  • When the options expire in three months time, Facebook stocks are priced at $350. This good news, as you purchased a call option at $320 – meaning that you made $30 per contract.
  • But, you also need to factor in the cost of its premium – which was $16.
  • As such, you are left with a profit of $14 per options contract.

Once again, had Facebook not surpassed the strike price of $320, you would have simply lost your $16 premium. As such, your losses were kept to an absolute minimum. This is why options trading is becoming more and more popular with UK investors.

Contract Value

In the example we gave above, we noted that an unsuccessful trade would have resulted in a loss of $16 per contract. With that said, it is important to note that UK options trading brokers typically require you to purchase more than 1 contract. For example, the stock options arena normally consists of 100 contracts. As such, by paying a premium of $16 to trade Facebook options, your total outlay would have been $1,600.

  • As you made $14 per contract, minus the premium, you would have made a profit of $1,400 ($14 x 100 contracts)
  • On the flip side, had the contracts expired at a price below the strike rate, you would have lost $1,600 ($16 premium x 100 contracts)

The good news is that some UK options trading sites allow you to access the market at much lower premiums. This is ideal for those of you with little to no experience in the options trading arena.

Binary Options Trading

There is also a growing binary options scene in the online space. Although there are some similarities to the traditional options market, there are are some clear differences that must be discussed.

First and foremost – and as the name suggests, binary options have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ outcome. That is to say, you either win money or you don’t. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the amount that you can win from a binary options trade is fixed.

For example:

  • Let’s suppose that you are trading Nike stocks, which are currently priced at $80 per share
  • Your chosen broker offers a binary options market at a strike price of $81.
  • The market is active for just 24 hours from when the binary options trade is placed.
  • In other words, you need to speculate whether Nike stocks will be worth more or less than $81 this time tomorrow.
  • The broker offers a win rate of 90%.
  • You stake a total of £200.

So, we’ll say that you purchased a call option on this trade, meaning that you think the price of Nike will surpass $81. If your prediction is correct, you win 90% of your stake. At £200, that’s a profit of £180. If the price finishes below $81, you lose your £200 stake.

Crucially, it doesn’t matter if Nike stocks finish at $81.50, $85, or $100 – you still only make 90% of your stake. This is hugely unfavourable, as your potential gains are firmly fixed. Moreover, although some binary options brokers allow you to exit your position before the contract expires, most don’t.

Finally, binary options markets usually operate on a much smaller timeframe in comparison to the traditional sector. In fact, a market can last for just 60 seconds.  As such, you are effectively rolling the dice.

What Assets Can You Trade as Options?

One of the main benefits of trading options in the UK is that you can access most asset classes. Some of the most popular options markets include:

  • Stocks
  • Indices
  • Hard Metals
  • Energies
  • Agricultural Products
  • Forex
  • ETFs

Although stock options are usually traded in lot sizes of 100 contracts, other asset classes will vary. This is especially the case with high-value assets like gold. You can check how many contracts you need to purchase with your chosen options trading platform.

Features of Options Trading in the UK

Options allow you to place sophisticated trades that meet your personal investing targets. Some of the main benefits that this presents include.

Hedging

Options are great for hedging. For example, let’s suppose that you have a portfolio of stocks and shares, and you are concerned about a potential market downturn. Instead of selling your portfolio, you can hedge against your concerns by purchasing some put options.

  • If your concerns are correct and the wider stock markets do in fact go down in value, you will make money from your put options trade.
  • At the same time, you will also lose money, as the value of your stock portfolio has gone down. In theory, this means that you are in the same financial position, as your hedging strategy resulted in a break-even scenario.
  • Similarly, you will also break-even if your concerns were not realised. This is because you will lose money from your put options trade, but make money because the value of your stock portfolio has increased.

You also need to factor in the fees associated with hedging, such as spreads and trading commissions.

Low-Risk Barrier to Entry

Options allow you to access a financial market with a small outlay. After all, you only need to pay a premium – which is often a few percent of the contract value. For example, if you think that the value of IBM stocks are due to increase, but you don’t have the required capital to make a share purchase, options are ideal.

This is because you are simply looking to profit from the difference between the market price of your chosen stock, against that of the strike price. As such, there is no requirement to buy the shares in full.

Losses are Fixed

When you invest in assets such as stocks or ETFs, there is no knowing how much you might lose. For example, in a matter of weeks, many blue-chip stocks suffered losses in the region of 30-50% due to the coronavirus pandemic. As such, had you entered the market before the crash, you would have been staring at huge losses.

UK options trading strategies

At the other end of the spectrum, you can never lose more than the premium when trading options in the UK. This ensures that you do not lose more than you had anticipated and that you always stay within budget.

Cash Out Before the Expiry Date

There is often a misconception that by purchasing options your fate is determined only when the contract expires. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as most traders actually exit their options position well before the expiry date.

After all, the value of your options contract will go up and down depending on how the underlying asset is performing in the market.

For example:

  • Let’s suppose that you purchase a Microsoft call options contract
  • The strike price is $220
  • When you placed the trade, Microsoft shares were valued at $200. As such, you need the stocks to go up by a further $20
  • A few weeks later, Microsoft stocks are moving in an upward direction, and currently priced at $260
  • Although you still have a further two months before the contracts expire, you decide to cash in your profits.
  • In doing so, you make a tidy profit of $40 per contract – less the premium

With that said, there might come a time where you need to exit the position at a loss. Although this isn’t ideal, seasoned traders will often prefer to take a small hit on their investment, as opposed to running the risk of letting the options expire worthless.

How Do People Potentially Make Money Trading Options

Attempting to calculate your profits and losses when trading options in the UK can be challenging. This is because there are several factors that need to be considered, such as the premium and strike price.

To ensure you don’t part with your capital without first having a full understanding of how you make money from options trading, below you will find some simple examples.

Example 1: Call Options Trade

As you now know, purchasing a call option means that you believe the value of the asset will increase.

  • You purchase 100 stock call options on Disney with a strike price of $140
  • The contracts are set to expire in two months
  • The premium is $7, meaning that your total stake is $700
  • 1-month into the trade, Disney stocks begin an upward price rally
  • Although the stocks are now worth $160, which is above the strike price, you decide to keep your position open
  • When the contracts expire, Disney stocks are worth $190

You finished ‘in the money’, as the price of Disney stocks is now higher than your strike price. As such, we need to explore how much money you made.

  • The stocks finished at $190, and your strike price was $140
  • This represents a profit of $50 per contract
  • However, you also need to subtract the premium, which was $7 per contract
  • This leaves you a net profit of $43 per contract
  • You purchased 100 contracts in total, meaning that your overall profit is $4,300

As you can see from the above example, you were able to make a huge profit of $4,300 – even though you were only required to outlay $700 via the premium.

Ordinarily, had you purchased 100 Disney stocks at the strike price of $140, you would have invested a total of $14,000. This is a prime example of how UK options trading platforms allow you to access a lucrative marketplace, without you needing to have a large bankroll.

Example 2: Put Options Trade

As you now know, purchasing a put option means that you believe the value of the asset will decrease.

  • You purchase 2,000 stock put options on Ford Motors with a strike price of $6
  • The contracts are set to expire in three months
  • The premium is $0.30, meaning that your total stake is $600
  • 1-month into the trade, Ford Motors is priced at $4 per share
  • You are happy with your profits, so you exit the position two months before the contracts expire

You went short on Ford Motors put options, so we need to calculate your returns.

  • The strike price on your put options was $6 and you closed the position at $4
  • This means that you made $2 per contract
  • You then need to subtract your premium of $0.30, which leaves you with a profit of $1.70 per contract
  • You purchased 2,000 put contracts, so your overall profit is $3,400

Once again, you were able to net a tidy profit by outlaying just a small amount of capital.

Options Trading Risks

Options trading in the UK won’t be for everyone, so be sure to consider the risks before parting with your money. At the forefront of these risks is the complexity of options. After all, you need to consider lots of variables such as the strike price, duration, and premium.

You also need to determine when is a good time to exit your position, if at all.  As such, many newbie traders will make mistakes when first accessing the options space, which can be costly. Additionally, if you fail to exit your options contract before the expiry date, you will lose your entire stake if you don’t end up ‘in the money’.

All in all, and much like any other asset class, there is every chance that you will make a loss when trading options, so never stake more than you can afford to lose.

Options Trading Strategies

There are heaps of options trading strategies that you might want to look into a bit further. This at the very least will ensure that you have an entry and exit plan on each of your trades.

Two of the most widely used strategies are as follows:

Married Put Strategy

This particular strategy is a form of hedging that allows you to limit the potential downside of an investment. For example, let’s suppose that you purchase 100 Twitter stocks. Additionally, you also purchase 1 Twitter put option which consists of 100 stocks.

The idea here is that the investor hopes that the price of Twitter increases. If it does, they will profit from the upside, less the premium that they paid for the options. On the other hand, if Twitter shares decrease in price, the value of the investor’s portfolio will go down.

However, these losses are mitigated by the put contracts that were purchased. In turn, the investor still has their portfolio of Twitter stocks, albeit, at a reduced value. As a result, this could present an opportunity to purchase further Twitter stocks at a more favourable price.

Long Straddle Strategy

A long straddle strategy will see the investor purchase both call and put options at the same time. The options must be on the same market and duration, and both have the same strike price.

long Straddle Strategy

In theory, the investor will break-even no matter which way the markets go. But, the idea here is to profit when the asset breaks out of a specified range and begins a new trend.

For example, let’s say that the investor is holding both call and put options on gold, and it appears the asset is about to go on a prolonged upward trajectory. The investor will then offload their put options, and keep their call options in the market. Even though the investor will make a loss on their puts, they essentially have an unlimited upside potential with their calls.

Options Trading Tips

As you now know, trading options in the UK and making consistent profits is no easy feat. With this in mind, below you will find some useful tips to help point you in the right direction.

Try Options Trading Signals

Knowing which way the markets are likely to move can be challenging. When you then factor in the complexities of options, this makes the process even harder. As such, it is well worth considering an options trading signal service. This works much the same as  forex signals, insofar that your chosen provider will send you trading suggestions.

This will likely include the following data points:

  • The specific options market (including asset, strike price, duration, etc.)
  • Whether you should purchase put or call options (or maybe both if it’s an advanced strategy)
  • What your exit strategy should be

The signals are usually derived from automated algorithms that are tasked with scanning the financial markets. The algorithm will look for trends and alert you when an options trading opportunity is in the making.

Take an Options Trading Course

There is no better way to learn the ins and outs of UK options trading than to take a dedicated course. There are many courses available in this respect – most of which can be completed online. Most options courses will cover everything you need to know to get your trading career off on the right foot.

Use an Options Trading Demo Account

We can’t stress enough how important it is to make use of an options trading demo account. Such accounts are typically offered by options brokers trading brokers in the UK and usually come pre-loaded with virtual demo funds. This allows you to get to grips with options trading without risking your own capital. Demo accounts are also used by seasoned traders as a means to test-drive new strategies.

Read an Options Trading Book

To supplement an online course, it is also a good idea to read an options trading book. One of the most respected is that of Option Volatility & Pricing by Sheldon Natenberg. Although the book was first launched in 1988, it has stood the test of time. The book is regularly updated and re-published to incorporate modern trading strategies and market conditions.

Stick With Stocks

Although there are dozens of asset classes that you can trade options on, it might be better to stick with stocks. This is because stock options are a lot easier to understand than the likes of government securities, hard metals, or energies. In the case of major blue-chip stocks, these are also a lot less volatile. Once you get comfortable with how stock options work, you can then consider diversifying into other assets.

Options Trading Platforms

1. Plus500

Plus500 is an FCA-regulated trading platform that allows you trade option CFDs. In theory, although you will be trading CFDs as opposed to traditional options, you will still need to judge whether you think the value of the asset will go up or down in relation to the strike price. In other words, the options CFD will have a value when you initially place the order and then move up and down thereon.

For example, let's suppose that you opt for a call option CFD on Facebook stocks. If the real-world value of Facebook stocks increases, it is likely that the value of your call option CFD will follow suit. At Plus500, option CFDs are available on several asset classes. These include gold, oil, the FTSE 100, natural gas, and various stocks.

Plus500 allows you to access its option CFD instruments on a commission-free basis, alongside competitive spreads. There is 24/7 customer support available if you need assistance understanding a particular market. However, the platform is unable to give you trading advice. If you want to get started with Plus500, it takes minutes to open an account. You can deposit funds instantly with a debit/credit card or Paypal, and account minimums start at £100.

Our Rating

80.5% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. Sponsored ad

2. AvaTrade

AvaTrade is a trusted online trading platform that offers thousands of financial instruments. This covers heaps of CFDs in the form of stocks, indices, commodities, and cryptocurrencies. Crucially, the platform also offers a dedicated options trading department - AvaOptions.

This gives you access to options contracts on over 40+ forex pairs, alongside gold. The AvaOptions platform allows you to deploy trading strategies with ease, including but not limited to; strangles, risk reversals and straddles. The platform also comes jam-packed with risk management tools, and you will have the ability to keep tabs on your invests via the AvaTrade trading app.

If you want to get started with AvaTrade, you can open an account by meeting a £100 minimum deposit. The platform supports debit/credit cards and bank transfers. While the former is instant, transferring funds from your bank account will take a couple of days. Finally, you will have no concerns at AvaTrade when it comes to safety, not least because the platform is regulated in several jurisdictions.

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3. IG

IG is well-known in the UK brokerage scene. Launched in 1974, it is now home to hundreds of thousands of traders. You can buy traditional stocks and ETFs and even access a fully-fledged spread betting facility. When it comes to options, IG works much the same as Plus500. That is to say, you will be trading option CFDs.

This does come with several benefits. Firstly, IG offers some of the tightest spreads in the industry. You will also have a full birds-eye view of your charges, as everything is built into the spread. Besides this, you will have the ability to apply leverage on your option CFD trades. IG offers several timeframes, too.

This includes option markets on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis. In terms of asset classes, this includes everything from stocks, forex, indices, and more. IG has a slightly higher minimum deposit than the other UK options trading platforms on our list at £250. You can do this with a debit/credit card or bank account transfer.

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4. Interactive Brokers

Arguably, Interactive Brokers offer one of the most extensive options trading platforms in the online space. This heavy-weight broker has an excellent reputation with seasoned traders, especially when it comes to accessing complex products like options.

You will be able to purchase both buy and call puts at the click of a button from a full range of exchanges. This includes several asset classes, although the platform is particularly strong when it comes to stock indices. Interactive Brokers is competitively priced.

However, the specific fee that you pay to access your chosen options market will depend on your account type. You can choose from a tiered plan, which charges you a low commission. This commission will then decrease as your trading volume increases. Alternatively, you can opt for a fixed-rate plan. This is more suited for those of you that plan to charge larger volumes.

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Options Trading Fees

Here’s an overview of what fees you will pay with popular UK options trading platforms.

Options Trading Fees

The cost of trading options is dependant on the broker you use. Here’s how some popular UK options brokers match up in terms of charges.

Futures Broker Commission Deposit Fees Inactivity Fee Withdrawal Fee
Plus500 0% Free $10 per quarter after 3 months £0
AvaTrade Variable spread Free $50 per month after 3 months £0
Interactive Brokers Flat or variable commission Free $20 per month if under $2,000 account balance £0
IG Built into the spread Free (0.5%-1% on credit cards) £12 per month after 2 years £0

In addition to the above, make sure you check whether or not any currency conversion fees apply when accessing non-GBP markets.

How to Start Options Trading

If you’ve read our guide up to this point and you are ready to proceed with a live options trading account, we are now going to show you what you need to do. The guidelines below are based on a popular trading platform  – which offers commission-free option CFDs that come with tight spreads.

Step 1: Open a Trading Account

You will first need to head over to the platform’s homepage and elect to open an account.  The platform will ask you to provide some personal information and contact details.

You will also be asked to upload some ID, as per UK anti-money laundering laws. If you don’t have time to upload your passport/driver’s license straight away, you can do this later. You will, however, need to do this before you can make a withdrawal.

Step 2: Make a Deposit

Debit/credit cards and Paypal are all accepted, which are both instant payment methods. You can also deposit funds via a bank transfer, but it can a few days to clear.

Either way, you will need to meet a £100 minimum. There are no fees to deposit or withdrawal at Plus500.

Step 3: Place an Options Trade

Once your account has been funded, head over to the trading area and choose the asset class that you wish to trade options on. In our example, we are looking to trade oil CFD options.

You will then see a list of various call and put options, each with different strike prices. The buy and sell price of each contract will vary depending on which strike price you opt for.

Once you have decided on a market, click on the ‘buy’ or ‘sell’ button – depending on which way you think the markets will go. You will then need to fill out an order form, which simply requires the number of ‘option’ CFDs that you wish to purchase.

Finally, confirm the trade. You can exit your position at any point in time before the contracts expire.

Conclusion

In summary, options trading in the UK can be a complex financial battleground for those with little to no experience of how things work. However, once you get your head around options, they offer lots of opportunities to profit from the financial markets in a low-risk manner. After all, the most you can lose when purchasing traditional options contracts is that of the premium.

With that said, the a popular options trading platform is Plus500. The provider offers options in the form of CFDs, meaning that you need to determine whether the contract will increase or decrease in value. You can also apply leverage, which allows you to trade with more money than you have in your account.

FAQs

How much can you make trading binary options?

How are options different to futures?

How can I get approved for options trading?

What assets you can trade with options contracts?

What is the premium in options trading?

What is the difference between a call and put option?

How many options contracts do you need to buy?

Kane Pepi

Kane Pepi

Kane holds academic qualifications in the finance and financial investigation fields. With a passion for all-things finance, he currently writes for a number of online publications.

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