We thought our stock option trading system would be immune to it, but it turns out that there are a number of changes that throw a monkey wrench in our tracking systems. Basically the CBOE is going to a system that will eliminate the 3-5 digit codes that is used to identify all options today and instead produce a name which will run 19-21 letters and numbers for each and every option. (We will actually have it worse...we will have up to 44 characters to juggle for each contract)

In some ways this will make it easier, at a glance, to know what specific stock, option, strike, expiration and Put/Call you are looking at, but it means looking up a specific option will become much more difficult. For our programmers it is a bit of a nightmare. All of the major brokers attempted to get the time frame extended for switchover, but Options Board has said no and February 12 will be the day. To make matters worse, there will be a "consolidation" period where the symbol will be a hybrid of old and new until May when all old symbols will disappear. securities traders may not recognize their options any longer.
That's when ticker symbols for listed options will expand from as few as three characters to as many as 21 numbers and letters.

The 21-character symbols being spearheaded by the Options Clearing Corp. (OCC)--the clearinghouse for U.S. listed options--will be introduced in February 2010. The current three- to five- character codes will be completely eliminated in May.

While in effect for over 30 years, the current identification codes don't provide sufficient information on underlying securities and cannot accommodate newer types of options such as long-term equity anticipation options (Leaps) and flexible exchange (Flex) options. according to the OCC, which has spearheaded the so-called Options Symbols Initiative (OSI) since 2005.

Of the maximum 21 characters in the new code, the first six characters will represent an option contract's symbol; two characters each for the maturity day, month and year; one for the call or put indicator; five for the strike dollar; and three for the strike price. Today, listed options are named using as many as five characters. Of those five, three characters indicate the root symbol for the option and two characters identify the expiration month, whether it's a put or a call and the strike price for the option.

Let's say that we were going to buy Here is an example of what it will look like:

The basic parts of new stock option symbol are: Root symbol + Expiration Year(yy)+ Expiration Month(mm)+ Expiration Day(dd) + Call/Put Indicator (C or P) + Strike price

The old option symbol format consisted of:

  • Option Root - One to three characters representing underlying stock
  • Month of Expiration & Call/Put - One character representing month of expiration & call/put
  • Strike Price - One character representing the strike price 
For example, a 2010 call option for Intel with a month of expiration of January and a strike price of $17.5, the option would be represented as:
Old Symbol Structure
Option Root  
Month of Expiration & Call/Put
Strike Price 

The OLD stock option symbol would be entered, traded and listed as NQAW

The new option symbol contains the following components:

  • Symbol - One to six symbol for the underlying security (e.g. INTC)
  • Year of Expiration - Two characters representing expiration year
  • Month of Expiration - Two characters representing expiration month
  • Day of Expiration - Two characters for the expiration day
  • Call/Put Indicator - One character for Call(C) or Put(P)
  • Strike Price - One to nine characters for the strike price, including a decimal character if needed
New Symbol Structure 
Option Root 
Year of Exp. 
Month of Exp.
Day of Exp.
Call(C) /  Put(P)
Strike Price
INTC 10 01 16 C 17.5

The NEW option symbol using the new format would be: INTC100116C17.5

Option Stock Expiration Year Expiration Month Expiration Day Call/Put Strike Price Old Symbol New Symbol
Call YHOO 2010 04 16 C 20.00 YHQDD.X YHOO100416C00020000
Put YHOO 2010 04 16 P 20.00 YHQPD.X YHOO100416P00020000

Note: The consolidation of changes in options symbols will happen over a period of time from Jan 2010 to May 2010. Before the symbol change to their new final format as above, for some time you will see the conversion symbols ( e.g.YHQ100416P00020000) . Example: YHQPD.X will become YHQ100416P00020000 before it becomes YHOO100416P00020000 and YHVPE.X will become YHV100416P00025000 before YHOO100416P00025000.

Now obviously from a programming standpoint it makes a lot more sense to simply make the full switch instead of doing it piecemeal which means a rewrite of all programming twice. I also believe it would be easier for users since the new format is pretty intuitive, but I don't control the OCC.

Here is a video from the Options Council that gives a pretty good technical overview of why the changes are being made and what the impact will be..

-Henry Ford
- Pitbull Investor


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