What are vanilla options?

15 Aug

Vanilla options are a type of options contract that gives the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset at a predetermined price on or before a specific date. They are one of the most common types of options traded on exchanges around the world. In Hong Kong, traders mainly use vanilla options as a tool for hedging or speculating on market movements.

What is vanilla in the context of finance and investments?

In the financial world, vanilla refers to products or transactions that are relatively straightforward and uncomplicated. For example, a vanilla bond is a traditional debt instrument with no bells and whistles; a vanilla equity swap is a basic agreement to exchange cash flows based on underlying stock prices.

Vanilla options are the simplest type of options contract. They give the holder the right to buy or sell an underlying asset at a predetermined price on or before a specific date. The buyer pays a premium to the seller for this right. If the underlying asset’s market price is above the strike price at expiration, the option is said to be ‘in the money’, and the holder will exercise the option to buy the asset at the strike price. If the market price is below the strike price, the option is ‘out-of-the-money’ and will expire worthlessly.

Options are a type of derivative contract, meaning their value is derived from the underlying asset. The most common underlying assets for options are stocks, stock indexes, and currencies. Options can be traded on exchanges worldwide or over-the-counter (OTC) between two counterparties.

Generally, exchange-traded options have standardised contract terms and are regulated by a governing body such as the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) in Hong Kong. OTC options are typically customised contracts between two counterparties and are not regulated by any central authority.

Advantages and disadvantages of vanilla options

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of vanilla options.


The main advantage of vanilla options is that they give the holder flexibility in managing their risks. Unlike other derivatives such as futures contracts, the holder of a vanilla option is not obliged to take any action. They can choose to exercise the option and buy or sell the underlying asset or let the option expire worthlessly.

Vanilla options are also relatively simple to understand and trade, making them a good choice for investors new to derivatives trading.


The buyer’s premium for a vanilla option is at risk of being forfeited if the market moves against them. Vanilla options also have time decay, meaning their value decreases as expiration approaches. It is because there is a higher probability that the option will expire worthless if it is out-of-the-money.

Another disadvantage of vanilla options is that they are subject to liquidity risk. It is the risk that the buyer will not be able to find a seller when they want to close their position. It can be a problem in thinly traded markets or where there is a sudden change in market conditions.

How to trade vanilla options in Hong Kong

If you want to trade vanilla options in Hong Kong, you must open an account with a broker that offers this service. Make sure to check the fees charged by the broker before you open an account. Once you have opened an account, you must deposit funds to start trading.

When you are ready to trade, you must choose an underlying asset and decide whether you want to buy or sell a call or put option. You will also need to choose an expiration date and strike price. Once you have made your choices, you must enter your order into the broker’s trading platform.

Your order will be matched with a counterparty, and the trade will be executed at the current market price. The premium you pay for the options contract will be deducted from your account balance, and the premium will be added to your account balance if you sell a vanilla option.

Key terms associated with vanilla options

Below are some key terms that you need to know before trading vanilla options:

Strike price: The price at which the holder can buy or sell the underlying asset is also known as the exercise price.

Expiration date: This is the date on which the option contract expires. The holder will no longer have the right to exercise their option after this date.

Premium: This is the price the buyer pays for the options contract, also known as the option price.

Image by Lorenzo Cafaro from Pixabay

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