Stock options expire, meaning that they have a limited life span. An option’s expiration date is the date when the options contract becomes invalid and the right to exercise the option no longer exists. Options expire on the Saturday following the third Friday of the expiration month. The last trading day is that third Friday; unless that Friday is a holiday, when the option will stop trading on the third Thursday.
For single stock options, there are three expiration cycles. The first cycle is often referred to as the January cycle. Options in this cycle will expire during the first month of each quarter: January, April, July, and October. The second cycle is referred to as the February cycle. Options in this cycle expire in February, May, August, and November. Finally, the third cycle is the March cycle. These options expire in March, June, September, and December.
Serial Expiration Months
Equity options also have a serial month listed. In addition to the cyclical expiration months, equity options have serial months that guarantee that the current month plus the following expiration month is always available to trade. This means that every stock has at least four expiration months trading, and the first two months are always the two near (serial) months. The remaining two months in the cycle adhere to the above stated cycles.
Say it is the beginning of the calendar year and a trader is looking at purchasing a stock that has options listed in the January cycle. The months listed would be the current month (January) and the following month (February), and then the next two months will be April and July, as the pattern follows the first expiration cycle. When January options expire, the front-month becomes February and March options are added. The four available months now would be February, March, April, and July. When February options expire, March becomes the front month and April is the next month. Because, April options are already trading, October options are added (the next month in the January cycle).
While option expiration cycles may seem confusing, a bit of time learning and understanding the process will lead to better trading, as it can be helpful to know what expiration months will come available in the future. (See my recent article Option Order Types).
Dan Passarelli is with www.markettaker.com.