Getting Better Prices on Your Mini Options

05/07/2013 8:00 am EST

Focus: OPTIONS

The commissions on these new products aren’t that great, says option trader Greg Loehr of OptionsBuzz.com, but he offers a tip on how you can save money.

The minis are here. Stocks including AAPL, AMZN, GLD and the SPYs have mini options that settle to 10 shares per contract instead of the usual 100. This is a great development for investors holding odd-lots of stock.

But until commissions come down (currently mini option commissions appear to me to be the same as the regular options), use these options sparingly. Appropriate mini strategies might include the very common once-a-month covered call, for instance. Yahoo! Finance has a nice article about this.

For those of you that decide that the minis make sense for your portfolio, then here's a way of possibly getting better prices for your trades. Take a look at this option chain that shows AAPL options for both regular May expiration and the May minis.

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Even though the regular options and the minis settle to differing amounts of the underlying, the dollar pricing of the options should in theory be the same. The regular May 470 call has a bid/ask of $2.04-$2.09. If you were going to sell this call as part of a covered call strategy, then instead of simply selling the call at the bid price of $2.02 you probably would look to shave the price and perhaps offer the call at a price of $2.05. It may be just a few pennies different, but trust me, that really adds up over time.

Typically, the mini option quotes are going to be a little less liquid, which means wider bid/ask spreads. Wider bid/ask spreads normally lead to higher slippage costs, but that doesn't have to be the case with the minis. You can use the tighter regular option quotes as a better indication of the mini option quote. Since the regular 470 call is $2.04-$2.09, that's probably a good indication that the real market for the mini 470 call is the same, or at least a little closer to it.

Taking this idea a little deeper, let's now throw in "last." The column labeled "last" shows the price at which the option last traded. I've repeatedly said that this piece of data is largely useless because it might have been several minutes, hours, or even days since this particular option last traded. By all means, never use "last" as a trigger for an order. AAPL is heavily traded though.

When looking at the market in real time you can use "last" to see what prices are actually trading in between the bid/ask. This can perhaps help you get an even better price for your option. Look again at this snapshot and notice the last price of the regular 470 call, which has been circled.

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This price just traded as this snapshot was taken. And now this information can help you price the mini call. But is this the price that I can buy or sell?? Probably either since AAPL, and the other stocks with minis, are very heavily traded. With stocks like these it's quite possible that the person taking the other side of your trade may not be a market maker, but rather another retail trader like you just looking to get a better price.

By Greg Loehr of OptionsBuzz.com

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