Spread betting vs options: what are the key differences?
Spread bets and options are both used to speculate on financial markets. Discover the differences between spread bets and options, and which one is most suited to your strategy.
|Is there an expiry date?
|What asset classes can I trade?
|Commodities, shares, ETFs, indices, forex, options, futures, bonds and more
|Forex, shares, indices and commodities
|Will I take ownership of the asset?
|No, you’d never take ownership of the asset
|You would have the right to take ownership of the asset – but not the obligation to
|What is the medium of exchange?
|Over the counter
|Exchanged traded or over the counter
|Are the trade sizes flexible?
|Yes, you can choose your bet size as long as it meets our minimum requirements
|No, all options contracts are standardised into lots
Spread bets and options both have expiry dates, up until which point the position can be closed and profit or loss realised.
An option has an expiry date, which is the last date the holder of an option can execute the contract for their chosen price – known as the strike price. Options can be closed at any point before or on this expiry date.
Once the expiry date has passed, the contract either have been executed, or it will expire worthless. The decision is completely up to the contract holder, as they have the right but not the obligation to exchange.
Options can cover different timeframes, including daily, weekly and monthly expiry dates. Typically, options will have specific calendar expiry dates. For example, listed US stock options normally expire on the third Friday of the month.
Similarly, a spread bet will have a specific bet duration, which is the length of time before the position expiries. These durations are fixed, but can range from a single day to several months away. Just like options, a spread bet can be closed at any point up until this date of expiry.
With us, you’ll have the choice of two different bet durations:
- Daily funded bets – these remain open for as long as you choose to hold them, with an expiry set in the distant future. They’re generally used for short-term trading, as they have the tightest spreads but are subject to overnight funding
- Quarterly bets – these are futures bets, which expirey at the end of each quarter. They can be rolled over, but you’d have to let us know in advance. Although you’d pay more upfront, all the overnight funding costs are built into the price, so are more cost efficient over the long term
When you trade options contracts with us, what you’d actually be getting is a spread bet or CFD position on the underlying market. These positions could only be held until the underlying expiry date. Spread bet options are not available for roll over and will be settled according to each market’s individual information, which you can find on the deal ticket.
Options contracts can cover a range of assets. Historically, the main options asset classes are stocks, forex and commodities, but with us you can also trade major stock indices, futures contracts and interest rates.
Ownership of assets
At the point of settlement, options contracts can either be settled or rolled over. There are two different types of settlement available to options holders:
- Physical settlement – undertaking the physical delivery of a commodity or ownership of underlying shares, currencies and bonds
- Cash settlement – rather than taking delivery or ownership of the asset, you’d only transfer the amount in cash
When you trade spread bets, you would always settle a position in cash. You wouldn’t ever take ownership of the underlying asset, which makes spread bets completely tax free.1
Medium of exchange
Most options are exchange-traded, which means they’re standardised contracts that are settled through a clearinghouse. You’d be getting a specific quantity of whichever asset you want to trade, for a specific price. The most famous options exchange is the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE).
Some options can be traded over the counter, these are known as exotic options. They consist of a private arrangement between the buyer and seller. As the strike price and expiration date are not standardised, there is a bit more flexibility. This is also the case with spread bets or CFDs on options.
Spread bets are over-the-counter (OTC) transactions, which take place directly between you and your broker or trading provider. OTC trades tend to be more flexible when compared to their exchange-based counterparts, which are more standardised in trade size. This means that you can create agreements that are specific to you and your trading strategy.
Options trade in lots, which represent the number of underlying assets a contract covers. For example, a single share option is worth 100 of the underlying shares. So, if you wanted to buy a Tesla equity option, you’d have the right to buy 100 shares of Tesla on or before your expiry date.
With spread bets, you have more control over your trade size. You can choose your position’s bet size, as long as it meets our minimum requirements. Your profit or loss would be the difference between the opening price and the closing price of your position, multiplied by the value of your bet.
For example, if you put up a bet of £10 per point of movement on gold, and the price moves 50 points in your favour, you’d have a profit of £500 (50 x 10). But if it moved 50 points against you, you’d have lost £500.
Similarities between options and spread betting
There are also plenty of similarities between options and spread bets too. Both are:
- Derivative products – which means they take their value from an underlying market, so you can trade without having to take ownership of the asset in question
- Speculative – you can go long or short on an asset’s price, trading markets that rise and fall in price
- Leveraged – you’ll get full market exposure for a fraction of the cost. While leverage can magnify profits, it can also magnify your losses, making it important to have a risk management strategy in place
Spread betting basics
When you spread bet, you’ll be placing a bet on the future direction of a market’s price. You’d buy the market – or go long – if you expect it to rise, and sell the market – or go short – if you expect it to fall.
Spread betting is charged via the spread – the difference between the buy and sell prices that are wrapped around the underlying market. This means you’ll always buy slightly above the market price, and sell slightly below.
Learn more about what spread betting is
Let’s say you expect the price of oil to rise from its current price of 4550 over the next couple of days. So, you decide to open a spread betting position to buy the market. If the price increased you’d profit but if it fell, you’d make a loss. Alternatively, if you thought oil would fall in price, you could open a spread bet to sell the market. If it fell in price, you’d profit but if it increased instead, you’d lose.
Ready to start spread betting? Open an account with us today
Options trading basics
An options contract is an agreement that gives the holder the right, but not the obligation, to exchange an asset at a set price – called the strike price – on a set date of expiry. There are two types of options available: calls and puts.
Call options give you the right to buy an asset. You’d open a position to buy a call option if you thought the market would rise, and you’d sell a call option if you thought the price would fall. While put options give you the right to sell an asset. You’d buy a put option if you believe the market price will fall from its current level, and you’d sell a put option if you think it will rise.
Learn more about how to trade options
When you buy an options contract, you’d have limited risk. You’ll pay a premium to open the position, but this is all you could lose if you choose not to execute the trade. Alternatively, when you sell an options contract, you’d be selling your right to decide the outcome of the trade, for which you’d receive a premium – this means if the buyer decides to execute the trade, you’d have to fulfil your side regardless of whether or not it’s favourable to you.
Say you thought the price of US crude oil would rise from $35 to $45 a barrel over the next few weeks. You could buy a call option that gives you the right to buy the market at $40 a barrel at any time within the next month. You’d pay a premium for this right. If the market increased beyond $40, you could execute the contract and buy oil for a lower price than the current market value. If the market fell instead, you could leave the contract to expire worthless.
Spread bet options explained
When you trade options with us, you’ll be speculating on the underlying market price using spread bets and CFDs. This enables you to go both long and short without having to entering an options contract. You’ll be able to trade on a wide range of markets including forex, shares, stock indices and commodities.
Learn more about options trading with us
For example, if you thought the price of FTSE 100 options will rise, you could open a long spread bet position with an expiry date for the end of the month. If the price of the FTSE had risen at the expiry, you’d make a profit. However, if the price of the index declined instead, you’d have made a loss.
Want to start trading options? Create an account with us
Pros and cons of spread betting
Pros of spread betting
There are a range of benefits to spread betting. For example, you can:
- Access 17,000+ markets – including shares, indices, commodities and currency pairs
- Make your capital go further with leverage
- Go short without the intricacies of traditional short selling
- Trade tax free1
- Hedge a shares portfolio
- Deal out of hours on key global indices and popular US shares
Cons of spread betting
Before you spread bet, it’s important to be aware that:
Pros and cons of options trading
Pros of options trading
There are plenty of reasons options trading is so popular. For example, you can:
- Limit your risk when buying options, as you’ll only ever lose the premium paid
- Hedge against existing investment positions to protect your portfolio from negative movements
- Leverage your capital to open a position for just a small initial deposit
- Use a variety of different options strategies to suit your trading goals
- View all available prices and expiry dates quickly and easily on our in-platform options chain
Cons of options trading
Options are complex instruments, which makes it important to be aware that:
- Losses are potentially unlimited when you sell an options contract
- Options are suitable for more experienced traders, as they require a level of knowledge to understand how the mechanisms work
- Options prices are linked to their expiry date, which means the value of your contract decreases each day as the expiry date nears – known as time decay. This can make it difficult to perform analysis outside of a contract’s timeframe
- Taxation for options will depend on your location, and whether you want to take ownership of the asset at expiry, but usually capital gains tax and stamp duty would apply1
- Leverage can magnify losses as well as profits, making it important to have a risk management strategy in place
Spread betting vs options summed up
- Spread bets and options are both popular derivative products
- Both products have set expiry dates, which can cover different time frames
- You can trade commodity, stock index, currency and interest rate options or spread bets on the price of stocks, indices, commodities, currencies, options, bonds and futures
- When trading options, you can settle with the physical delivery of the asset or in cash. Spread bets are only cash-settled, so you won’t ever take ownership of the underlying assets
- Options are traded on exchange and over the counter, whereas spread bets are only traded over the counter
- Options are traded in standardised lots, while spread bet sizes can be customised
- Both options and spread bets are used for speculation on rising and falling market prices
- Options and spread bets are both leveraged products, which means profits and losses can be magnified
- There are a range of benefits to spread bets, such as the range of markets to trade, leverage, short selling, and tax-efficient trading1
- There are risks of spread betting to be aware of, such as magnified risk, complexity and overnight fees on daily funded bets
- There are a range of benefits to options trading, such as limited-risk positions for holders, hedging, leverage and flexibility
- There are risks of options trading too, such as unlimited downside risk for sellers, tax upon physical settlement1 and the possibility of magnified losses when you trade with leverage
1 Tax laws are subject to change and depend on individual circumstances. Tax law may differ in a jurisdiction other than the UK.
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