A Beginner’s Guide to Option Pricing Models

A Beginner’s Guide to Option Pricing Models

Investing in options can, at times, be profitable. It is also intimidating for some beginners. Options trading revolves around purchasing and selling contracts that offer the right (but not the requirement) to buy or sell an asset at a previously agreed-upon price.

How are options priced? An option pricing model can determine the valuation of a contract. For beginners, understanding the nuances of option pricing models might be overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be, though. Let’s get into the basics of options pricing.


Create Financial Models 10x Faster with Macabacus

Gain access to 100+ shortcuts, formula auditing visualizations, easy Excel-to-PowerPoint linking and productivity tools to help you accelerate financial modeling and presentations.

Start your Free Trial

What are Options Contracts?

Options are financial derivatives. They encompass an agreement allowing the owner to purchase or dispose of the underlying asset for a specific price. The two types are call and put options.

What is a call option? A call option is a contract providing the buyer the permission, but not the requirement, to buy a predetermined quantity of an asset at the strike price. When exercising the option, the purchase must occur within a certain period or on a selected day.

For example, imagine a buyer who purchases a call option on the stock of a technology company. The contract allows them to buy 100 company shares (in this case, the underlying asset) for $50 per share.

What is a put option? A put option is a type of contract that grants the owner the right, though not the obligation, to sell. The contract will offer the ability to sell an asset at a set price. The sale must occur within a specified period or on the expiration day.

For example, consider the buyer of a put option. They can sell 100 shares of the company for $45 per share. They have the right but not the requirement to sell their shares by exercising the option.

There are two styles of options: American versus European options. The difference between American and European options is the exercise date.

What is an American option? The holder of an American option can exercise the contract at any point up until its expiration. This offers flexibility to the owner, allowing them to act on favorable market movements.

What is a European option? The holder of a European option may only exercise at the end of its term, on the expiration day.

Options offer traders and investors a mechanism to hedge against risks, speculate on future price movements, or gain leverage in their investment strategies. They are a valuable but often misunderstood component of the financial markets. 

Key Terminology for Options Pricing

If you want to understand options pricing, there are a few fundamental terms to familiarize yourself with.

Intrinsic value: An option’s intrinsic value is the tangible value of the contract if the exercise date is today. The calculation for an option’s intrinsic value is the asset’s market price less the option’s strike price. The contract has no intrinsic value if this calculation is negative.

Strike price: Often called the exercise price, the strike price is the predetermined price to purchase or sell an asset. This occurs in the case of a call option and a put option, respectively. For example, the strike price of a call option may be $50, representing the price for which the option holder can purchase shares, in this case, the underlying asset.

Expiration date: This represents the deadline by which the option holder must exercise. Beyond this date, the option is worthless.

Options premium: The price the buyer will pay to acquire an option’s contract. The option’s seller will collect the premium as compensation for issuing the contract. The premium consists of both the option’s intrinsic value as well as its time value.

Time value: This amounts to the option’s monetary value beyond its intrinsic value. Typically, the time value of an option rises with a further expiration date.

Options volatility: An option’s volatility measures the expected price fluctuation in the underlying asset. Higher volatility increases the option’s premium due to an elevated perceived risk.

These terms cover the basics of options trading and are crucial in understanding how options contracts are priced and traded in the financial markets. 

The Significance of Option Pricing Models

Option pricing models are essential for calculating the value of an option and implementing derivative strategies. These models help determine the fair value of a contract, accounting for factors such as the underlying asset’s price, time to expiration, and volatility. This allows investors to identify potential profits and losses. In turn, pricing models enable more effective risk assessment and management.

The impact of these models extends beyond individual trading decisions. They also contribute to the overall efficiency of the market. Option pricing models create more transparency by providing a standardized method of valuing options. They may also help identify arbitrage opportunities, ensuring that prices in the market reflect true values. Mispricing be gone! 

Common Option Pricing Models

Three main option pricing models exist: Black-Scholes, Binomial, and Monte Carlo. Options pricing models are complex, with the inputs and assumptions changing based on the type of model you decide to use.

Black-Scholes Model

The Black-Scholes model revolutionized the market with its mathematical approach to pricing options. It remains popular today. The model applies to European options only, where the exercise and expiration date are the same.

The Black-Scholes model assumptions include continuous compounding and consistent volatility. These assumptions, along with the following variables, are key inputs needed to run the model:

  •  The market price of the underlying asset
  •  Volatility in the asset’s price
  •  Strike price for the option
  •  Time to option expiration
  •  The risk-free interest rate
  •  Underlying asset’s dividend yield (if applicable)

Using these variables, the Black-Scholes model will calculate the theoretical value for the option. This can help to determine if the option’s current price differs from its inherent worth. While widely used for its simplicity, the Black-Scholes model is limited in accuracy due to its restricted assumptions, especially since it does not incorporate transaction fees or account for varying volatility.

Binomial Options Pricing Model

The binomial model is more flexible. It models the asset’s price movement over time as a binomial tree. There are two possible outcomes in each time step – up or down. The result is a detailed pricing tree outlining different paths the asset’s price could take.

The binomial pricing model breaks the option’s life into discrete time intervals, calculating the value at each to arrive at the option’s current value. While time-consuming, this process allows for pricing American options with early exercise capabilities. The binomial model is more versatile and detailed than the Black-Scholes model, though its numerous steps can limit its use in a fast-paced trading environment.

Monte Carlo Method for Options Pricing

Monte Carlo simulation is another popular model for pricing options. This technique utilizes random sampling and statistical modeling to estimate the option’s current value.

In options pricing, Monte Carlo simulations chart the probability of different outcomes. The method is thorough and provides a framework for assessing the value of more sophisticated financial instruments, specifically those with various degrees of uncertainty. Of the three option pricing models, the Monte Carlo simulation is the most time-consuming to use in practice.

Despite their limitations, these pricing models remain fundamental in evaluating options. They each offer unique benefits for traders and investors looking to make informed decisions. 

Challenges in Option Pricing

Option pricing is tricky. Often, limitations in option pricing models stem from a mismatch in a model’s inherent assumptions and the current market sentiment. This occurs across many variables.

A significant shortfall of options pricing models is the assumption of constant volatility measured by historical data. In reality, markets are volatile. Volatility is dynamic. Period.

As many investors will know, past results do not guarantee the future returns. This is true of volatility as well. Volatility may fluctuate based on many factors, including economic indicators and market sentiment. Assuming constant, unchanging volatility can lead to discrepancies between a model’s output and actual market prices, ultimately reducing the model’s usability.

Another hurdle is the assumption that the risk-free rate will not change. While the assumption may ring true during some periods, as we have witnessed in recent years, interest rates can also change rapidly throughout a short time. If the risk-free rate changes, the option pricing models may fail to deliver an accurate result.

Best Practices for Options Pricing Models

There are a few ways to compensate for the shortfalls of options pricing models, such as:

  • Educating yourself: Be sure to understand the fundamental assumptions of the model and their implications on the output.
  • Supplement model outputs: Incorporate market analysis and intuition into your process. Consider both this analysis and the model’s results when making decisions regarding options trading.
  • Regularly updating assumptions: Ensure the volatility, risk-free rates, and other model inputs reflect current market conditions. Stale dated information leads to incorrect options pricing.
  • Staying current with market trends: Regularly follow market trends and economic news that can affect underlying asset prices and volatility. Incorporate shifting sentiment into your model and decision-making process.
  • Using historical data: Apply your model to past data to gauge its price prediction accuracy. Understanding the limitations of options pricing models and adapting their use when necessary can lead to more accurate pricing and informed trading decisions.
  • Seeking guidance: Do not hesitate to seek advice from more experienced analysts. You can also turn to educational resources if you are unsure about the output value of your options pricing model.
  • Utilizing technology: Leverage software tools for more accurate and efficient calculations, especially for more complicated option pricing models. However, ensure you do not rely solely on technology without understanding the process and methodology behind the models.

By adhering to these practices, experts and beginners alike can enhance the reliability of their option pricing models. 


Modeling is an essential tool for options pricing. Understanding and applying the Black-Scholes, Binomial, or Monte Carlo models can be challenging yet rewarding. Not only do they provide a calculation of a contract’s value, but the models can enhance decision-making for more profitable derivative strategies.

If you are a novice at pricing options, ensure you learn to navigate the intricacies of the pricing models while recognizing their limitations. With practice, you can transform your knowledge into that of an expert equipped to navigate the complexities surrounding the options market.

Create Financial Models 10x Faster with Macabacus

Gain access to 100+ shortcuts, formula auditing visualizations, easy Excel-to-PowerPoint linking and productivity tools to help you accelerate financial modeling and presentations.

Start your Free Trial

Discover more topics

Build an operating model
In this tutorial, we will walk through how to build a general industry business operating model.
Read more
Build an M&A model
In this section, we demonstrate how to model a merger of two public companies in Excel.
Read more
Build an LBO model
In this tutorial, we will walk you through building an LBO model in Excel.
Read more
Asset and Stock Deals
The first step in purchase price allocation, or PPA, is to determine the purchase price.
Read more