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What Is Implied Volatility

Implied volatility (IV) is one of the most important concepts for options traders to understand for two reasons. First, it shows how volatile the market might be in the future. Second, implied volatility can help you calculate probability. This is a critical component of options trading which may be helpful when trying to determine the likelihood of a stock reaching a specific price by a certain time. Keep in mind that while these reasons may assist you when making trading decisions, implied volatility does not provide a forecast with respect to market direction. Although implied volatility is viewed as an important piece of information, above all it is determined by using an option pricing model, which makes the data theoretical in nature. There is no guarantee these forecasts will be correct.

Understanding IV means you can enter an options trade knowing the market’s opinion each time. Too many traders incorrectly try to use IV to find bargains or over-inflated values, assuming IV is too high or too low. This interpretation overlooks an important point, however. Options trade at certain levels of implied volatility because of current market activity. In other words, market activity can help explain why an option is priced in a certain manner. Here we'll show you how to use implied volatility to improve your trading. Specifically, we’ll define implied volatility, explain its relationship to probability, and demonstrate how it measures the odds of a successful trade.

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Implied volatility as a trading tool

Implied volatility shows the market’s opinion of the stock’s potential moves, but it doesn’t forecast direction. If the implied volatility is high, the market thinks the stock has potential for large price swings in either direction, just as low IV implies the stock will not move as much by option expiration.

To option traders, implied volatility is more important than historical volatility because IV factors in all market expectations. If, for example, the company plans to announce earnings or expects a major court ruling, these events will affect the implied volatility of options that expire that same month. Implied volatility helps you gauge how much of an impact news may have on the underlying stock.

How can option traders use IV to make more informed trading decisions? Implied volatility offers an objective way to test forecasts and identify entry and exit points. With an option’s IV, you can calculate an expected range - the high and low of the stock by expiration. Implied volatility tells you whether the market agrees with your outlook, which helps you measure a trade’s risk and potential reward.

Interpretation

As with most sentiment indicators, the Put/Call Ratio is used as a contrarian indicator to gauge bullish and bearish extremes. Contrarians turn bearish when too many traders are bullish. Contrarians turn bullish when too many traders are bearish. Traders buy puts to insurance against a market decline or as a directional bet. While calls are not used so much for insurance purposes, they are bought as a directional bet on rising prices. Put volume increases when the expectations for a decline increase. Conversely, call volume increases when the expectations for an advance increase. Sentiment reaches extremes when the Put/Call Ratio moves to relatively high or low levels. These extremes are not fixed and can change over time. A Put/Call Ratio at its lower extremities would show excessive bullishness because call volume would be significantly higher than put volume. In contrarian terms, excessive bullishness would argue for caution and the possibility of a stock market decline. A Put/Call Ratio at its upper extremities would show excessive bearishness because put volume would be significantly higher than call volume. Excessive bearishness would argue for optimism and the possibility of a bullish reversal.