What Is Intrinsic Value?

Intrinsic value is one way to measure the value of an option contract. Here, we take a closer look at the metric and explain how it is used in options trading.

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In the world of investing, options trading can often appear as a complex puzzle. One of the puzzle pieces that frequently demands attention is the concept of "intrinsic value" in options. 

This article is designed to provide you with a clear, concise understanding of intrinsic value in options, including what it is and how it is used.

What is intrinsic value?

Let's start by addressing the core question: What exactly constitutes intrinsic value in options trading?

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Intrinsic value in a nutshell represents the concrete, real-world worth of an option at any given point. It is calculated as the difference between the prevailing market price of the underlying asset and the option's predetermined strike price.

How is intrinsic value calculated?

Calculating intrinsic value is a straightforward process, but one that differs slightly between call options and put options.

For call options: If the market price of the underlying asset surpasses the option's strike price, the intrinsic value is defined as the numerical difference between these two figures. 

As an example, let's say the share price of a stock is currently at $20 and the strike price of the option is 15. The intrinsic value of that option would be $5 (20 - 15). Essentially, intrinsic value reflects the gain you would realize by exercising the option immediately.

For put options: The intrinsic value for put options is also equal to the difference between the share price and the strike price, only it is calculated by subtracting the latter from the former if the market price of the underlying asset falls below the option's strike price. 

For example, if a stock is currently trading at $15 and the strike price of the option is 20, then the intrinsic value would be $5 (20-15). In this scenario, the intrinsic value signifies the profit you would secure by exercising the option at that moment in time.

What's the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic value?

Now that we have defined intrinsic value, let's shift our focus to the complementary component – extrinsic value.

Extrinsic value measures the speculative premium that is priced into an option in anticipation of the potential future movement of the underlying asset. It's akin to wagering on market fluctuations.

Extrinsic value is dynamic and changes with market volatility and the passage of time. As the option's expiration date approaches, time value steadily diminishes, leaving intrinsic value as the primary factor in determining an option's price.

How to use intrinsic value

Timing is paramount. Exercising an option with intrinsic value warrants precise timing. The objective is to act when the intrinsic value is at its peak. However, it is imperative to factor in transaction costs and capital gains tax implications in order to make informed decisions.

Vigilance in market monitoring. Staying attuned to market trends and closely monitoring the performance of the underlying asset is pivotal. A thorough understanding of market dynamics empowers informed decision-making regarding your options.

Diversify your portfolio. In the realm of investing, diversification is a prudent strategy. Spreading investments across an array of options mitigates risk and optimizes the potential for capitalizing on intrinsic value.

Frequently asked questions about intrinsic value

Is intrinsic value a constant attribute of all options? No, intrinsic value is not a characteristic of every option. Its presence or absence depends on the relationship between the prevailing market price of the underlying asset and the specific strike price associated with the option.

How can you leverage intrinsic value effectively? One way to make the most out of intrinsic value is by exercising the option when it exhibits a positive intrinsic value. This action enables the option buyer to purchase (in the case of calls) or sell (in the case of puts) the underlying asset at a more favorable price than where it is currently trading on the market.

Does intrinsic value ever hold a negative value? Intrinsic value is invariably either positive or zero. It never assumes a negative value. This is because intrinsic value denotes the immediate profit achievable by exercising the option.

Can intrinsic value fluctuate over time? Indeed, intrinsic value is subject to change as it closely tracks the changes in the market price of the underlying asset. Because the two are connected, movement in the asset's value influences the intrinsic value of the associated option.

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Jared Hoffmann
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger.com

Jared Hoffmann is a highly respected financial content creator and options expert, holding a journalism degree from San Francisco State University. Formerly a Senior Options and Day Trading Editor and on-air personality at Money Morning, he excels in delivering comprehensive options education, technical analysis, and risk management education to traders.