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European Options: Definition, Uses, and Real-Life Examples

Last updated 03/25/2024 by

Silas Bamigbola

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European options are a specific type of financial contract with unique characteristics. Unlike American options, European options can only be exercised on their expiration date. This article delves into the definition, types, and key aspects of European options, highlighting their pros and cons. You’ll also learn about the key differences between European and American options, and find an example to illustrate how they work. By the end of this comprehensive guide, you’ll have a clear understanding of European options and their role in the world of finance.

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Introduction to European option

European options are a particular breed of financial derivatives that hold a distinct place in the world of options trading. Unlike their American counterparts, European options come with a unique set of rules and characteristics that impact how investors utilize them. In this article, we will explore the world of European options, covering their definition, types, and the key differences between European and American options.

What is a European option?

A European option is a version of an options contract that limits the exercise of rights to its expiration date. In simple terms, it means that investors holding a European option cannot execute it before the specified expiration date. Whether it’s a call option or a put option, the buying or selling of the underlying asset will only occur on the date of option maturity.
Weigh the risks and benefits
Here is a list of the benefits and the drawbacks to consider.
  • Provides clarity with a fixed exercise date.
  • Reduces the chances of hasty decisions.
  • Limits flexibility.
  • Does not account for market changes before expiration.

Understanding a European option

European options define the timeframe when holders of an options contract may exercise their contract rights. These rights include the ability to buy the underlying asset (in the case of a call option) or sell it (for a put option) at the specified contract price, known as the strike price. Crucially, European options only permit the exercise of these rights on the day of expiration. However, this clarity comes at an upfront cost, known as the premium.
It’s important to note that investors often don’t have the choice between American and European options. Specific assets or financial instruments may only be available in one version or the other. In practice, many indexes primarily use European options due to the operational simplicity they offer to brokerages.

Types of European options

European options come in two primary flavors: call options and put options.

Call options

A European call option gives the owner the right to acquire the underlying security at the option’s expiry. To profit from a call option, the stock’s price at expiry must be trading above the strike price, enough to cover the cost of the option premium.

Put options

In contrast, a European put option allows the holder to sell the underlying security at expiry. For a put option to be profitable, the stock’s price at expiry must be trading below the strike price, enough to cover the option premium.

Closing a European option early

Making an early exit

Exercising an option typically means initiating the rights of the option, resulting in a trade executed at the strike price. However, many investors prefer not to wait for a European option to expire. Instead, they have the option to sell the option contract back to the market before its expiration.
Option prices are influenced by the underlying asset’s movement, volatility, and time until expiration. As the stock price fluctuates, the option’s value, represented by the premium, also fluctuates. Investors can exit their option position early if the current option premium is higher than the premium initially paid. In such cases, the investor receives the net difference between the two premiums.
Closing the European option early depends on various factors, including market conditions, intrinsic value, and time value. If the option is close to expiration, selling it early may not yield significant returns due to limited time remaining for the option to be profitable.

European option vs. American option

One of the key distinctions between European and American options is their exercise flexibility.

European option

  • Can only be exercised on the expiration date.
  • Limits opportunities for early profit realization.
  • Lower premium cost.

American option

  • Offers exercise flexibility at any time between purchase and expiration.
  • Allows investors to capture profits as soon as the stock price moves in their favor.
  • Typically comes with higher premiums.
European options are more suitable for assets where early exercise is less critical, while American options are favored for dividend-paying stocks where early profit capture is essential. However, the flexibility of American options comes at a higher cost in terms of premiums.

European option example

Let’s illustrate the concept of a European option with an example:

Scenario 1: Profitable outcome

An investor purchases a July call option on Citigroup Inc. with a $50 strike price. The premium is $5 per contract for a total cost of $500. At expiration, Citigroup is trading at $75. In this case, the owner of the call option can exercise their right to purchase the stock at $50, making a $25 per share profit. Accounting for the initial premium of $5, the net profit is $20 per share, amounting to $2,000.

Scenario 2: Unprofitable outcome

Now, let’s consider a scenario where Citigroup’s stock price falls to $30 by the option’s expiration date. Since the stock is trading below the $50 strike price, the option remains unexercised and expires worthless. In this case, the investor incurs a loss equal to the premium paid initially, which is $500.
The investor has the choice to either wait until expiration to evaluate the trade’s profitability or attempt to sell the call option back to the market. Whether the premium received from selling the call option before expiration covers the initial $5 premium depends on various factors.
There is no guarantee that selling the call option early will offset the initial premium, as it depends on economic conditions, company performance, remaining time until expiration, and stock price volatility.

Real-life examples of European options

Let’s delve into some real-life scenarios to further illustrate the usage of European options:

Example 1: Hedging against currency fluctuations

Imagine you are a European manufacturer that exports goods to the United States. You anticipate receiving payment in U.S. dollars in three months. However, you’re concerned about potential fluctuations in the EUR/USD exchange rate that could impact your profits. To mitigate this risk, you can purchase a European put option on the EUR/USD currency pair.
Suppose the current exchange rate is 1 EUR = 1.20 USD. You decide to buy a European put option with a strike price of 1.18 USD. This option gives you the right to sell your euros at 1.18 USD each. If, at the option’s expiration, the exchange rate has fallen to 1.15 USD, you can exercise your option and sell your euros at a more favorable rate than the market, thus protecting your revenue.

Example 2: Speculating on stock prices

Consider an individual investor who believes that shares of a European tech company, XYZ Inc., are poised for substantial growth. The current market price of XYZ Inc. stock is €50 per share. The investor is optimistic about the company’s prospects and decides to purchase a European call option with a strike price of €55 and an expiration date in three months.
If, at the option’s expiration, XYZ Inc. stock is trading at €60 per share, the investor can exercise their option and purchase the shares at the predetermined strike price of €55, even though the market price is higher. This allows the investor to profit from the price difference, effectively making a €5 per share profit.
These examples showcase the versatile applications of European options in risk management and speculation within various financial contexts.

The role of European options in portfolio diversification

European options play a vital role in portfolio diversification, offering investors a valuable tool to manage risk and enhance potential returns. By incorporating European options into a diversified investment strategy, investors can achieve several key objectives:

Enhanced risk management

Investors can use European options to hedge against adverse price movements in the underlying assets. This risk mitigation strategy is particularly valuable in volatile markets where price fluctuations are common. By securing the right to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price, investors can protect their portfolio from significant losses.

Improved return potential

European options also offer the potential for enhanced returns. For instance, investors can use call options to profit from anticipated price increases in specific assets. By paying a relatively small premium upfront, they gain exposure to the price movements of the underlying asset. If the asset’s price rises significantly, the profit realized from the option can far exceed the premium paid.


In the world of options trading, European options bring a level of certainty with their fixed exercise date. While they may limit flexibility, they serve as valuable tools for investors with specific objectives. Understanding the differences between European and American options is essential to making informed decisions in the complex world of finance. Whether you choose European or American options will depend on your investment strategy and the specific assets you are dealing with.

Frequently asked questions

Are European options the same as American options?

No, European options are distinct from American options. The key difference is that European options can only be exercised on their expiration date, whereas American options offer exercise flexibility at any time between purchase and expiration.

What is the primary advantage of European options?

The primary advantage of European options is their fixed exercise date. This feature provides clarity and reduces the chances of hasty decisions, making them suitable for specific investment strategies.

Why might an investor choose European options over American options?

Investors may choose European options over American options based on the assets they are dealing with and their investment objectives. European options generally come with lower premiums, making them more attractive in certain situations.

Can I close a European option before its expiration date?

Yes, you can close a European option before its expiration date by selling the option contract back to the market. Whether it’s advantageous to do so depends on various factors, including the option’s current premium and market conditions.

How do European options contribute to portfolio diversification?

European options play a vital role in portfolio diversification by offering risk management and enhanced return potential. Investors can use them to hedge against price movements and profit from price increases, thus achieving a balanced investment strategy.
Key takeaways codes:

Key takeaways

  • European options can only be exercised on their expiration date, providing clarity but limiting flexibility.
  • Investors may choose European or American options based on their investment objectives and the assets they are dealing with.
  • The premium cost for European options is generally lower than American options due to their exercise restrictions.
  • Early exit from a European option is possible if the current premium exceeds the initial premium paid.
  • The success of selling a European option early depends on various market conditions and factors.

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