Market Makers

Market makers play a very important role in options trading, and in fact they exist in the markets for all kinds of different financial instruments. They are essentially there to keep the financial markets running efficiently by ensuring a certain level of liquidity. They are not your average trader; they are professionals that have contractual relationships with the relevant exchanges and carry out a large volume of transactions.

It is by no means vital that you know what market makers do, unless you have aspirations to join a financial institution and get a job as one. However, an understanding of why they exist and the effect they have is nonetheless useful. To that effect, we have provided some further details about them on this page.

The Role of Market Makers

The basic role of market makers in the options exchanges is to ensure that the markets run smoothly by enabling traders to buy and sell options even if there are no public orders to match the required trade. They do this by maintaining large and diverse portfolios of a wide range of different options contracts.

For example, if a trader wanted to buy specific options contracts but there was no-one else at that time selling those contracts, then a market maker would sell the options from their own portfolio, or reserve, to facilitate the transaction. Likewise, if a trader wanted to sell specific contracts but there was no public buyer, then a market maker could execute the transaction by buying those contracts and adding them to their portfolio.

Market makers basically make sure that there is both depth and liquidity in the options exchanges. In their absence, there would be significantly less transactions carried out and it would be much harder to buy and sell options. There would also be less options in the way of different contracts available in the market.

Enabling traders to execute transactions quickly, even if there is no willing buyer or seller, in turn ensures that the exchanges operate efficiently and traders can usually buy and sell the options they wish to.

How Do Market Makers Operate?

As we have mentioned, market makers keep their own portfolios that consist of a large number of different options contracts. They trade in large volumes and are able to buy options from traders wishing to sell and sell them to traders wishing to buy. Without the makers, the market could easily stagnate and options trading would become significantly more difficult.

In return for the important role they play in options trading, they have a major privilege within the market place which enables them to basically make some form of profit on each and every transaction they make due to the way options are priced.

There are two main aspects to the price of options that any options trader should understand. First, the actual price is made up of two main components: intrinsic value and extrinsic value. Secondly, and this is relevant to how market makers operate, they are priced on the exchanges with a bid price and an ask price. Anyone looking to buy options contracts would pay the ask price of those contracts, while anyone selling or writing contracts would receive the bid price.

The ask price is higher than the bid price, so an individual buying contracts would pay a higher price than the individual selling them would receive. The difference between these two prices is known as the spread, and it's from this spread that the market makers benefit. They are basically permitted to buy at the bid price and sell at the ask price, thus profiting from the spread.

Let’s assume an example of specific options contracts that are trading with a bid price of $2 and an ask price of $2.20. If an individual places an order to buy these contracts at the same time as another individual places an order to sell these contracts, the market maker basically acts as a middle man. They buy from the seller, paying the bid price of $2.00, and then sell to the buyer at the ask price of $2.20, thus making a $.20 profit per contract traded.

Of course, it will not always be possible for a market maker to buy and sell contracts simultaneously – otherwise there would be little need for them in the first place. So they are still potentially exposed to the risk of price movements and time decay of the options they own. The primary aim of a market maker is to trade as many contracts as possible to benefit from the spread, but must also use effective positioning strategies to ensure that they are not exposed to too much risk.

Despite the inherent advantage of being a market maker offered by the spread, it's still perfectly possible for a them to lose money.

Who are the Market Makers?

Market makers are typically individuals that work for brokerage firms, banks, and other financial institutions that are specifically contracted with an exchange or exchanges, to fulfill the role. As they are not allowed to trade on behalf of public investors and traders, they must use their own capital to fund all their transactions.

They have to be incredibly skilled at what they do, with excellent analytical abilities and a lot of mental strength. When the relevant firms recruit market makers they would usually be looking for a lot of suitable experience and a clear indication of the required skill set.