ETF Options vs. Index Options: What's the Difference?
Jun 13, 2022 By Susan Kelly

Trading in stock index futures started in 1982. For the first time, investors could buy and sell the underlying index itself, rather than just the individual stocks that make up the index. Futures options on stock indexes appeared first, followed by stock account options on indexes. Index funds, which enabled investors to purchase and hold a particular stock index, were the next wave of investment vehicles. Following the introduction of the exchange-traded fund (ETF), options for trading against a broad range of these new ETFs have been listed. This will help you understand ETF Options vs. Index Options: What's the Difference?

ETFs and ETF Option

An ETF, on the other hand, is a mutual fund that trades on a stock exchange. Because of this, an investor is able to purchase or sell an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that reflects or follows a particular sector of the market at any moment throughout the trading day. Another discovery that has dramatically enlarged investors' capacity to take advantage of several unique possibilities is the widespread use of exchange-traded funds or ETFs. Long and short positions, as well as leveraged positions, may now be taken by investors in the following securities:

  • Indexes of foreign and domestic stocks (sector, large-cap, growth, small-cap, value, etc.)
  • Currency exchange rates (yen, pound, etc.)
  • Items of value (financial assets, physical commodities, commodity indexes, etc.)
  • Bonds are a kind of financial instrument (corporate, treasury, munis international)

Index options have garnered a lot of trading activity, whereas ETF options have drawn far less. Figure 2 shows some of Cboe's most popular ETFs for options trading. The fact that many ETFs follow the same indexes as pure index options, or something quite close, is one reason to take volume into account. So, you should think about which vehicle gives you the best chance based on how liquid the options are and how much the bid-ask spreads vary.

Index Options

The inclusion of options on several market indexes enabled many traders to trade a large portion of the financial market in a single transaction for the first time. Over 450 local and international indices, as well as sector and volatility-based indices, are available for trading on the Cboe Exchange (Cboe).

The first thing to keep in mind concerning index options is that the underlying index itself is not traded. In reality, it's just a number on paper. By using the options, you can only bet on the underlying index's price direction or hedge all or part of an otherwise risky portfolio against that index.

Key Differences

Options on indexes and ETFs have a number of noteworthy distinctions. ETF options trading might need the purchase or sale of underlying ETF shares, the most important of which focuses on this (this may or may not be viewed as a benefit by some). Index choices are not like this.

Early exercise is a feature of American options that allows them to be exercised before expiry, resulting in a transaction in the underlying stock. A trader's position in the underlying ETF might be jeopardized if the option is exercised early.

Index options may be purchased and sold before expiry, but as there is no trade in the underlying index, they cannot be executed. As a consequence, while trading index options, there are no worries about early exercise.

Extra Care Is Necessary

When making a trade decision, the volume of options trading is an important factor to take into account. Particularly when looking at indexes and ETFs that follow the same or comparable security, this is true. For instance, a trader who wished to make a guess about the future path of the S&P 500 Index by utilizing options had a number of different possibilities to choose from. Both the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), as well as the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV), are designed to replicate the performance of the S&P 500 Index. Traders in both SPY and IVV benefit from very narrow spreads because of their high volume. High volume and low spreads suggest that investors may trade freely and actively with this pair of stocks.


Index options have traditionally been utilized by major institutional money managers, whereas smaller ETF options have been preferred by ordinary investors. Individual investors may now trade the very same contracts as institutions and get the same rewards as the latter, thanks to the advent of Mini index options.