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U.S. options exchanges to launch "mini" options on five securities

By Doris Frankel

(Reuters) - U.S. options exchanges on Monday will introduce new mini-options on five popular higher-priced securities, including Apple and Google, a development expected to boost interest among retail investors.

The minis, which are 1/10th the size of a standard option, will be available on Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Google Inc, the SPDR Gold Trust exchange-traded fund and the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust. If interest in the products is strong, more offerings are expected.

The new breed of option offers the opportunity for a small investor who holds less than 100 shares of high-profile securities to implement the same options strategies that exist for the traditional contract with much less capital.

Google and Apple, with prices north of $800 and $400 per share, respectively, also carry high option premiums. Previously, a retail trader may have found these options too costly because they would be committed to buy 100 shares of the security.

"Anytime you can expand investment products to retail investors who are qualified and excited to trade them, it is a win to all parties involved," said TD Ameritrade's chief derivatives strategist, J.J. Kinahan.

The mini-option has similar terms and contract features as the traditional product, but with certain key differences. Each contract represents only 10 shares of the underlying stock, versus the regular-sized options that represent 100 shares of a security.

"The product was designed with the retail trader in mind who may not have the capital to purchase 100 shares of those underlying securities and therefore could not hedge with a standard options contract," said Kinahan. "They now can do so with the minis."

The entry cost for trading these options is lower. A mini contract trading at $11.50 would cost $115 versus the cost of that standard "big" 100-share contract of $1,150 with the same quote, said Brian Overby, senior options analyst at online brokerage TradeKing in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The options industry has already seen explosive growth with the addition of weekly single-stock options since their introduction in June 2010. More than 4 million options contracts were traded in 2011 and 2012, the industry's two biggest years.

The new mini-option opens the door for retail investors to utilize option strategies like the "covered call," which helps protect against losses. Investors have the flexibility to sell a call on as little as a 10 share position on these expensive stocks, Overby said.

Investors previously had to own at least 100 shares of a stock to sell a call option against their stock position for it to be considered covered, Overby said. That carries a big cost for a stock like Google.

"Many investors often hold a relatively small number of shares in these stocks, and minis provide them with the ability to both hedge and write options on their holdings," said Andy Nybo, head of derivatives at research firm TABB Group.

The options will carry the symbols AAPL7, AMZN7, GOOG7, GLD7 and SPY7.

(Reporting by Doris Frankel; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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