A low exercise price option (LEPO) is a European-style call option with an exercise price of one cent. Both buyer and seller operate on margin. and, because it is almost a certainty that the holder will exercise the option at maturity, it is somewhat similar to a futures contract.
LEPOs function as deep-in-the-money options similar to the stock itself.
Both buyer and seller of a LEPO operate on margin.
LEPO options are not available on any U.S. exchanges.
LEPOs originated in Switzerland and quickly spread to Finland for the avoidance of paying the required stamp duties that were charged on stock trading. Since the strike price is so close to zero, the investor purchasing the LEPO gains most of the features of owning the share directly with the major exceptions of dividends and voting rights.
The Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) began listing LEPO options in 1995 and, as of July 2021, offers them on nearly 100 ASX-listed companies.
LEPOs differ from regular or standard options in several key ways.
LEPOs are only available as call options.
They are only available with European style expirations.
They are so deep in the money (ITM) that they trade similarly to the underlying stock itself.
Buyers purchase them on margin, so they do not pay the full amount of the premium upfront.
Both buyers and sellers will have ongoing margin payments.
Holders do not receive dividends or have voting rights until after exercise.
Conceptually, LEPOs also act as forward contracts or futures. Standard options give the holder the right but not the obligation to purchase the underlying security at or before expiration. However, since the strike price is so low, the odds that the option will expire ITM, and therefore automatically exercise, at the expiration date are a near certainty. Essentially, a LEPO is a futures contract with the obligation to take delivery.
Of course, all options and futures may be sold to close out the position and avoid taking delivery of the underlying.
Since LEPOs are essentially a deep ITM call option, they have a very high delta value and trade similarly to the underlying stock. Because these options are of the European style, meaning they are only able to be exercised at expiration, their near-zero strike price almost guarantees that the holder will take delivery of shares at that time. The advantage over owning the stock outright is the participation in the performance of the underlying without any financial or legal issues caused by the direct holding of the stock.
Deep ITM options have very high premiums, or initial costs. However, the investor holds LEPOs on margin, resulting in a lower upfront cost. Again, the benefits must be weighed against the disadvantages of having no claim on dividends or the ability to vote the shares.