Black–Scholes model

The Black–Scholes /ˌblæk ˈʃlz/[1] or Black–Scholes–Merton model is a mathematical model of a financial market containing derivative investment instruments. From the model, one can deduce the Black–Scholes formula, which gives a theoretical estimate of the price of European-style options. The formula led to a boom in options trading and legitimised scientifically the activities of the Chicago Board Options Exchange and other options markets around the world.[2] lt is widely used, although often with adjustments and corrections, by options market participants.[3]:751 Many empirical tests have shown that the Black–Scholes price is "fairly close" to the observed prices, although there are well-known discrepancies such as the "option smile".[3]:770–771

The Black–Scholes model was first published by Fischer Black and Myron Scholes in their 1973 seminal paper, "The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities", published in the Journal of Political Economy. They derived a partial differential equation, now called the Black–Scholes equation, which estimates the price of the option over time. The key idea behind the model is to hedge the option by buying and selling the underlying asset in just the right way and, as a consequence, to eliminate risk. This type of hedging is called delta hedging and is the basis of more complicated hedging strategies such as those engaged in by investment banks and hedge funds.

Robert C. Merton was the first to publish a paper expanding the mathematical understanding of the options pricing model, and coined the term "Black–Scholes options pricing model". Merton and Scholes received the 1997 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their work. Though ineligible for the prize because of his death in 1995, Black was mentioned as a contributor by the Swedish Academy.[4]

The model's assumptions have been relaxed and generalized in many directions, leading to a plethora of models that are currently used in derivative pricing and risk management. It is the insights of the model, as exemplified in the Black–Scholes formula, that are frequently used by market participants, as distinguished from the actual prices. These insights include no-arbitrage bounds and risk-neutral pricing. The Black–Scholes equation, a partial differential equation that governs the price of the option, is also important as it enables pricing when an explicit formula is not possible.

The Black–Scholes formula has only one parameter that cannot be observed in the market: the average future volatility of the underlying asset. Since the formula is increasing in this parameter, it can be inverted to produce a "volatility surface" that is then used to calibrate other models, e.g. for OTC derivatives.

The Black–Scholes world

The Black–Scholes model assumes that the market consists of at least one risky asset, usually called the stock, and one riskless asset, usually called the money market, cash, or bond.

Now we make assumptions on the assets (which explain their names):

Assumptions on the market:

With these assumptions holding, suppose there is a derivative security also trading in this market. We specify that this security will have a certain payoff at a specified date in the future, depending on the value(s) taken by the stock up to that date. It is a surprising fact that the derivative's price is completely determined at the current time, even though we do not know what path the stock price will take in the future. For the special case of a European call or put option, Black and Scholes showed that "it is possible to create a hedged position, consisting of a long position in the stock and a short position in the option, whose value will not depend on the price of the stock".[5] Their dynamic hedging strategy led to a partial differential equation which governed the price of the option. Its solution is given by the Black–Scholes formula.

Several of these assumptions of the original model have been removed in subsequent extensions of the model. Modern versions account for dynamic interest rates (Merton, 1976), transaction costs and taxes (Ingersoll, 1976), and dividend payout.[6]



, be the price of the stock, which will sometimes be a random variable and other times a constant (context should make this clear).
, the price of a derivative as a function of time and stock price.
the price of a European call option and the price of a European put option.
, the strike price of the option.
, the annualized risk-free interest rate, continuously compounded (the force of interest).
, the drift rate of , annualized.
, the standard deviation of the stock's returns; this is the square root of the quadratic variation of the stock's log price process.
, a time in years; we generally use: now=0, expiry=T.
, the value of a portfolio.

Finally we will use to denote the standard normal cumulative distribution function,


will denote the standard normal probability density function,

Black–Scholes equation

Simulated geometric Brownian motions with parameters from market data

As above, the Black–Scholes equation is a partial differential equation, which describes the price of the option over time. The equation is:

The key financial insight behind the equation is that one can perfectly hedge the option by buying and selling the underlying asset in just the right way and consequently "eliminate risk". This hedge, in turn, implies that there is only one right price for the option, as returned by the Black–Scholes formula (see the next section).

Black–Scholes formula

A European call valued using the Black–Scholes pricing equation for varying asset price S and time-to-expiry T. In this particular example, the strike price is set to unity.

The Black–Scholes formula calculates the price of European put and call options. This price is consistent with the Black–Scholes equation as above; this follows since the formula can be obtained by solving the equation for the corresponding terminal and boundary conditions.

The value of a call option for a non-dividend-paying underlying stock in terms of the Black–Scholes parameters is:

The price of a corresponding put option based on put-call parity is:

For both, as above:

Alternative formulation

Introducing some auxiliary variables allows the formula to be simplified and reformulated in a form that is often more convenient (this is a special case of the Black '76 formula):

The auxiliary variables are:

with d+ = d1 and d = d2 to clarify notation.

Given put-call parity, which is expressed in these terms as:

the price of a put option is:


The Black–Scholes formula can be interpreted fairly handily, with the main subtlety the interpretation of the (and a fortiori ) terms, particularly and why there are two different terms.[7]

The formula can be interpreted by first decomposing a call option into the difference of two binary options: an asset-or-nothing call minus a cash-or-nothing call (long an asset-or-nothing call, short a cash-or-nothing call). A call option exchanges cash for an asset at expiry, while an asset-or-nothing call just yields the asset (with no cash in exchange) and a cash-or-nothing call just yields cash (with no asset in exchange). The Black–Scholes formula is a difference of two terms, and these two terms equal the value of the binary call options. These binary options are much less frequently traded than vanilla call options, but are easier to analyze.

Thus the formula:

breaks up as:


where is the present value of an asset-or-nothing call and is the present value of a cash-or-nothing call. The D factor is for discounting, because the expiration date is in future, and removing it changes present value to future value (value at expiry). Thus is the future value of an asset-or-nothing call and is the future value of a cash-or-nothing call. In risk-neutral terms, these are the expected value of the asset and the expected value of the cash in the risk-neutral measure.

The naive, and not quite correct, interpretation of these terms is that is the probability of the option expiring in the money , times the value of the underlying at expiry F, while is the probability of the option expiring in the money times the value of the cash at expiry K. This is obviously incorrect, as either both binaries expire in the money or both expire out of the money (either cash is exchanged for asset or it is not), but the probabilities and are not equal. In fact, can be interpreted as measures of moneyness (in standard deviations) and as probabilities of expiring ITM (percent moneyness), in the respective numéraire, as discussed below. Simply put, the interpretation of the cash option, , is correct, as the value of the cash is independent of movements of the underlying, and thus can be interpreted as a simple product of "probability times value", while the is more complicated, as the probability of expiring in the money and the value of the asset at expiry are not independent.[7] More precisely, the value of the asset at expiry is variable in terms of cash, but is constant in terms of the asset itself (a fixed quantity of the asset), and thus these quantities are independent if one changes numéraire to the asset rather than cash.

If one uses spot S instead of forward F, in instead of the term there is which can be interpreted as a drift factor (in the risk-neutral measure for appropriate numéraire). The use of d for moneyness rather than the standardized moneyness   in other words, the reason for the factor  is due to the difference between the median and mean of the log-normal distribution; it is the same factor as in Itō's lemma applied to geometric Brownian motion. In addition, another way to see that the naive interpretation is incorrect is that replacing N(d+) by N(d) in the formula yields a negative value for out-of-the-money call options.[7]:6

In detail, the terms are the probabilities of the option expiring in-the-money under the equivalent exponential martingale probability measure (numéraire=stock) and the equivalent martingale probability measure (numéraire=risk free asset), respectively.[7] The risk neutral probability density for the stock price is

where is defined as above.

Specifically, is the probability that the call will be exercised provided one assumes that the asset drift is the risk-free rate. , however, does not lend itself to a simple probability interpretation. is correctly interpreted as the present value, using the risk-free interest rate, of the expected asset price at expiration, given that the asset price at expiration is above the exercise price.[8] For related discussion  and graphical representation  see section "Interpretation" under Datar–Mathews method for real option valuation.

The equivalent martingale probability measure is also called the risk-neutral probability measure. Note that both of these are probabilities in a measure theoretic sense, and neither of these is the true probability of expiring in-the-money under the real probability measure. To calculate the probability under the real ("physical") probability measure, additional information is required—the drift term in the physical measure, or equivalently, the market price of risk.


A standard derivation for solving the Black–Scholes PDE is given in the article Black–Scholes equation.

The Feynman–Kac formula says that the solution to this type of PDE, when discounted appropriately, is actually a martingale. Thus the option price is the expected value of the discounted payoff of the option. Computing the option price via this expectation is the risk neutrality approach and can be done without knowledge of PDEs.[7] Note the expectation of the option payoff is not done under the real world probability measure, but an artificial risk-neutral measure, which differs from the real world measure. For the underlying logic see section "risk neutral valuation" under Rational pricing as well as section "Derivatives pricing: the Q world" under Mathematical finance; for detail, once again, see Hull.[9]:307–309

The Greeks

"The Greeks" measure the sensitivity of the value of a derivative or a portfolio to changes in parameter value(s) while holding the other parameters fixed. They are partial derivatives of the price with respect to the parameter values. One Greek, "gamma" (as well as others not listed here) is a partial derivative of another Greek, "delta" in this case.

The Greeks are important not only in the mathematical theory of finance, but also for those actively trading. Financial institutions will typically set (risk) limit values for each of the Greeks that their traders must not exceed. Delta is the most important Greek since this usually confers the largest risk. Many traders will zero their delta at the end of the day if they are speculating and following a delta-neutral hedging approach as defined by Black–Scholes.

The Greeks for Black–Scholes are given in closed form below. They can be obtained by differentiation of the Black–Scholes formula.[10]

Calls Puts

Note that from the formulae, it is clear that the gamma is the same value for calls and puts and so too is the vega the same value for calls and put options. This can be seen directly from put–call parity, since the difference of a put and a call is a forward, which is linear in S and independent of σ (so a forward has zero gamma and zero vega). N' is the standard normal probability density function.

In practice, some sensitivities are usually quoted in scaled-down terms, to match the scale of likely changes in the parameters. For example, rho is often reported divided by 10,000 (1 basis point rate change), vega by 100 (1 vol point change), and theta by 365 or 252 (1 day decay based on either calendar days or trading days per year).

(Vega is not a letter in the Greek alphabet; the name arises from reading the Greek letter ν (nu) as a V.)

Extensions of the model

The above model can be extended for variable (but deterministic) rates and volatilities. The model may also be used to value European options on instruments paying dividends. In this case, closed-form solutions are available if the dividend is a known proportion of the stock price. American options and options on stocks paying a known cash dividend (in the short term, more realistic than a proportional dividend) are more difficult to value, and a choice of solution techniques is available (for example lattices and grids).

Instruments paying continuous yield dividends

For options on indices, it is reasonable to make the simplifying assumption that dividends are paid continuously, and that the dividend amount is proportional to the level of the index.

The dividend payment paid over the time period is then modelled as

for some constant (the dividend yield).

Under this formulation the arbitrage-free price implied by the Black–Scholes model can be shown to be


where now

is the modified forward price that occurs in the terms :


[11] Extending the Black Scholes formula Adjusting for payouts of the underlying.

Instruments paying discrete proportional dividends

It is also possible to extend the Black–Scholes framework to options on instruments paying discrete proportional dividends. This is useful when the option is struck on a single stock.

A typical model is to assume that a proportion of the stock price is paid out at pre-determined times . The price of the stock is then modelled as

where is the number of dividends that have been paid by time .

The price of a call option on such a stock is again

where now

is the forward price for the dividend paying stock.

American options

The problem of finding the price of an American option is related to the optimal stopping problem of finding the time to execute the option. Since the American option can be exercised at any time before the expiration date, the Black–Scholes equation becomes an inequality of the form


with the terminal and (free) boundary conditions: and where denotes the payoff at stock price .

In general this inequality does not have a closed form solution, though an American call with no dividends is equal to a European call and the Roll-Geske-Whaley method provides a solution for an American call with one dividend.[13][14]

Barone-Adesi and Whaley[15] is a further approximation formula. Here, the stochastic differential equation (which is valid for the value of any derivative) is split into two components: the European option value and the early exercise premium. With some assumptions, a quadratic equation that approximates the solution for the latter is then obtained. This solution involves finding the critical value, , such that one is indifferent between early exercise and holding to maturity.[16][17]

Bjerksund and Stensland[18] provide an approximation based on an exercise strategy corresponding to a trigger price. Here, if the underlying asset price is greater than or equal to the trigger price it is optimal to exercise, and the value must equal , otherwise the option "boils down to: (i) a European up-and-out call option… and (ii) a rebate that is received at the knock-out date if the option is knocked out prior to the maturity date." The formula is readily modified for the valuation of a put option, using put call parity. This approximation is computationally inexpensive and the method is fast, with evidence indicating that the approximation may be more accurate in pricing long dated options than Barone-Adesi and Whaley.[19]

Black–Scholes in practice

The normality assumption of the Black–Scholes model does not capture extreme movements such as stock market crashes.

The Black–Scholes model disagrees with reality in a number of ways, some significant. It is widely employed as a useful approximation, but proper application requires understanding its limitations  blindly following the model exposes the user to unexpected risk.[20] Among the most significant limitations are:

In short, while in the Black–Scholes model one can perfectly hedge options by simply Delta hedging, in practice there are many other sources of risk.

Results using the Black–Scholes model differ from real world prices because of simplifying assumptions of the model. One significant limitation is that in reality security prices do not follow a strict stationary log-normal process, nor is the risk-free interest actually known (and is not constant over time). The variance has been observed to be non-constant leading to models such as GARCH to model volatility changes. Pricing discrepancies between empirical and the Black–Scholes model have long been observed in options that are far out-of-the-money, corresponding to extreme price changes; such events would be very rare if returns were lognormally distributed, but are observed much more often in practice.

Nevertheless, Black–Scholes pricing is widely used in practice,[3]:751[21] because it is:

The first point is self-evidently useful. The others can be further discussed:

Useful approximation: although volatility is not constant, results from the model are often helpful in setting up hedges in the correct proportions to minimize risk. Even when the results are not completely accurate, they serve as a first approximation to which adjustments can be made.

Basis for more refined models: The Black–Scholes model is robust in that it can be adjusted to deal with some of its failures. Rather than considering some parameters (such as volatility or interest rates) as constant, one considers them as variables, and thus added sources of risk. This is reflected in the Greeks (the change in option value for a change in these parameters, or equivalently the partial derivatives with respect to these variables), and hedging these Greeks mitigates the risk caused by the non-constant nature of these parameters. Other defects cannot be mitigated by modifying the model, however, notably tail risk and liquidity risk, and these are instead managed outside the model, chiefly by minimizing these risks and by stress testing.

Explicit modeling: this feature means that, rather than assuming a volatility a priori and computing prices from it, one can use the model to solve for volatility, which gives the implied volatility of an option at given prices, durations and exercise prices. Solving for volatility over a given set of durations and strike prices one can construct an implied volatility surface. In this application of the Black–Scholes model, a coordinate transformation from the price domain to the volatility domain is obtained. Rather than quoting option prices in terms of dollars per unit (which are hard to compare across strikes, durations and coupon frequencies), option prices can thus be quoted in terms of implied volatility, which leads to trading of volatility in option markets.

The volatility smile

Main article: Volatility smile

One of the attractive features of the Black–Scholes model is that the parameters in the model other than the volatility (the time to maturity, the strike, the risk-free interest rate, and the current underlying price) are unequivocally observable. All other things being equal, an option's theoretical value is a monotonic increasing function of implied volatility.

By computing the implied volatility for traded options with different strikes and maturities, the Black–Scholes model can be tested. If the Black–Scholes model held, then the implied volatility for a particular stock would be the same for all strikes and maturities. In practice, the volatility surface (the 3D graph of implied volatility against strike and maturity) is not flat.

The typical shape of the implied volatility curve for a given maturity depends on the underlying instrument. Equities tend to have skewed curves: compared to at-the-money, implied volatility is substantially higher for low strikes, and slightly lower for high strikes. Currencies tend to have more symmetrical curves, with implied volatility lowest at-the-money, and higher volatilities in both wings. Commodities often have the reverse behavior to equities, with higher implied volatility for higher strikes.

Despite the existence of the volatility smile (and the violation of all the other assumptions of the Black–Scholes model), the Black–Scholes PDE and Black–Scholes formula are still used extensively in practice. A typical approach is to regard the volatility surface as a fact about the market, and use an implied volatility from it in a Black–Scholes valuation model. This has been described as using "the wrong number in the wrong formula to get the right price."[22] This approach also gives usable values for the hedge ratios (the Greeks). Even when more advanced models are used, traders prefer to think in terms of Black–Scholes implied volatility as it allows them to evaluate and compare options of different maturities, strikes, and so on. For a discussion as to the various alternate approaches developed here, see Financial economics#Challenges and criticism.

Valuing bond options

Black–Scholes cannot be applied directly to bond securities because of pull-to-par. As the bond reaches its maturity date, all of the prices involved with the bond become known, thereby decreasing its volatility, and the simple Black–Scholes model does not reflect this process. A large number of extensions to Black–Scholes, beginning with the Black model, have been used to deal with this phenomenon.[23] See Bond option: Valuation.

Interest-rate curve

In practice, interest rates are not constant  they vary by tenor (coupon frequency), giving an interest rate curve which may be interpolated to pick an appropriate rate to use in the Black–Scholes formula. Another consideration is that interest rates vary over time. This volatility may make a significant contribution to the price, especially of long-dated options.This is simply like the interest rate and bond price relationship which is inversely related.

Short stock rate

It is not free to take a short stock position. Similarly, it may be possible to lend out a long stock position for a small fee. In either case, this can be treated as a continuous dividend for the purposes of a Black–Scholes valuation, provided that there is no glaring asymmetry between the short stock borrowing cost and the long stock lending income.

Criticism and comments

Espen Gaarder Haug and Nassim Nicholas Taleb argue that the Black–Scholes model merely recasts existing widely used models in terms of practically impossible "dynamic hedging" rather than "risk", to make them more compatible with mainstream neoclassical economic theory.[24] They also assert that Boness in 1964 had already published a formula that is "actually identical" to the Black–Scholes call option pricing equation.[25] Edward Thorp also claims to have guessed the Black–Scholes formula in 1967 but kept it to himself to make money for his investors.[26] Emanuel Derman and Nassim Taleb have also criticized dynamic hedging and state that a number of researchers had put forth similar models prior to Black and Scholes.[27] In response, Paul Wilmott has defended the model.[21][28]

Living systems need to extract resources to compensate for continuous diffusion. This can be modelled mathematically as lognormal processes. The Black–Scholes equation is a deterministic representation of lognormal processes. The Black–Scholes model can be extended to describe general biological and social systems.[29]

British mathematician Ian Stewart published a criticism in which he suggested that "the equation itself wasn't the real problem" and he stated a possible role as "one ingredient in a rich stew of financial irresponsibility, political ineptitude, perverse incentives and lax regulation" due to its abuse in the financial industry.[30]

In his 2008 letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett wrote: "I believe the Black–Scholes formula, even though it is the standard for establishing the dollar liability for options, produces strange results when the long-term variety are being valued... The Black–Scholes formula has approached the status of holy writ in finance ... If the formula is applied to extended time periods, however, it can produce absurd results. In fairness, Black and Scholes almost certainly understood this point well. But their devoted followers may be ignoring whatever caveats the two men attached when they first unveiled the formula."[31]

See also


  1. Although the original model assumed no dividends, trivial extensions to the model can accommodate a continuous dividend yield factor.


  1. "Scholes". Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  2. MacKenzie, Donald (2006). An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-13460-8.
  3. 1 2 3 Bodie, Zvi; Alex Kane; Alan J. Marcus (2008). Investments (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin. ISBN 978-0-07-326967-2.
  4. "Nobel Prize Foundation, 1997 Press release". October 14, 1997. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  5. Black, Fischer; Scholes, Myron. "The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities". Journal of Political Economy. 81 (3): 637–654. doi:10.1086/260062.
  6. Merton, Robert. "Theory of Rational Option Pricing". Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science. 4 (1): 141–183. doi:10.2307/3003143.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Nielsen, Lars Tyge (1993). "Understanding N(d1) and N(d2): Risk-Adjusted Probabilities in the Black–Scholes Model" (PDF). Revue Finance (Journal of the French Finance Association). 14 (1): 95–106. Retrieved Dec 8, 2012, earlier circulated as INSEAD Working Paper 92/71/FIN (1992); abstract and link to article, published article.
  8. Don Chance (June 3, 2011). "Derivation and Interpretation of the Black–Scholes Model" (PDF). Retrieved March 27, 2012.
  9. Hull, John C. (2008). Options, Futures and Other Derivatives (7th ed.). Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-505283-1.
  10. Although with significant algebra; see, for example, Hong-Yi Chen, Cheng-Few Lee and Weikang Shih (2010). Derivations and Applications of Greek Letters: Review and Integration, Handbook of Quantitative Finance and Risk Management, III:491–503.
  12. André Jaun. "The Black–Scholes equation for American options". Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  13. Bernt Ødegaard (2003). "Extending the Black Scholes formula". Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  14. Don Chance (2008). "Closed-Form American Call Option Pricing: Roll-Geske-Whaley" (PDF). Retrieved May 16, 2012.
  15. Giovanni Barone-Adesi & Robert E Whaley (June 1987). "Efficient analytic approximation of American option values". Journal of Finance. 42 (2): 301–20. doi:10.2307/2328254.
  16. Bernt Ødegaard (2003). "A quadratic approximation to American prices due to Barone-Adesi and Whaley". Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  17. Don Chance (2008). "Approximation Of American Option Values: Barone-Adesi-Whaley" (PDF). Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  18. Petter Bjerksund and Gunnar Stensland, 2002. Closed Form Valuation of American Options
  19. American options
  20. Yalincak, Hakan, "Criticism of the Black–Scholes Model: But Why Is It Still Used? (The Answer is Simpler than the Formula)" <<>>
  21. 1 2 Paul Wilmott (2008): In defence of Black Scholes and Merton, Dynamic hedging and further defence of Black–Scholes
  22. Riccardo Rebonato (1999). Volatility and correlation in the pricing of equity, FX and interest-rate options. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-89998-4.
  23. Kalotay, Andrew (November 1995). "The Problem with Black, Scholes et al." (PDF). Derivatives Strategy.
  24. Espen Gaarder Haug and Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2011). Option Traders Use (very) Sophisticated Heuristics, Never the Black–Scholes–Merton Formula. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Vol. 77, No. 2, 2011
  25. Boness, A James, 1964, Elements of a theory of stock-option value, Journal of Political Economy, 72, 163–175.
  26. A Perspective on Quantitative Finance: Models for Beating the Market, Quantitative Finance Review, 2003. Also see Option Theory Part 1 by Edward Thorpe
  27. Emanuel Derman and Nassim Taleb (2005). The illusions of dynamic replication, Quantitative Finance, Vol. 5, No. 4, August 2005, 323–326
  28. See also: Doriana Ruffinno and Jonathan Treussard (2006). Derman and Taleb’s The Illusions of Dynamic Replication: A Comment, WP2006-019, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  29. Chen, Jing (2015). The Unity of Science and Economics: A New Foundation of Economic Theory. Springer.
  30. Ian Stewart (2012) The mathematical equation that caused the banks to crash, The Observer, February 12.

Primary references

Historical and sociological aspects

Further reading

External links

Discussion of the model

Derivation and solution

Computer implementations


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