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pigonfarm,

You wrote, Today the price of XOM dipped below the strike price. Nothing happened... Why were the 100 shares of stock [not] allocated to me?

An option contract can only be exercised by the buyer. You have no say in this.

Also, Does it only happen on the expiration date?

Most puts are exercised for one of two reasons:

1. An ex-dividend date is approaching and the option is in the money.
2. The option expired in the money and was automatically exercised by the brokerage.

PUT buyers usually purchase them as a form of down-side protection either by themselves (either as insurance against the underlying or because they want to be short the issue with a limited down-side) or in some complex options strategy. However it is never necessary for them to exercise the PUT to avail themselves of this protection. That's because the value of the option rises as the price falls - offsetting their losses in the underlying, assuming they actually hold it. What's more, exercising early disposes of any time-value remaining in the contract so it's usually more profitable to just sell the contract to close the position than to exercise.

Finally, If I wanted to take ownership of the 100 shares today when it was below the strike price is there something I could've done?

To guarantee you take ownership, you must buy the stock out-right. You could do this and close the put position, if you like. Given XOM's price movement, I'd say you have a less than 50/50 chance of being assigned on the 18th.

What is your primary objective here? Make money on selling the puts? Or buying 100 shares of XOM at a fair price? Some try to squeeze an income stream out of this and limit their downside risk at the same time. This can be reasonable; but you have to accept that you may never own the stock. (And those that do this often don't really WANT to own the stock.) But if you really think XOM has bottomed you need to do one of two things. Either place an order to buy XOM that is likely to execute ... or I suppose you could wait and sell another short-term PUT that is deeper in the money.

- Joel
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