What Is the Put/Call Ratio?

By Brian Nibley · December 18, 2021 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Is the Put/Call Ratio?

The put to call ratio (PCR) is a mathematical indicator that investors use to determine market sentiment. The ratio reflects the volume of put options and call options placed on a particular market index. Analysts interpret this information into either a bullish (positive) or bearish (negative) near-term market outlook.

The idea is simple: the ratio of how many people are betting against the market versus how many people are betting in favor of the market, should provide a gauge of the general mood investors are in.

A high put-call ratio is thought to be bearish (because more investors are taking short positions) while a low put-call ratio is thought to be bullish (because more investors are taking long positions). Investor Martin Zweig invented the put-call ratio and used it to forecast the 1987 stock market crash.

What are Puts and Calls?

Puts and calls are the most basic types of options contracts. Options contracts give holders the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a specific number of shares of a given security by a certain date (the expiration date) at an agreed upon price (the strike price). For both puts and calls, one options contract is usually for 100 shares of the underlying security.

The seller of an option is also sometimes called the writer. Options writers receive a fee, called a premium, in exchange for the risk of having to buy or sell shares when the holder of the option chooses to exercise their contract.

There are many factors that influence an option’s premium, and many ways to calculate the value and the risk of options, including the Black-Sholes, trinomial, and Monte Carlo simulations.

Those interested in trading calls and puts and other options strategies may want to research the details further with our options trading guide.

For now, we’re concerned with the basics of call vs. put options so we can better understand the put-call ratio and what it means.


A put option (or “put”) gives its owner the right to sell a certain number of shares at a predetermined price by a certain date. Investors may also refer to puts as “short positions” because they represent bearish bets on a security’s future.

An investor who buys a put has the option to sell the stock at some point leading up to the expiration date of the contract. Investors may use puts in a variety of ways within the portfolio. For example, a protective put allows an investor who already owns the underlying asset to benefit even if the price of that stock asset goes down.


A call gives its owner the right to buy a certain number of shares at a predetermined price by a certain date. Calls are also referred to as long positions because they represent bullish bets on a security’s future.

An investor who buys a call has the option to buy the stock at some point leading up to the expiration date.

Recommended: Popular Options Trading Terminology to Know

What Is Put Call Ratio?

The put-call ratio is a measurement of the number of puts versus the number of calls traded on a given security over a certain timeframe. The ratio is expressed as a simple numerical value.

The higher the number, the more puts there are on a security, which shows that investors are betting in favor of future price declines. The lower the number, the more calls there are on a security, indicating that investors are betting in favor of future price increases.

Analysts most often apply this metric to broad market indexes to get a feel for overall market sentiment in conjunction with other data point. For example, the Chicago Board Options Exchange put-to-call ratio is one of seven factors used to calculate the Fear & Greed Index by CNN Business.

The put-call ratio can also be applied to individual stocks by looking at the volume of puts and calls on a stock over a certain period.

Recommended: Buying Options vs Stocks: Trading Differences to Know

How to Calculate the Put-Call Ratio

The put-call ratio equals the total volume of puts for a given time period on a certain market index or security divided by the total volume of calls for the same time period on that same index or security. The CBOE put call ratio is this calculation for all options traded on that exchange.

There can also be variations of this. For example, total put open interest could be divided by total call open interest. This would provide a ratio for the number of outstanding puts versus the number of outstanding calls. Another variation is a weighted put-call ratio, which calculates the dollar value of puts versus calls, rather than the number.

Looking at a put call ratio chart can show you how that ratio has changed over time.

Put-Call Ratio Example

Suppose an investor is trying to assess the overall sentiment for a stock. The stock showed the following volume of puts and calls on a recent trading day:

Number of puts = 1,400

Number of calls = 1,800

The put call ratio for this stock would be 1,400 / 1,800 = 0.77.

How to Interpret the Put-Call Ratio

A specific PCR value can broadly be defined as follows:

•   A PCR of less than 1 implies that investors are expecting upward price movement, as they’re buying more call options than put options.

•   A PCR of more than 1 implies that investors are expecting downward price movement, as they’re buying more put options than call options.

•   A PCR equal to 1 indicates investors expect a neutral trend, as purchases of both types of options are at the same level.

However, while PCR has a specific, mathematical root, it is still open to interpretation, depending on your options trading strategy. Different investors might take the same value to have different meanings.

Contrarian investors, for example, typically believe that the majority is wrong. The best move is to act contrary to what others are doing, in this view. If everyone else is buying something, contrarians believe it might be a good time to sell, or vice-versa. A contrarian investor might therefore perceive a high put/call ratio to be bullish because it suggests that most people believe prices will be heading downward soon.

Momentum investors believe in trying to capitalize on prevailing market trends. “The trend is your friend,” they might say. If the price of something is going up, it could be best to capitalize on that momentum by buying, in this view. A momentum investor could believe the opposite, and that a high PCR should be seen as bearish because prices could be trending downward soon.

To take things a step further, a momentum investor might short a security with a high put-call ratio, hoping that since most investors appear to already be short, this will be the right move. On the other hand, a contrarian investor could do the opposite and establish a long position, based on the idea that what most people expect to happen is the opposite of what’s actually coming.

The Takeaway

The put-call ratio is a simple metric used to gauge market sentiment. While often used on broad market indexes, investors may also apply the PCR to specific securities. Calculating it only involves dividing the volume of puts by the volume of calls on the market for a security.

The put-call ratio is one factor you might consider as you start trading options. A platform like SoFi’s allows you to get started with options trading, thanks to its intuitive and user-friendly design. Investors can also reference a library of educational resources about options.

Trade options with low fees through SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/PeopleImages

SoFi Invest®
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender