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Back to Basics: a new approach to the

discrete dividend problem∗

Espen G. Haug†Jørgen Haug‡Alan Lewis§

May 26, 2003

1 Introduction

Stocks frequently pay dividends, which has implications for the value of options on these

stocks. For options on a large portfolio of stocks, one can approximate discrete dividend

payouts with a dividend yield and use the generalized Black-Scholes-Merton (BSM) model.

For options on one stock, this is not a viable approximation, and the discreteness of the

dividend has to be explicitly modelled.1We discuss how to properly make the necessary

∗We would like to thank Samuel Siren, Paul Wilmott, and participants in the Wilmott forum

(www.wilmott.com) for useful comments and suggestions. All the usual disclaimers apply.

†J.P. Morgan

‡Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration

§OptionCity.net

1An alternative to discrete cash dividend is discrete dividend yield. Implementation of discrete dividend

yield is well known and straight forward using recombining lattice models (see for instance Haug, 1997; Hull,

2000). Typically, however, at least the ﬁrst dividend is known in advance with some conﬁdence. Discrete

cash dividend models consequently seem to have been the models of choice among practitioners, despite

having to deal with a more complex modelling problem. For very long term options the predictability of

future dividends is less pronounced, and dividends should be somewhat correlated with the stock price level.

Moreover, cash dividends tend to be reduced following a signiﬁcant stock price decrease. If the stock price

rallies, on the other hand, it indicates that the company is doing better than expected, which again can

1

adjustments.

It might come as a surprise to many readers that we write an entire paper about a supposedly

mundane issue—which is thoroughly treated in any decent derivatives text book (including,

but not limited to Cox and Rubinstein, 1985; Chriss, 1997; Haug, 1997; Hull, 2000; Mc-

Donald, 2003; Stoll and Whaley, 1993; Wilmott, 2000). It turns out, however, that some of

the adjustments suggested in the extant literature admit arbitrage—which is ﬁne if all your

competitors use these models, but you know how to do the arbitrage-free adjustment.

Existing methods

Escrowed dividend model: The simplest escrowed dividend approach makes a simple

adjustment to the BSM formula. The adjustment consists of replacing the stock price S0by

the stock price minus the present value of the dividend S0−e−rtDD, where Dis the size of

the cash dividend to be paid at time tD. Because the stock price is lowered, the approach will

typically lead to too little absolute price volatility (σtSt) in the period before the dividend is

paid. Moreover, it is just an approximation used to ﬁt the ex-dividend price process into the

geometric Brownian motion (GBM) assumption of the BSM formula. The approach will in

general undervalue call options, and the mispricing is larger the later in the option’s lifetime

the dividend is paid. The approximation suggested by Black (1975) for American options

suﬀers from the same problem, as does the Roll-Geske-Whaley (RGW) model (Roll, 1977;

Geske, 1979, 1981; Whaley, 1981). The RGW model uses this approximation of the stock

price process, and applies a compound option approach to take into account the possibility

of early exercise. Not only does this yield a poor approximation in certain circumstances,

but it can open up arbitrage opportunities!

result in higher cash dividends. For very long term options then, it is likely that the discrete dividend yield

model can be a competing model to the discrete cash dividend model.

2

Several papers discuss the weakness of the escrowed dividend approach. In the case of

European options, suggested ﬁxes are often based on adjustments of the volatility, in com-

bination with the escrowed dividend adjustment. We shortly discuss three such approaches,

all of which assume that the stock price can be described by a GBM:

1. An adjustment popular among practitioners is to replace the volatility σwith σ2=

σS

S−De−rtD, (see for instance Chriss, 1997). This approach increases the volatility relative

to the basic escrowed divided process. However, the adjustment yields too high volatil-

ity if the dividend is paid out early in the option’s lifetime. The approach typically

overprices call options in this situation.

2. A more sophisticated volatility adjustment also takes into account the timing of the

dividend (Haug and Haug, 1998; Beneder and Vorst, 2001). It replaces σwith σ2as

before, but not for the entire lifetime of the option. The idea behind the approxi-

mation is to leave volatility unchanged in the time before the dividend payment, and

to apply the volatility σ2after the dividend payment. Since the BSM model requires

one volatility as input, some sort of weight must be assigned to each of σand σ2.

This is accomplished by looking at the period after the dividend payment as a forward

volatility period (Haug and Haug, 1996). The single input volatility is then computed

as

ˆσ=rσ2tD+σ2

2(T−tD)

T,

where Tis the time of expiration for the option. The adjustment in the presence of

multiple dividends is described in Appendix A. This is still simply an adjustment to

parameters of the GBM price process, that ensures the adjusted price process remains

a GBM—at odds with the true ex-dividend price process. The adjustment therefore

remains an approximation. One can easily show numerically that this method performs

particularly poorly in the presence of multiple dividends.

3

3. Bos et al. (2003) suggest a more sophisticated volatility adjustment, described in Ap-

pendix B. Still this is just another “quick ﬁx” to try to get around the problems with

the escrowed dividend price process. Numerical calculations show that this approach

oﬀers quite accurate values provided the dividend is small to moderate. For very high

dividends the method performs poorly. The poor performance seemingly also occurs

for long term options with multiple dividends.

4. A slightly diﬀerent way to implement the escrowed dividend process is to adjust the

stock price and strike (Bos and Vandermark, 2002). Even if this approach seems to

work better than the approximations mentioned above, it suﬀers from approximation

errors for large dividends just like approximation 3.

Lattice models: An alternative to the escrowed dividend approximation is to use non-

recombining lattice methods (see for instance Hull, 2000). If implemented as a binomial

tree one builds a new tree from each node on each dividend payment date. A problem with

all non-recombining lattices is that they are time consuming to evaluate. This problem is

ampliﬁed with multiple dividends. Schroder (1988) describes how to implement discrete

dividends in a recombining tree. The approach is based on the escrowed dividend process

idea, however, and the method will therefore signiﬁcantly misprice options. Wilmott et al.

(1993, p. 402) indicate what seems to be a sounder approach to ensure a recombining tree

for the spot price process with a discrete dividend.

Problems and weaknesses of current approaches

In fact, the admission of arbitrage is merely the most egregious example among problems

or weaknesses in current approaches. Of course, we cannot claim to have seen every paper

written on this subject, but of those we have seen, we note one or more of the following

4

weaknesses:

(i). Logical ﬂaws. Many approaches use the idea of an escrowed dividend process, as

discussed above. The idea is to break up the stock price process into two pieces, a

risky part and an escrowed dividend part. The admirable goal is to “guarantee” that

the declared dividend will be received. The logical ﬂaw is that the resulting stock price

process changes with the option expiration. Whatever the stock price process is, it

cannot depend upon which option you happen to be considering. The fact that this is

a logical fallacy is, to our thinking, under-appreciated.

(ii). Ill-deﬁned stock price processes. Some treatments just don’t “get it” that a constant

dividend Dcan’t be paid at arbitrarily low stock prices. This tends to be a problem

with discussions of “non-recombining trees”. The problem is (a) the discussion “never”

mention that something must be said about this issue.2A related issue, which we have

seen in some recent models is that (b) negative stock prices are explicitly allowed.

The reason that authors can get away with (a) is that, in many computations, the

problematic region is a very low probability event. But, this is no excuse for failing

to completely deﬁne your model. The reader should be able to say similar bad things

about (b).

(iii). Only geometric Brownian motion is discussed. This is understandable in the early

literature, but not now-days. The weaknesses of GBM are well-know. Some ﬁxes

include stochastic volatility, jumps, and other ideas. A dividend treatment needs to

accommodate these models.

(iv). Arbitrage issues. This has been mentioned above and an example is given below. All

2Except, to our knowledge (which, unlike the universe, is limited) Wilmott et al. (1993, p. 399), who

mention this problem and suggest to let the company go bankrupt if the dividend is larger than the asset

price. This approach avoids negative stock prices. Moreover, McDonald (2003, p. 352) points out this

problem, and suggests using the approach of Schroder (1988). As we have already pointed out, this method

has other ﬂaws.

5

we will add here is that the source of this problem is (i) or (ii) above. Finally, to

paraphrase the physicist Sidney Coleman, who was speaking in another context, just

because a theory is dead wrong, doesn’t mean it can’t be highly accurate. In other

words, the reader will observe below many instances of highly accurate numerical

agreement between our current approach and some existing approximations that suﬀer

from (ii) for example. Nevertheless, we would argue that a theory that predicts negative

stock prices must be ‘dead wrong’ in Coleman’s sense.3

Arbitrage example: In the case of European options, the above techniques are ad hoc,

but get the job done (in most cases) when the corrections are properly carried out. To

give you an idea of when it really goes wrong, consider the model of choice for American

call options on stocks whose cum dividend price is a GBM. The Roll-Geske-Whaley (RGW)

model has for decades been considered a brilliant closed form solution to price American

calls on dividend paying stocks. Consider the case of an initial stock price of 100, strike 130,

risk free rate 6%, volatility 30%, one year to maturity, and an expected dividend payment of

7 in 0.9999 years. Using this input the RGW model posits a value of 4.3007. Consider now

another option, expiring just before the dividend payment, say in 0.9998 years. Since this in

eﬀect is an American call on a non-dividend paying stock it is not optimal to exercise it before

maturity. In the absence of arbitrage the value must therefore equal the BSM price of 4.9183.

This is, however, an arbitrage opportunity! The arbitrage occurs because the RGW model

is mis-speciﬁed, in that the dynamics of the stock price process depends on the timing of the

dividend. Similar examples have been discussed by Beneder and Vorst (2001) and Frishling

(2002). This is not just an esoteric example, as several well known software systems use

the RGW model and other similar mis-speciﬁed models. In more complex situations than

described in this example the arbitrage will not necessarily be quite so obvious, and one

3Coleman (1985), speaking of Fermi’s theory of the ‘Weak force’: Phrased another way, the Fermi theory

is obviously dead wrong because it predicts inﬁnite higher-order corrections, but it is experimentally near

perfect, because there are few experiments for which lowest-order Fermi theory is inadequate.

6

would need an accurate model to conﬁdently take advantage of it. It is precisely such a

model we present in the present paper.

2 General Solution

A single dividend

You wish to value a Euro-style or American-style equity option on a stock that pays a

discrete (point-in-time) dividend at time t=tD. The simpler problem is to ﬁrst specify a

price process whereby any dividends are reinvested immediately back into the security—this

is the so-called cum-dividend process St=S(t). In general, Stis not the market price of the

security, but instead is the market price of a hypothetical mutual fund that only invests in

the security. To distinguish the concepts, we will write the market price of the security at

time tas Yt, which we will sometimes call the ex-dividend process. Of course, if there are

no dividends, then Yt=Stfor all t. Even if the company pays a dividend, we can always

arrange things so that Y0=S0, which guarantees (by the law of one price) that Yt=Stfor

all t < tD.

In our treatment, we allow Stto follow a very general continuous-time stochastic process.

For example, your process might be one of the following (to keep things simple, we suppose

a world with a constant interest rate r):

Example (cum-dividend) processes

(P1). GBM: dSt=rStdt +σStdBt, where σis a constant volatility and Bis a standard

Brownian motion.

7

(P2). Jump-diﬀusion: dSt= (r−λk)Stdt +σStdBt+StdJt, where dJtis a Poisson driven

jump process with mean jump arrival rate λ, and mean jump size k.

(P3). Jump-diﬀusion with stochastic volatility: dSt= (r−λk)Stdt+σtStdBt+StdJt, where

σtfollows its own separate, possibly correlated, diﬀusion or jump-diﬀusion.

Consider an option at time t, expiring at time T, and assume for a moment that there are no

dividends so that Yt=Stfor all t≤T. In that case, clearly, models (P1) and (P2) are one-

factor models: the option value V(St, t) depends only upon the current state of one random

variable. Model (P3) is a two-factor model, V(St, σt, t). Obviously, “n-factor” models are

possible in principle, for arbitrary n, and our treatment will apply to those too. Note that

we leave the dependence on many parameters implicit.

What the examples have in common is that the stock price, with zero or more additional

factors, jointly form a Markov process,4in which the discounted stock price is a martin-

gale. Also, for simplicity, we will consider only time-homogenous processes; this means that

transition densities for the state variables depend only on the length of the time period in

question, and not on the beginning and end dates of the time period.

Choosing a dividend policy

Now we want to create an option formula for the case where the company declares a single

discrete dividend of size D, where the “ex-dividend date” is at time tDduring the option

holding period. We consider an unprotected Euro-style option, so that the option holder will

not receive the dividend. Since option prices depend upon the market price of the security,

for one factor models, we must now write V(Yt, t).

Note that we are being very careful with our choice of words; we have said that the company

4The Markov assumption is for simplicity. Perhaps it can be relaxed. We leave this issue open.

8

“declares” a dividend D. What we mean by that is that it is the company’s stated intention

to pay the amount Dif that is possible. When will it be impossible? We assume that the

company cannot pay out more equity than exists. For simplicity, we imagine a world where

there are no distortions from taxes or other frictions, so that a dollar of dividends is valued

the same as a dollar of equity. In addition, we always assume that there are no arbitrage

opportunities. In such a world, if the company pays a dividend D, the stock price at the

ex-dividend date must drop by the same amount: Y(tD) = Y(t−

D)−D=S(t−

D)−D. Our

notation is that t−

Dis the time instantaneously before the ex-dividend date tD(in a world

of continuous trading). Since stock prices represent the price of a limited liability security,

we must have Y(tD)≥0, so we have a contradiction between these last two concepts if

S(t−

D)< D.

This is the fundamental contradiction that every discrete dividend model must resolve. We

resolve it here by the following minimal modiﬁcation to the dividend policy. We assume

that the company will indeed pay out its declared amount Dif S−> D, abbreviating

S−=S(t−

D). However, in the case where S−< D, we assume that the company pays some

lesser amount ∆(S−) whereby 0 ≤∆(S−)≤S−. That is our general model, a “minimally

modiﬁed dividend policy.” In later sections, we show numerical results for two natural policy

choices, namely ∆(S−) = S−(liquidator), and ∆(S−) = 0 (survivor). The ﬁrst case allows

liquidation because the ex-dividend stock price (at least in all of the sample models P1–P3

above) would be absorbed at zero. We will assume that a zero stock price is always an

absorbing state. The second case (and, indeed any model where ∆(S)< S) allows survival

because the stock price process can then attain strictly positive values after the dividend

payment.

These choices, liquidation versus survival, sound dramatically diﬀerent. In cases of ﬁnancial

distress, where indeed the stock price is very low, they would be. But such cases are relatively

rare. As a practical matter, we want to stress that for most applications, the choice of

9

∆(S) for S < D has a negligible ﬁnancial eﬀect; the main point is that some choice must

be made to fully specify the model. There is little ﬁnancial eﬀect in most applications

because the probability that an initial stock price S0becomes as small as a declared dividend

Dis typically negligible; if this is not obvious, then a short computation with the log-

normal distribution should convince you. In any event, we will demonstrate various cases in

numerical examples.

To re-state what we have said in terms of an SDE for the security price process, our general

model is that the actual dividend paid becomes the random variable D(S), where

D(S) =

D, if S > D

∆(S)≤S, if S≤D

.(1)

In (1) Dis the declared (or projected) dividend—a constant, independent of S. The func-

tional form for D(S) is any function that preserves limited liability. Then, the market price

of the security evolves, using GBM as the prototype, as the SDE:

dYt=hrYt−δ(t−tD)D(Yt−

D)idt +σYtdBt,(P1a)

where δ(t−tD) is Dirac’s delta function centered at tD. The same SDE drift modiﬁcation

occurs for (P2), (P3), or any other security price process you wish to model.

It’s worth stressing that the Brownian motion Btthat appears in (P1) and (P1a) have

identical realizations. You might want to picture a realization of Btfor 0 ≤t≤T. Your

mental picture will ensure that Yt=Stfor all t < tDand YtD=StD−D(StD). Note that Yt

is completely determined by knowledge of Stalone for all t≤tD(the fact that YtD=f(StD),

where fis a deterministic function, will be crucial later). What about t>tD? For those

(post ex-dividend date) times, little can be said about Ytgiven only knowledge of St(all you

can say is that Yt< Stif D > 0).

10

For our results to be useful, you need to be able to solve your model in the absence of

dividends. By that, we mean that you know how to ﬁnd the option values and the transition

density for the stock price (and any other state variables) to evolve. Note that you need not

have these functions in so-called “closed-form”, but merely that you have some method of

obtaining them. This method may be an analytic formula, a lattice method, a Monte Carlo

procedure, a series solution, or whatever.

It’s awkward to keep placeholders for arbitrary state variables, so we will simply write

φ(S0, St, t) (the cum-dividend transition density), with the understanding that additional

state variable arguments should be inserted if your model needs them. To be explicit, the

transition density is the probability density for an initial state (stock price plus other state

variables) S0to evolve to the ﬁnal state Stin a time t. This evolution occurs under the

risk-adjusted, cum-dividend process (or measure) such as the ones given under “Example

(cum-dividend) processes” above. For GBM, φ(S0, St, t) is the familiar log-normal density.

Option formulas are similarly displayed only for the one-factor model, with additional state

variables to be inserted by the reader if necessary.

With this discussion, let’s collect all of our stated assumptions in one place:

(A1) Markets are perfect (frictionless, arbitrage-free), and trading is in continuous-time.

(A2) After risk adjustment, every cum-dividend stock price St, jointly with n≥0 additional

factors (which are suppressed), evolve under a time-homogenous, (Markov) stochastic

process. Stis non-negative; if St= 0 is reached, it’s a trap state (absorbing). All these

statements also apply to the market price (ex-dividend process) Yt.

(A3) If a company declares (or you project) a discrete dividend D, this is promoted to a

random dividend policy D(S) in the minimal manner of (1). This causes the market

price of the stock to drop instantaneously on an ex-dividend date, as prototyped by

11

(P1a).

Our Main Result

We write VE(St, t;D, tD) for the time-tfair value of a European-style option that expires at

time T, in the presence of a discrete dividend Dpaid at time tD. The last two arguments

are the main parameters in the fully speciﬁed dividend policy {tD,D(S)}where t < tD< T .

If there is no dividend between time tand the option expiration T, we simply drop the last

two arguments and write VE(St, t). So, to be clear about notation, when you see an option

value V(·) that has only two arguments, this will be a formula that you know in the absence

of dividends, like the BSM formula. Again, the strike price X, option expiration T, and

other parameters and state variables have been suppressed for simplicity. Then, here is our

main result:

Proposition 1. Under assumptions (A1)–(A3), the adoption by the company of a single

discrete dividend policy {tD,D(S)}, causes the fair value of a Euro-style option to change

from VE(S0,0) to VE(S0,0; D, tD), where

VE(S0,0; D, tD) = e−rtDZ∞

0

VE(S− D(S), tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS. (2)

Proof. A very elaborate argument is:

(i) Let Sbe the cum-dividend process, and Ythe ex-dividend process as before. Assume

dividend policy D(S), paid on date tD. Then Yt=Stfor all t<tD,YtD=StD− D(StD),

and typically Yt6=Stfor t > tD. Assume the distribution function FSfor Sand that the

option pays oﬀ g(YT) at time T.

(ii) Relative to time t<T the payoﬀ from the option is a random variable/uncertain cash

12

ﬂow. The absence of arbitrage then implies that the price at time tfor this cash ﬂow is

e−r(T−t)Et{g(YT)}.

Let’s call this value V(Yt, t), which again is a random variable relative to any time t0< t.

For any t≥tDthis random variable is the price of an option on a non-dividend paying stock,

and therefore assumed known for any value of Yt.

(iii) We’re interested in the value of the option on Yat time 0. Since V(Yt, t) is simply a

random variable relative to today (time 0), we can use the exact same argument as in (ii)

above. Its value at time 0 must therefore, in the absence of arbitrage, be

e−rtE0{V(Yt, t)}.(3)

So far, the only result we’ve used is the (almost) equivalence of no arbitrage and the martin-

gale property of prices (Harrison and Kreps, 1979; Harrison and Pliska, 1981; Delbaen and

Schachermayer, 1995, among others), and we haven’t said anything about what speciﬁc date

t≥tDis (the argument would hold for t < tDtoo, but we want V(Yt, t) to be “known”).

(iv) Assuming suﬃcient regularity, we can write (3) in integral form wrt. a distribution

function

E0{V(Yt, t)}=Z∞

0

V(y, t)dFY(y;Y0,0, t).

The trouble with this integral is that we typically do not know the distribution function FY

unless t < tD—but in that case Vis unknown (orthogonal knowledge ;-).

(v) The main insight is now that by considering t=tDwe know that YtD=StD− D(StD).

This means that we do not need to know FY, since by the “Law of the Unconscious Statis-

13

tician”

E0{V(YtD, tD)}=Z∞

0

V(y, tD)dFY(y;Y0,0, tD)

=Z∞

0

V(s− D(s), tD)dFS(s;S0,0, tD).

In other words, at time t=tDwe know both how to compute Vand how to compute its

expectation E0{V(YtD, tD)}, and this is the only date for which this holds. With a time-

homogeneous transition density dFS(s;S0,0, tD) = φ(S0, s, tD)ds, and we arrive at (2).

An Example: Take GBM, where the dividend policy is ∆(S) = S(liquidator) for S≤D.

Then (2) for a call option becomes

CE(S0,0; D, tD) = e−rtDZ∞

D

CE(S−D, tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS. (4)

Note that the call price in the integrand of (2) is zero for S− D(S) = 0 (S≤D). In (4),

φ(S0, S, t) is simply the (no-dividend) log-normal density and CE(S−D, tD) is simply the

no-dividend BSM formula with time-to-go T−tD. For example, suppose S0=X= 100,

T= 1 (year), r= 0.06, σ= 0.30, and D= 7. Then, consider two cases; (i) tD= 0.01,

and (ii) tD= 0.99. We ﬁnd from (4) the high precision results: (i) CE(100,0; 7,0.01) =

10.59143873835989 and (ii) CE(100,0; 7,0.99) = 11.57961536099359.

American-style options

It is well-known, and easily proved that, for an American-style call option with a discrete div-

idend, early exercise is only optimal instantaneously prior to the ex-dividend date (Merton,

1973). This result of course applies to the present model. Hence, to value an American-style

14

call option with a single discrete dividend, you merely replace (2) with

CA(S0,0; D, tD) = e−rtDZ∞

0

max{(S−X)+, CE(S− D(S), tD)}φ(S0, S, tD) dS, (5)

Early exercise is never optimal unless there is a ﬁnite solution S∗to S∗−X=CE(S∗−D, tD),

where we are assuming that X > D (a virtual certainty in practice). In this case, the reader

may want to break up the integral into two pieces, but we shall just leave it at (5).

For American-style put options, as is also well-known, it can be optimal to exercise at any

time prior to expiration, even in the absence of dividends. So, in this case, you are generally

forced to a numerical solution, evolving the stock price according to your model. This is

the well-known backward iteration. What may diﬀer from what you are used to is that you

must allow for an instantaneous drop of D(S) on the ex-date.

One down, n−1to go

With the sequence of dividends {(Di, ti)}n

i=1,t1< t2< . . . < tn, the argument leading to

formula (2) still holds. Simply repeat it iteratively, starting at time tn−1by applying (2)

to the last dividend (Dn, tn). While straight forward, this procedure involves evaluating an

n-fold integral. We therefore show a simpler way to compute it in Section 4.

3 Dividend Models

It is now time to compare speciﬁc dividend models, ∆(S). We consider the two extreme

cases for ∆(S), use these to develop an inequality for an arbitrary dividend model, and then

illustrate the impact on option prices.

15

Liquidator: We consider ﬁrst the situation where the dividend is reduced to StDwhen

StD< D, i.e., ∆(S)=∆l(S) = Sfor S < D. This is tantamount to the ﬁrm being

liquidated if the cum dividend stock price falls below the declared dividend. Although this

might seem an extreme assumption, keep in mind that for most reasonable parameter values,

this will be close to a zero-probability event. It is a simple approximation that succeeds in

ensuring a non-negative ex-dividend stock price. In this case (2) reduces to

Vl

E(S0,0; D, tD) = e−rtDZ∞

D

VE(S−D, tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS

+ e−rtDZD

0

VE(S−∆l(S), tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS, (6)

= e−rtDZ∞

D

VE(S−D, tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS+VE(0, tD)ZD

0

φ(S0, S, tD) dS.

In this decomposition the “tail value” e−rtDVE(0, tD)RD

0φ(S0, S, tD) dSwill vanish for a call

option, but not for a put option.

Survivor: Consider next the situation where the dividend is canceled when StD< D, i.e.,

∆(S) = ∆s(S) = 0 for S≤D. This approximation also succeeds in ensuring a non-negative

ex-dividend stock price, and also allows the ﬁrm to live on with probability one after the

dividend payout. The option price is now similar to the one for the liquidator dividend, with

a slight modiﬁcation to the tail value of the option contract:

Vs

E(S0,0; D, tD) = e−rtDZ∞

D

VE(S−D, tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS

+ZD

0

VE(S, tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS.(7)

From (6) and (7) we can now establish a result that should enable you to sleep better at

night if you are concerned with your choice of dividend policy ∆(·).

16

Corollary 1. Let CE(S0,0; D, tD)be given by (2) for a generic dividend policy ∆(S)such

that 0≤∆(S)≤S. For European call options

Cl

E(S0,0; D, tD)≤CE(S0,0; D, tD)≤Cs

E(S0,0; D, tD).

If StD< D with positive probability then additionally Cl

E(S0,0; D, tD)< Cs

E(S0,0; D, tD).

Proof. The R∞

D-integral is identical for all three options. Since 0 ≤∆(S)≤Sit follows that

ZD

0

CE(S−∆l(S), tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS

≤ZD

0

CE(S−∆(S), tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS

≤ZD

0

CE(S−∆s(S), tD)φ(S0, S, tD) dS.

The strict inequality follows from a similar argument.

We could easily have established the same inequality for American call options, by simply

using more cumbersome notation that takes early exercise into account. The interesting

part of the result is the weak inequality. It tells us that if there’s a negligible diﬀerence in

prices between the liquidator and survivor dividend policies, then it doesn’t matter what

assumption you make about ∆(S) as long as it satisﬁes limited liability.

We end this section with an illustration of the relevance of the dividend model ∆(S). We

do so by illustrating the pricing implications of the two extreme dividend policies, liquidator

and survivor, in a speciﬁc case.

A ﬁnancial fairy “tail”: A long-lived ﬁnancial service ﬁrm, let’s call them Ye Olde

Reliable Insurance, paid a hefty dividend once a year, which they liked to declare well in

17

advance. Once declared, they had never missed a payment, not once in their 103-year history.

As their usual practice, they went ex-dividend every June 30 and declared their next dividend

in November. One November, with their stock approaching the $100 mark, the Ye Olde board

decided that 6% seemed fair and easily do-able, so they declared a $6 dividend for the next

June 30.

Unfortunately, during the very next month (December), the outbreak of a mysterious new

virus coupled with an 8.2 temblor centered in Newport Beach devastated both their prop-

erty/casualty and health insurance subs and their stock plummeted to the $10 range.

The CBOE dutifully opened a new option series striking at $10 with a leaps version expiring

one year later. To keep things simple, we will imagine this series expires exactly in one

year with an ex-dividend date at exactly the 1/2 year mark. Of course, there was much

speculation and uncertainty about the declared $6 dividend. The company’s only comment

was a terse press release saying “the board has spoken.”

So, the potential option buyer was faced with a contract with S= 10, X= 10, T= 1 year

and tD= 0.5. If they paid in full, then D= 6. Interest rates were at 6%.

Our “liquidator” option model postulates that the company would pay in full unless the

stock price StDat mid-year was below D= 6, in which case they would pay out all the

remaining equity, namely StD. The skeptics said “no way” and proposed a new “survivor”

option model in which the board would completely drop the dividend if StD≤D. The call

price in this new model was larger by a “tail value”. The big debate in the Wilmott forums

became what volatility should one use to compute these values and, in the end, of course,

no one knew. But everyone could agree that the stock price sure was volatile. So one way

to proceed was to compute the option price in both models for volatilities ranging from 80%

to 150% and the results are shown in the ﬁgure. Interestingly, the results only diﬀered by

18

Figure 1: Relative tail value for a European call option

80 90 100 110 120 130 140 150

3.5

4

4.5

5

5.5

6

6.5

Difference in Option Values:

Survivor -Liquidator, as a Percent of Liquidator

Annualized Stock Price Volatility, Percent

3.5 to 7% even in this extreme scenario with a doubtful yield, if paid, in the 60% range.

4 Applications

To illustrate the application of the pricing formula we now specialize the option contracts as

well as the stock price process.

European call and put options: It is straight forward to derive the following put-call

parity:

Proposition 2. For a general cum-dividend price process Stand dividend policy D(S)as in

(1),

CE(S0,0; D, tD)+e−rT X+ e−rtD¯

D=PE(S0,0; D, tD) + S0,(8)

19

where

¯

D=D−ZD

0

φ(S0, S, tD)(D−∆(S)) dS

is the expected received dividend.

Proof. The idea of the argument is standard (Merton, 1973): Since CE(Y , T ;D, tD) + X=

(Y−X)++X=PE(Y, T , D, tD) + Y, these two portfolios must have the same value

today. Consider ﬁrst the LHS. Its value is e−rT E0{(Y−X)++X}=CE(S0,0; D, tD) +

e−rT X. Consider next the RHS. Its value is similarly given by e−rT E0{(X−Y)++Y}=

PE(S0,0; D, tD)+e−rT E0(Y+¯

DT)−¯

DT=PE(S0,0; D, tD) + S0+ e−rT E0¯

DT, where

¯

DTis the future value (at time T) of the dividend received (a random variable). Since

E0¯

DT= er(T−tD)ZD

0

∆(S)φ(S0, S, tD) dS+ er(T−tD)DZ∞

D

φ(S0, S, tD) dS

the result follows.

For the case of GBM stock price and liquidator dividend, ∆(S) = Sfor S < D, the value of

a European call option can be written explicitly as

CE(S0,0; D, tD) = e−rtDZ∞

d

CES0e[r−σ2/2]tD+σ√tDx−D, tD1

√2πe−1

2x2dx, (9)

d=ln (D/S0)−(r−σ2/2) tD

σ√tD

.

A similar expression can be written down for the put option, but this is really not necessary

in light of (8). Tables 1 and 2 report option prices for European call options for small and

large dividends. The tables use the symbols:

BSM is the plain vanilla Black-Scholes-Merton model.

M73 is the BSM model with S−e−rtDDsubstituted for S—the escrowed dividend adjust-

20

ment (Merton, 1973).

Vol1 is identical to M73, but with an adjusted volatility. The volatility of the asset is

replaced with σ2=σS

S−e−rtDD(see for instance Chriss, 1997).

Vol2 is a slightly more sophisticated volatility adjustment than Vol1 (see Appendix A for

a short description of this technique).

Vol3 is the volatility adjustment suggested by Bos et al. (2003) (see Appendix B for a short

description of this adjustment).

BV adjusts the strike and stock price, to take into account the eﬀects of the discrete dividend

payment (Bos and Vandermark, 2002).

Num is a non-recombining binomial tree with 500 time steps, and no adjustment to prevent

the event that S−D < 0 (see for instance Hull, 2000, for the idea behind this method).

HHL(4) is the exact solution in (4).

Table 1: European calls with dividend of 7

(S= 100, T= 1, r= 6%, σ= 30%)

BSM Mer73 Vol1 Vol2 Vol3 BV Num HHL(4)

t X = 100

0.0001 14.7171 10.5805 11.4128 10.5806 10.5806 10.5806 10.5829 10.5806

0.5000 14.7171 10.6932 11.5001 11.1039 11.0781 11.0979 11.1079 11.1062

0.9999 14.7171 10.8031 11.5855 11.5854 11.5383 11.5887 11.5704 11.5887

X= 130

0.0001 4.9196 3.0976 3.7403 3.0977 3.0977 3.0977 3.0987 3.0977

0.5000 4.9196 3.1437 3.7701 3.4583 3.4203 3.4159 3.4368 3.4383

0.9999 4.9196 3.1889 3.7993 3.7993 3.6949 3.7263 3.7140 3.7263

X= 70

0.0001 34.9844 28.5332 28.9113 28.5332 28.5332 28.5332 28.5343 28.5332

0.5000 34.9844 28.7200 29.0832 28.9009 28.9047 28.9350 28.9218 28.9215

0.9999 34.9844 28.9016 29.2504 29.2504 29.2920 29.3257 29.3140 29.3257

Table 1 illustrates that the M73 adjustment is inaccurate, especially in the case when the

dividend is paid close to the option’s expiration. Moreover the Vol1 adjustment, often

21

used by practitioners, gives signiﬁcantly inaccurate values when the dividend is close to

the beginning of the option’s lifetime. Both Vol2 and BV do much better at accurately

pricing the options. Vol3 yields values very close to the BV model. The non-recombining

tree (Num) and our exact solution (HHL(4)) give very similar values in all cases. However,

the non-recombining tree is not ensured to converge to the true solution (HHL(4)) in all

situations, unless the non-recombining tree is set up to prevent negative stock prices in the

nodes where S−D < 0. This problem will typically be relevant only with a very high

divided, as we discussed in Section 3. For low to moderate cash dividends one can assume

that even the “naive” non-recombining tree and our exact solution agree to economically

signiﬁcant accuracy.

Table 2: European calls with dividend of 50

(S= 100, T= 1, r= 6%, σ= 30%)

BSM Mer73 Vol1 Vol2 Vol3 BV Num HHL(4)

t X = 100

0.0001 14.7171 0.1282 2.9961 0.1283 0.1282 0.1283 0.1273 0.1283

0.5000 14.7171 0.1696 3.0678 1.4323 0.5755 0.8444 1.0687 1.0704

0.9999 14.7171 0.2192 3.1472 3.1469 1.1566 2.1907 2.1825 2.1908

X= 130

0.0001 4.9196 0.0094 1.3547 0.0094 0.0094 0.0094 0.0092 0.0094

0.5000 4.9196 0.0133 1.3556 0.4313 0.0947 0.1516 0.2264 0.2279

0.9999 4.9196 0.0184 1.3609 1.3607 0.2510 0.6120 0.6072 0.6120

X= 70

0.0001 34.9844 1.6510 7.0798 1.6517 1.6513 1.6514 1.6515 1.6517

0.5000 34.9844 1.9982 7.3874 4.9953 3.3697 4.2808 4.7304 4.7299

0.9999 34.9844 2.3780 7.7100 7.7096 4.9966 7.2247 7.2122 7.2248

Table 2 shows that the BV and the non-recombining tree have signiﬁcant diﬀerences when

there’s a signiﬁcant dividend in the middle of the option’s lifetime. The latter is closer to

the true value. The Vol3 model strongly underprices the option when the dividend is this

high.

American call and put options: Most traded stock options are American. We now do

a numerical comparison of stock options with a single cash dividend payment. Tables 3–5

22

use the following models that diﬀer from the European options considered above:

B75 is the approximation to the value of an American call on a dividend paying stock

suggested by Black (1975). This is basically the escrowed dividend method, where the

stock price in the BSM formula is replaced with the stock price minus the present value

of the dividend. To take into account the possibility of early exercise one also compute

an option value just before the dividend payment, without subtracting the dividend.

The value of the option is considered to be the maximum of these values.

RGW is the model of Roll (1977); Geske (1979); Whaley (1981). It is considered a closed

form solution for American call options on dividend paying stocks. As we already

know, the model is seriously ﬂawed.

HHL(5) it the exact solution in (5), again using the liquidator policy.

Table 3: American calls with dividend of 7

(D= 7, S = 100, T= 1, r= 6%, σ= 30%)

B75 RGW Num HHL(5)

t X = 100

0.0001 10.5805 10.5805 10.5829 10.5806

0.5000 10.6932 11.1971 11.6601 11.6564

0.9999 14.7162 13.9468 14.7053 14.7162

X= 130

0.0001 3.0976 3.0976 3.0987 3.0977

0.5000 3.1437 3.1586 3.4578 3.4595

0.9999 4.9189 4.3007 4.9071 4.9189

X= 70

0.0001 30.0004 30.0004 30.0000 30.0004

0.5000 32.3034 32.3365 32.4604 32.4608

0.9999 34.9839 34.7065 34.9737 34.9839

Table 3 shows that the RGW model works reasonably well when the divided is in the very

beginning of the option lifetime. The RGW model exhibits the same problems as the sim-

pler M73 or escrowed dividend method used for European options. The pricing error is

23

particularly large when the dividend occurs at the end of the option’s lifetime. The B75

approximation also signiﬁcantly misprices options.

Table 4: American calls with dividend of 30

(D= 30, S = 100, T= 1, r= 6%, σ= 30%)

B75 RGW Num HHL(5)

t X = 100

0.0001 2.0579 2.0579 2.0574 2.0583

0.5000 9.8827 7.5202 9.9296 9.9283

0.9999 14.7162 11.4406 14.7053 14.7162

X= 130

0.0001 0.3345 0.3345 0.3322 0.3346

0.5000 1.6439 0.6742 1.7851 1.7855

0.9999 4.9189 2.4289 4.9071 4.9189

X= 70

0.0001 30.0004 30.0004 30.0000 30.0004

0.5000 32.3034 32.0762 32.3033 32.3037

0.9999 34.9839 34.1637 34.9737 34.9839

Table 5: American calls with dividend of 50

(D= 50, S = 100, T= 1, r= 6%, σ= 30%)

B75 RGW Num HHL(5)

t X = 100

0.0001 0.1282 0.1437 0.1273 0.1922

0.5000 9.8827 5.8639 9.8745 9.8828

0.9999 14.7162 9.3137 14.7053 14.7162

X= 130

0.0001 0.0094 0.0094 0.0092 0.0094

0.5000 1.6439 0.1375 0.5112 1.6492

0.9999 4.9189 1.1029 4.9071 4.9189

X= 70

0.0001 30.0004 30.0004 30.0000 30.0004

0.5000 32.3034 32.0762 32.6600 32.3034

0.9999 34.9839 34.1637 34.9737 34.9839

For very high dividend, as in Table 5, the mispricing in the RGW formula is even more

clear; the values are signiﬁcantly oﬀ compared with both non-recombining tree (Num) and

our exact solution (HHL(5)). The simple B75 approximation is remarkably accurate. The

intuition behind this is naturally that a very high dividend makes it very likely to be optimal

to exercise just before the dividend date—a situation where the B75 approximation for good

24

reasons should be accurate.

Multiple dividend approximation

We showed in Section 2 that it is necessary to evaluate an n-fold integral when there are

multiple dividends. It is therefore useful to have a fast, accurate approximation. We now

show how to approximate the option value in the case of a call option on a stock whose

cum-dividend price follows a GBM, using the liquidator dividend policy.

First, let’s write the exact answer on date twith a sequence of ndividends prior to Tas

Cn(S, X, t, T ), where Xis the strike and Tis the expiration date. Then, the ﬁrst iteration

of (4) in an exact treatment becomes

C1(S, X, tn−1, T ) = e−r(tn−tn−1)Z∞

Dn

CBSM(S1−Dn, X, tn, T )φ(S, S1, tn−tn−1) dS1,(10)

where CBSM(·) is the BSM model. This integral is quick to evaluate, just as in the single

dividend cases tabulated above. The second iteration becomes

C2(S, X, tn−2, T ) = e−r(tn−1−tn−2)Z∞

Dn−1

C1(S1−Dn−1, X, tn−1, T )φ(S, S1, tn−1−tn−2) dS1.

(11)

Notice that we now integrate not over the BSM model, but rather the option price derived

in the ﬁrst iteration (10). Evaluation of (11) therefore involves a double integral. We

know, however, that C1(·) will look like an option solution and hence will have many of

the characteristics of the BSM formula. If we can eﬀectively parametrize C1(·) with a BSM

formula then it will be quick to evaluate (11).

Some key characteristics of C1(S, X, tn−1, T ) are as follows. First, it vanishes as S→0.

25

Second, because (standard) put-call parity becomes asymptotically exact for large S,

C1(S, X, tn−1, T )≈S−e−r(T−tn−1)X−e−r(tn−tn−1)Dn.

This suggests the BSM parametrization

C1(S, X, tn−1, T )≈CBSM (S, Xadj, tn−1, T ),(12)

where Xadj =X+Dne−r(tn−T). The strike adjustment ensures correct large-Sbehavior.

A little experimentation will show that the approximating BSM formula just suggested is

inaccurate for Snear the money. Still, we have another degree of freedom in our ability to ad-

just the volatility in the right-hand-side of (12). By choosing σadj so that C1(S0, X, tn−1, T )≡

CBSM(S0, Xadj, σadj, tn−1, T ), where S0is the original stock price of the problem, we obtain

an accurate approximation

C1(S, X, tn−1, T )≈CBSM (S, Xadj, σadj, tn−1, T )

that often diﬀers by less than a penny over the full range of Son (0,∞).

This same scheme is used at successive iterations of the exact integration. That is, the

“previous” iteration will always be fast because it uses the BSM formula. Then, after you

get the answer, you approximate that answer by a BSM formula parameterization. In that

parameterization, you choose an adjusted strike price and an adjusted volatility to ﬁt the

large-Sbehavior and the S0value. This enables you to move on to the next iteration.

Table 6 reports call option values when there is a dividend payment of 4 in the middle of

each year. The ﬁrst column shows the years to expiration for the contracts we consider. The

models Vol2, Vol3, BV, and Num are identical to the ones described earlier. HHL is our

26

closed form solution from Section 2 evaluated by numerical quadrature. As we have already

mentioned, this approach is computer intensive. We have therefore limited ourself to value

options with this method with up to three dividend payments. An eﬃcient implementation

in for instance C++ will naturally make this approach viable for any practical number of

dividend payments. Non-recombining trees are even more computer intensive, especially for

multiple dividends. They also entail problems with propagation of errors when the number

of time steps is increased, so we limited ourself to compute option values for three dividends

(3 years to maturity), with 500 time steps for T= 1,2, and 1000 time steps for T= 3. The

column Appr is the approximation just described above. The two rightmost columns report

the adjusted strike and volatility used in this approximation method.

Table 6: European calls with multiple dividends of 4

(S= 100, X= 100, r= 6%, σ= 25%, D= 4)

TNum Vol2 Vol3 BV HHL Appr Adjusted Adjusted

strike volatility

1 10.6615 10.6585 10.6530 10.6596 10.6606 10.6606 104.122 0.2467

2 15.2024 15.1780 15.1673 15.1992 15.1989 15.1996 108.499 0.2421

3 18.5798 18.5348 18.5241 18.5981 18.5984 18.5998 113.146 0.2375

4 – 21.2297 21.2304 21.3592 – 21.3644 118.081 0.2328

5 – 23.4666 23.4941 23.6868 – 23.6978 123.320 0.2282

6 – 23.3556 25.4279 25.6907 – 25.7100 128.884 0.2237

7 – 26.9661 27.1023 27.4395 – 27.4695 – –

The approximation we suggest above (Appr) is clearly very accurate, when compared to

our exact integration (HHL). Also the non-recombining binomial implementation (Num) of

the spot process yields results very close to our exact integration. Vol2 and Vol3 seems to

give rise to signiﬁcant mispricing with multiple dividends. The BV approximation seems

somewhat more accurate. However, as we already know, it signiﬁcantly misprices options

when the dividend is very high. From a trader’s perspective, our approach seems to be a

clear choice—at least if you care about having a robust and accurate model that will work

in “any” situation. Remember also that our method is valid for any price process, including

stochastic volatility, jumps, and other factors that can have a signiﬁcant impact on pricing

and hedging.

27

Exotic and real options: Several exotic options trade in the OTC equity market, and

many are embedded in warrants and other complex equity derivatives. The exact model

treatment of options on dividend paying stocks presented in this paper holds also in these

cases. Many exotic options, in particular barrier options, are known to be very sensitive to

stochastic volatility. Luckily the model described above also holds for stochastic volatility,

jumps, volatility term structure, as well as other factors that can be of vital importance

when pricing exotic options. The model we have suggested should also be relevant to real

options pricing, when the underlying asset oﬀers known discrete payouts (of generic nature)

during the lifetime of the real option.

Appendix A

The following is a volatility adjustment that has been suggested used in combination with

the escrowed dividend model. The adjustment seems to have been discovered independently

by Haug and Haug (1998) (unpublished working paper), as well as by Beneder and Vorst

(2001). σin the BSM formula is replaced with σadj, and the stock price minus the present

value of the dividends until expiration is substituted for the stock price.

σ2

adj =Sσ

S−Pn

i=1 Dierti2

(t1−t0) + Sσ

S−Pn

i=2 Dierti2

(t2−t1) + · ·· +σ2(T−tn)

=

n

X

j=1 Sσ

S−Pn

i=jDierti!2

(tj−tj−1) + σ2(T−tn)

This method seems to work better than for instance the volatility adjustment discussed by

Chriss (1997), among others. However this is still simply a rough approximation, without

much of a theory behind it. For this reason, there is no guarantee for it to be accurate in all

circumstances. Any such model could be dangerous for a trader to use.

28

Appendix B

Bos et al. (2003) suggest the following volatility adjustment to be used in combination with

the escrowed dividend adjustment:

σ(S, X, T )2=σ2+σrπ

2T(4ez2

1

2−s

n

X

i=1

Die−rtiN(z1)−Nz1−σti

√T

+ ez2

2

2−2s

n

X

i

n

X

j

DiDje−r(ti+tj)N(z2)−Nz2−2σmin(ti, tj)

√T),

where nis the number of dividends in the option’s lifetime, s= ln(S), x= ln[(X+DT)e−rT ],

where DT=Pn

iDie−rti, and

z1=s−x

σ√T+σ√T

2, z2=z1+σ√T

2.

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31