Screening Stocks with the Sizzle Index: Understanding Unusual Options Activity

Which stocks are sizzling? The Sizzle Index helps you follow the options crowd, which might offer a peek into market expectations for a particular stock. Index Options Activity
5 min read
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Key Takeaways

  • Tracking options activity can offer insight into market expectations for a particular stock
  • Learn how the Sizzle Index can help traders find, filter, refine, and monitor stocks experiencing unusual options activity

Want to spot the latest trends? How about engaging in a little people-watching?

For fashion trends, you’d sit at a bistro in Paris and watch the passersby. But for stock trends, you might follow the options crowd. Whether or not you’re deep into calls and puts in your own portfolio, simply tracking options volume can be an important indicator in your trading kit.

No transcontinental flight is necessaryyou can do this kind of observation right from a single feature on the thinkorswim® trading platform with a tool called the Sizzle Index.

When Options Volume Sizzles

Options volume is best viewed in the context of other indicators. For instance, a jump in volume that coincides with a big up or down price move may be an indication of strength in the direction of the change. It’s fitting, then, that large percentage price increases that are accompanied by thin trading volume are less likely to indicate market direction with any staying power. In fact, they may indicate that a reversal is taking shape.

When tracking options volume, you’ll want to discern whether the crowd is taking action—buying or selling—in call options as well as put options. It’s also important to be able to track down unusual options volume when it occurs, because it could hint at where the underlying stock might go.

So, how best to get a little volume temperature reading without sticking your hand in the flame? Try the Sizzle Index on the thinkorswim platform from TD Ameritrade. It’s an indicator for screening stocks posting unusual options volume compared to their recent draw.

The Sizzle Index Explained

If you’re the type who likes to know the math behind an indicator before implementing it into a strategy, here you go. The Sizzle Index is a ratio of a security’s current options volume over that security’s average options volume. So if you see a stock with a Sizzle Index of 5.00, that indicates its current daily options volume is five times that of its daily average options volume. A Sizzle Index of 0.50 indicates current volume at half of its average, and so on.

Think of it as an unusual options activity scanner that allows you to follow the money in a given stock and help you troll for potential trading ideas. And because it’s impossible to keep tabs on all stocks all of the time, the Sizzle Index “quick scan” does your heavy lifting to identify unusually high values. Use it to quickly get a condensed roundup of, in this case, the unusual suspects you may want to keep an eye on.

4 Simple Steps to a Personalized Sizzle Screen 

Using the Sizzle Index as a personal scanning device for unusual options activity can be done in four steps: scan, compare, refine, and save. Before getting into the specifics, familiarize yourself with the Stock Hacker screen, located under the Scan tab in the thinkorswim platform (see figure 1).

Setting up Sizzle Index
FIGURE 1: FIND YOUR SIZZLE. Set up, refine, and keep an eye on your sizzle. Image source: the thinkorswim platform from TD Ameritrade. For illustrative purposes only. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

1. Scan All Optionable Stocks

In the thinkorswim platform’s Scan > Stock Hacker tab, select the flame at the top right that represents the Sizzle Index. This will prefill the Stock Hacker with the parameters to find the securities with a per-share price above $5, volume above 100,000 shares, and market cap above $35MM that have the most unusual options volume. If you would like to edit any of these parameters, just use the sliders or text entry boxes. When those are set to your satisfaction, select Scan.

Precision Scanning on thinkorswim

As of the October 2019 release, scan filters have been divided into two groups:

  • All of the following
  • None of the following

So now you can exclude symbols from a scan with as much precision as you’ve included them in the past.

Want more on this and other new tips? Log in to the thinkorswim platform, and under the Education tab, select Learning Center > Release Notes.

2. Compare with Other Metrics

The results will give you the top 10 most “sizzling” securities, measured by how many times their options volume is beating the volume of the past five days. And there’s more information within your reach. For instance, compare call and put activity within the sizzle stocks with the available put and call sizzle columns. To do this, select the gear icon at the top right of your scan results and select Customize. Using either the search box or the scroll menu, find the Call Sizzle Index and Put Sizzle Index column types and add them to your set using Add Item(s). Select OK and you’ll see these new columns on your scan results, breaking down the unusual options volume in those symbols by trades in either the calls or puts of the underlying. You might also use Options Statistics on the Trade tab for greater detail. 

3. Refine Your Sizzle

Use Stock Hacker under the Scan tab to further refine your sizzle list. For instance, say you’ll only bite at stocks trading under $20 per share. Select Add Fundamental Filter and under Criteria, select Last. Under Max, select $20. Hit the Scan button.

Want to increase your results? Select Show to increase the number of stocks you’d like on your Sizzle Index.

4. Save Your Sizzle 

Now you can create either a static or a dynamic watchlist. A static watchlist takes a snapshot of the securities that currently meet your scan criteria and saves them. Go all the way to the right side of the screen on the Search Results ribbon and select Save As Watchlist to create a static watchlist and give it a name. A dynamic watchlist will periodically refresh, running your scan criteria against the current market activity and updating the list with the new securities that meet those criteria. You can either save as a watchlist or set an alert as the sizzle changes.

Last Word on the Sizzle Index

One final note on the Sizzle Index: It doesn’t need to be scanned in order to be seen. You can add the Sizzle Index as a column to any watchlist in the thinkorswim platform to gauge the level of activity in a security’s options. You can also view it under Today’s Options Statistics on the All Products tab if you want to view it while looking at a specific option chain. Each of these locations offers call- and put-specific Sizzle Indices if you want to view options activity for just one side of the chain. These are two more ways to help you see what’s cooking.


Key Takeaways

  • Tracking options activity can offer insight into market expectations for a particular stock
  • Learn how the Sizzle Index can help traders find, filter, refine, and monitor stocks experiencing unusual options activity

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Content intended for educational/informational purposes only. Not investment advice, or a recommendation of any security, strategy, or account type.

Be sure to understand all risks involved with each strategy, including commission costs, before attempting to place any trade. Clients must consider all relevant risk factors, including their own personal financial situations, before trading.

The Sizzle Index is the ratio of an underlying’s volume/implied volatility for the current day against the simple average of the prior five days.


Market volatility, volume, and system availability may delay account access and trade executions.

Past performance of a security or strategy does not guarantee future results or success.

Options are not suitable for all investors as the special risks inherent to options trading may expose investors to potentially rapid and substantial losses. Options trading subject to TD Ameritrade review and approval. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options before investing in options.

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