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What if, instead of a home, your asset was a stock or index investment? Similarly, if an investor wants insurance on his/her S&P 500 index portfolio, they can purchase put options. An investor may fear that a bear market is near and may be unwilling to lose more than 10% of their long position in the S&P 500 index. If the S&P 500 is currently trading at $2500, he/she can purchase a put option giving the right to sell the index at $2250, for example, at any point in the next two years.
When a trader buys an options contract (either a Call or a Put), they have the rights given by the contract, and for these rights, they pay an upfront fee to the trader selling the options contract. This fee is called the options premium, which varies from one options market to another, and also within the same options market depending upon when the premium is calculated. The option's premium is calculated using three main criteria, which are as follows:
Commodity futures used by companies give a hedge to the risk of adverse price movements. The goal of hedging is to prevent losses from potentially unfavorable price changes rather than to speculate. Many companies that hedge use or producing the underlying asset of a futures contract. Examples of commodities hedging use include farmers, oil producers, livestock breeders, manufacturers, and many others.
Basically, you need the stock to have a move outside of a range. A similar strategy betting on an outsized move in the securities when you expect high volatility (uncertainty) is to buy a call and buy a put with different strikes and the same expiration—known as a strangle. A strangle requires larger price moves in either direction to profit but is also less expensive than a straddle. On the other hand, being short either a straddle or a strangle (selling both options) would profit from a market that doesn’t move much.
With options markets, as with futures markets, long and short refer to the buying and selling of one or more contracts, but unlike futures markets, they do not refer to the direction of the trade. For example, if a futures trade is entered by buying a contract, the trade is a long trade, and the trader wants the price to go up, but with options, a trade can be entered by buying a Put contract, and is still a long trade, even though the trader wants the price to go down. The following chart may help explain this further:
As an example, let's say an initial margin amount of $3,700 allows an investor to enter into a futures contract for 1,000 barrels of oil valued at $45,000—with oil priced at $45 per barrel. If the price of oil is trading at $60 at the contract's expiry, the investor has a $15 gain or a $15,000 profit. The trades would settle through the investor's brokerage account crediting the net difference of the two contracts. Most futures contracts will be cash settled, but some contracts will settle with the delivery of the underlying asset to a centralized processing warehouse.
A bull call spread, or bull call vertical spread, is created by buying a call and simultaneously selling another call with a higher strike price and the same expiration. The spread is profitable if the underlying asset increases in price, but the upside is limited due to the short call strike. The benefit, however, is that selling the higher strike call reduces the cost of buying the lower one. Similarly, a bear put spread, or bear put vertical spread, involves buying a put and selling a second put with a lower strike and the same expiration. If you buy and sell options with different expirations, it is known as a calendar spread or time spread.
Pay a “premium” wherever you buy a commodity option. Let's say you purchase a “call” option on 100 bushels of corn, and the premium is $2 per bushel. You will pay $200 for the right to exercise your option until it expires. That is your only cost to purchase the option, except for whatever commission you had to pay to your brokerage company. Even if you choose not to exercise the option before it expires, your investment will be limited to the $200 premium plus commission.
If in six months the market crashes by 20% (500 points on the index), he or she has made 250 points by being able to sell the index at $2250 when it is trading at $2000—a combined loss of just 10%. In fact, even if the market drops to zero, the loss would only be 10% if this put option is held. Again, purchasing the option will carry a cost (the premium), and if the market doesn’t drop during that period, the maximum loss on the option is just the premium spent.
All investors should know how to trade options and have a portion of their portfolio set aside for option trades. Not only do options provide great opportunities for leveraged plays; they can also help you earn larger profits with a smaller amount of cash outlay. What’s more, option strategies can help you hedge your portfolio and limit potential downside risk.
Volatility: If an options market is highly volatile (i.e. if its daily price range is large), the premium will be higher, because the option has the potential to make more profit for the buyer. Conversely, if an options market is not volatile (i.e. if its daily price range is small), the premium will be lower. An options market's volatility is calculated using its long-term price range, its recent price range, and its expected price range before its expiration date, using various volatility pricing models.
Still other traders can make the mistake of thinking that cheaper is better. For options, this isn't necessarily true. The cheaper an option's premium is, the more "out of the money" the option typically is, which can be a riskier investment with less profit potential if it goes wrong. Buying "out of the money" call or put options means you want the underlying security to drastically change in value, which isn't always predictable.
There are also exotic options, which are exotic because there might be a variation on the payoff profiles from the plain vanilla options. Or they can become totally different products all together with "optionality" embedded in them. For example, binary options have a simple payoff structure that is determined if the payoff event happens regardless of the degree. Other types of exotic options include knock-out, knock-in, barrier options, lookback options, Asian options, and Bermudan options. Again, exotic options are typically for professional derivatives traders.
Similarly, if you believe the company’s share price is going to dip to $80, you’d buy a put option (giving you the right to sell shares) with a strike price above $80 (ideally a strike price no lower than $80 plus the cost of the option, so that the option remains profitable at $80). If the stock drops below the strike price, your option is in the money.
You also can limit your exposure to risk on stock positions you already have. Let’s say you own stock in a company but are worried about short-term volatility wiping out your investment gains. To hedge against losses, you can buy a “put” option that gives you the right to sell a particular number of shares at a predetermined price. If the share price does indeed tank, the option limits your losses, and the gains from selling help offset some of the financial hurt.
Now, think of a put option as an insurance policy. If you own your home, you are likely familiar with purchasing homeowner’s insurance. A homeowner buys a homeowner’s policy to protect their home from damage. They pay an amount called the premium, for some amount of time, let’s say a year. The policy has a face value and gives the insurance holder protection in the event the home is damaged.
Of course, many investors, especially new investors, are skittish about options. After all, no investor is required to trade this way, and the transactions can seem complicated. But once you know the pros and cons of this type of investing, it can be a powerful part of your strategy. No investors should be sitting on the sidelines simply because they don’t understand options.
In order to trade options, you’ll need a broker. Check out our detailed roundup of the best brokers for options traders, so you can compare commission costs, minimums, and more, as well as our explainer on how to open a brokerage account. Or stay here and answer a few questions to get a personalized recommendation on the best broker for your needs.
For strangles (long in this example), an investor will buy an "out of the money" call and an "out of the money" put simultaneously for the same expiry date for the same underlying asset. Investors who use this strategy are assuming the underlying asset (like a stock) will have a dramatic price movement but don't know in which direction. What makes a long strangle a somewhat safe trade is that the investor only needs the stock to move greater than the total premium paid, but it doesn't matter in which direction.