When buying or selling options, the investor or trader has the right to exercise that option at any point up until the expiration date - so simply buying or selling an option doesn't mean you actually have to exercise it at the buy/sell point. Because of this system, options are considered derivative securities - which means their price is derived from something else (in this case, from the value of assets like the market, securities or other underlying instruments). For this reason, options are often considered less risky than stocks (if used correctly).
Just as you can buy a stock because you think the price will go up or short a stock when you think its price is going to drop, an option allows you to bet on which direction you think the price of a stock will go. But instead of buying or shorting the asset outright, when you buy an option you’re buying a contract that allows — but doesn’t obligate — you to do a number of things, including:
Based on data from IHS Markit for SEC Rule 605 eligible orders executed at Fidelity between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 20198. The comparison is based on an analysis of price statistics that include all SEC Rule 605 eligible market and marketable limit orders of 100-499 shares for the 100 share figure and 100–1,999 shares for the 1,000 share figure. For both the Fidelity and Industry savings per order figures used in the example, the figures are calculated by taking the average savings per share for the eligible trades within the respective order size range and multiplying each by either 100 or 1000, for consistency purposes. Fidelity's average retail order size for SEC Rule 605 eligible orders (100 -1,999 shares) and (100–9,999 shares) during this time period was 430 and 842 shares, respectively. The average retail order size for the Industry for the same shares ranges and time period was 228 and 333 shares, respectively. Price improvement examples are based on averages and any price improvement amounts related to your trades will depend on the particulars of your specific trade.
Call writers and put writers (sellers), however, are obligated to buy or sell if the option expires in-the-money (more on that below). This means that a seller may be required to make good on a promise to buy or sell. It also implies that option sellers have exposure to more, and in some cases, unlimited, risks. This means writers can lose much more than the price of the options premium.
In, At, or Out of the Money: If an option is in the money, its premium will have additional value because the option is already in profit, and the profit will be immediately available to the buyer of the option. If an option is at the money, or out of the money, its premium will not have any additional value because the options are not yet in profit.
Options on futures began trading in 1983. Today, puts and calls on agricultural, metal, and financial (foreign currency, interest-rate and stock index) futures are traded by open outcry in designated pits. These options pits are usually located near those where the underlying futures trade. Many of the features that apply to stock options apply to futures options.
Because options prices can be modeled mathematically with a model such as the Black-Scholes, many of the risks associated with options can also be modeled and understood. This particular feature of options actually makes them arguably less risky than other asset classes, or at least allows the risks associated with options to be understood and evaluated. Individual risks have been assigned Greek letter names, and are sometimes referred to simply as "the Greeks."
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The currency market, or foreign exchange market ("forex"), was created to facilitate the exchange of currency that becomes necessary as the result of foreign trade. That is, when an entity in one country sells something to an entity in another country, the seller earns that foreign currency. When China sells t-shirts to Walmart, for example, China earns US dollars. When Toyota wants to build a factory in the US, it needs dollars. It may get those from its local bank, which in turn will obtain them in the international currency market. This market exists to facilitate these types of exchanges.
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$4.95 commission applies to online U.S. equity trades in a Fidelity retail account only for Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC retail clients. Sell orders are subject to an activity assessment fee (from $0.01 to $0.03 per $1,000 of principal). Other conditions may apply. See Fidelity.com/commissions for details. Employee equity compensation transactions and accounts managed by advisors or intermediaries through Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions® are subject to different commission schedules.
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:
Unlike other investments where the risks may have no boundaries, options trading offers a defined risk to buyers. An option buyer absolutely cannot lose more than the price of the option, the premium. Because the right to buy or sell the underlying security at a specific price expires on a given date, the option will expire worthless if the conditions for profitable exercise or sale of the option contract are not met by the expiration date. An uncovered option seller (sometimes referred to as the uncovered writer of an option), on the other hand, may face unlimited risk.
The purchase of a call option is a long position, a bet that the underlying futures price will move higher. For example, if one expects corn futures to move higher, they might buy a corn call option. The purchase of a put option is a short position, a bet that the underlying futures price will move lower. For example, if one expects soybean futures to move lower, they might buy a soybean put option.
As shown above, a long options trade has unlimited profit potential, and limited risk, but a short options trade has limited profit potential and unlimited risk. However, this is not a complete risk analysis, and in reality, short options trades have no more risk than individual stock trades (and actually have less risk than buy and hold stock trades).
Sometimes corporations enter the forex market in order to hedge their profits. A US company with extensive operations in Mexico, for example, may enter into a futures contracts on US dollars. So, when it comes time to bring those Mexican profits home, the profits earned in pesos will not be subject to unexpected currency fluctuations. The futures contract is a way of securing an exchange rate and eliminating the risk that peso will lose value versus the dollar, making those profits worth less in dollars.
However, unless soybeans were priced at $15 per bushel in the market on the expiration date, the farmer had either gotten paid more than the prevailing market price or missed out on higher prices. If soybeans were priced at $13 per bushel at expiry, the farmer's $15 hedge would be $2 per bushel higher than the market price for a gain of $2,000,000. On the other hand, if soybeans were trading at $17 per bushel at expiry, the $15 selling price from the contract means the farmer would have missed out on an additional $2 per bushel profit.
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.
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.