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:
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.
An equity option allows investors to fix the price for a specific period of time at which an investor can purchase or sell 100 shares of an equity for a premium (price), which is only a percentage of what one would pay to own the equity outright. This allows option investors to leverage their investment power while increasing their potential reward from an equity’s price movements.
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.
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.
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.
Options are available as either a Call or a Put, depending on whether they give the right to buy, or the right to sell. Call options give the holder the right to buy the underlying commodity, and Put options give the right to sell the underlying commodity. The buying or selling right only takes effect when the option is exercised, which can happen on the expiration date (European options), or at any time up until the expiration date (US options).
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).