Futures options can be a low-risk way to approach the futures markets. Many new traders start by trading futures options instead of straight futures contracts. There is less risk and volatility when buying options compared with futures contracts. Many professional traders only trade options. Before you can trade futures options, it is important to understand the basics.
In search of a promising commodity option trade, it is important to look at whether or not the options are priced fairly. Option prices fluctuate according to supply and demand in the underlying commodity market. At times, options on futures prices become inflated or undervalued relative to theoretical models such as Black and Scholes. For example, during the "crash" of 2008 the value of put options exploded as traders scrambled to buy insurance for their stock portfolios or simply wanted to wager that the equity market would go down forever. The increase in option premium was partly due to inflated volatility but increased demand for the instruments had a lot to do with it. Those that chose to purchase put options at inopportune times and at overvalued prices, likely didn't fair very well.
Strike Price: This is the price at which you could buy or sell the underlying futures contract. The strike price is the insurance price. Think of it this way: The difference between a current market price and the strike price is similar to the deductible in other forms of insurance. As an example, a December $3.50 corn call allows you to buy a December futures contract at $3.50 anytime before the option expires. Most traders do not convert options to futures positions; they close the option position before expiration.
Traders that are willing to accept considerable amounts of risk with the prospects of limited reward, can write (or sell) options, collecting the premium and taking advantage of the well-known belief that more options than not expire worthless. The premium collected by a commodity option seller is seen as a liability until the option is either offset (by buying it back), or it expires. This is because as long as the option position is open (the trader is short the commodity option), there is substantial risk exposure. Should the futures price trade beyond the strike price of the option, the risk is similar to holding a commodity futures contract outright.
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.
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.
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).
Options on futures contracts are exactly what the name implies, they give traders "options". They are capable of being used in nearly every commodity market scenario and with variable risk and reward profiles. Too many traders fail to tap the true potential and flexibility of option spreads due to their seemingly complex nature; however, things aren't always as they appear. We strongly believe that you owe it to yourself to overcome your fear of trading commodity options and open your mind to the possibilities.
For example: Tomatoes are cheap in July and will be expensive in January, you can’t buy them in July and take delivery in January, since they will spoil before you can take advantage of January’s high prices. The July price will reflect tomato supply and demand in July. The forward price for January will reflect the market’s expectations of supply and demand in January. July tomatoes are effectively a different commodity from January tomatoes.
Fluctuations in option prices can be explained by intrinsic value and extrinsic value, which is also known as time value. An option's premium is the combination of its intrinsic value and time value. Intrinsic value is the in-the-money amount of an options contract, which, for a call option, is the amount above the strike price that the stock is trading. Time value represents the added value an investor has to pay for an option above the intrinsic value. This is the extrinsic value or time value. So, the price of the option in our example can be thought of as the following:
On the other hand, commodity option buyers are exposed to limited risk and unlimited profit potential, but they also face dismal odds of success on each individual speculation. For this reason, we often refer to the practice of buying options in the commodity markets as the purchase of a lottery ticket. It probably won’t pay off but if it does the potential gain is considerable. Conversely to the commodity option seller, an option buyer views the position as an asset (not a liability) until it is sold or expires. This is because any long option held in a commodity trading account has the potential to provide a return to the trader, even if that potential is small.
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.
If a company locks in the price and the price increases, the manufacturer would have a profit on the commodity hedge. The profit from the hedge would offset the increased cost of purchasing the product. Also, the company could take delivery of the product or offset the futures contract pocketing the profit from the net difference between the purchase price and the sale price of the futures contracts.
Another example involves buying a long call option for a $2 premium (so for the 100 shares per contract, that would equal $200 for the whole contract). You buy an option for 100 shares of Oracle (ORCL) for a strike price of $40 per share which expires in two months, expecting stock to go to $50 by that time. You've spent $200 on the contract (the $2 premium times 100 shares for the contract). When the stock price hits $50 as you bet it would, your call option to buy at $40 per share will be $10 "in the money" (the contract is now worth $1,000, since you have 100 shares of the stock) - since the difference between 40 and 50 is 10. At this point, you can exercise your call option and buy the stock at $40 per share instead of the $50 it is now worth - making your $200 original contract now worth $1,000 - which is an $800 profit and a 400% return.
Puts are more or less the mirror image of calls. The put buyer expects the price to go down. Therefore, he pays a premium in the hope that the futures price will drop. If it does, he has two choices: (1) He can close out his long put position at a profit since it will be more valuable; or (2) he can exercise and obtain a profitable short position in the futures contract since the strike price will be higher than the prevailing futures price.
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.
According to Nasdaq's options trading tips, options are often more resilient to changes (and downturns) in market prices, can help increase income on current and future investments, can often get you better deals on a variety of equities and, perhaps most importantly, can help you capitalize on that equity rising or dropping over time without having to invest in it directly.