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.
A longer expiration is also useful because the option can retain time value, even if the stock trades below the strike price. An option’s time value decays as expiration approaches, and options buyers don’t want to watch their purchased options decline in value, potentially expiring worthless if the stock finishes below the strike price. If a trade has gone against them, they can usually still sell any time value remaining on the option — and this is more likely if the option contract is longer.
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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.
If there’s a company you’ve had your eye on and you believe the stock price is going to rise, a “call” option gives you the right to purchase shares at a specified price at a later date. If your prediction pans out you get to buy the stock for less than it’s selling for on the open market. If it doesn’t, your financial losses are limited to the price of the contract.
As an example, let's say a farmer is expecting to produce 1,000,000 bushels of soybeans in the next 12 months. Typically, soybean futures contracts include the quantity of 5,000 bushels. The farmer's break-even point on a bushel of soybeans is $10 per bushel meaning $10 is the minimum price needed to cover the costs of producing the soybeans. The farmer sees that a one-year futures contract for soybeans is currently priced at $15 per bushel.
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.
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).