Options markets trade options contracts, with the smallest trading unit being one contract. Options contracts specify the trading parameters of the market, such as the type of option, the expiration or exercise date, the tick size, and the tick value. For example, the contract specifications for the ZG (Gold 100 Troy Ounce) options market are as follows:
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.
There are two types of commodity options, a call option and a put option. Understanding what each of these is and how they work will help you determine when and how to use them. The buyer of a commodity option pays a premium (payment) to the seller of the option for the right, not the obligation, to take delivery of the underlying commodity futures contract (exercise). This financial value is treated as an asset, although eroding, to the option buyer and a liability to the seller.
American options can be exercised at any time between the date of purchase and the expiration date. European options are different from American options in that they can only be exercised at the end of their lives on their expiration date. The distinction between American and European options has nothing to do with geography, only with early exercise. Many options on stock indexes are of the European type. Because the right to exercise early has some value, an American option typically carries a higher premium than an otherwise identical European option. This is because the early exercise feature is desirable and commands a premium.
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.
When purchasing put options, you are expecting the price of the underlying security to go down over time (so, you're bearish on the stock). For example, if you are purchasing a put option on the S&P 500 index with a current value of $2,100 per share, you are being bearish about the stock market and are assuming the S&P 500 will decline in value over a given period of time (maybe to sit at $1,700). In this case, because you purchased the put option when the index was at $2,100 per share (assuming the strike price was at or in the money), you would be able to sell the option at that same price (not the new, lower price). This would equal a nice "cha-ching" for you as an investor.
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:
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.
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).