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Options belong to the larger group of securities known as derivatives. A derivative's price is dependent on or derived from the price of something else. As an example, wine is a derivative of grapes ketchup is a derivative of tomatoes, and a stock option is a derivative of a stock. Options are derivatives of financial securities—their value depends on the price of some other asset. Examples of derivatives include calls, puts, futures, forwards, swaps, and mortgage-backed securities, among others.
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:
An option's price, its premium, tracks the price of its underlying futures contract which, in turn, tracks the price of the underlying cash. Therefore, the March T-bond option premium tracks the March T-bond futures price. The December S&P 500 index option follows the December S&P 500 index futures. The May soybean option tracks the May soybean futures contract. Because option prices track futures prices, speculators can use them to take advantage of price changes in the underlying commodity, and hedgers can protect their cash positions with them. Speculators can take outright positions in options. Options can also be used in hedging strategies with futures and cash positions.
In order to trade options, you’ll need a broker. Check out our detailed roundup of the best brokers for options traders, so you can compare commission costs, minimums, and more, as well as our explainer on how to open a brokerage account. Or stay here and answer a few questions to get a personalized recommendation on the best broker for your needs.
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.
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.
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.
Whereas price extremes have no boundaries, they don't last forever, eventually commodity market supply and demand factors will bring prices back to a more equilibrium state. Accordingly, while caution is warranted at extreme levels it is often a good time to be constructing counter trend trades as it could be one of the most advantageous times in history to be involved in a market. For instance, similar to the idea of call options being over-priced when a market is at an extreme high, the puts might be abnormally cheap. Once again, your personal situation would determine whether an unlimited risk or limited risk option strategy should be utilized. Please realize that identifying extreme pricing scenarios is easy, it is much more difficult to predict the timing necessary to convert it into a profitable venture.
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.
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.
An option is a contract that allows (but doesn't require) an investor to buy or sell an underlying instrument like a security, ETF or even index at a predetermined price over a certain period of time. Buying and selling options is done on the options market, which trades contracts based on securities. Buying an option that allows you to buy shares at a later time is called a "call option," whereas buying an option that allows you to sell shares at a later time is called a "put option."