Investing with options— an advanced trader will tell you— is all about customization. Rewards can be high — but so can the risk— and your choices are plenty. But getting started isn’t easy, and there is potential for costly mistakes. Here’s a brief overview of option trading that cuts through the jargon and gets right to the core of this versatile way to invest.
The purchase of a call option is a long position, a bet that the underlying futures price will move higher. For example, if one expects corn futures to move higher, they might buy a corn call option. The purchase of a put option is a short position, a bet that the underlying futures price will move lower. For example, if one expects soybean futures to move lower, they might buy a soybean put option.
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.
Commodity options provide a flexible and effective way to trade in the futures markets. Further, options on futures offer investors the ability to capitalize on leverage while still giving them the ability to manage risk. For example, through the combination of long and short call and put options in the commodity markets, an investor can design a trading strategy that fits their needs and expectations; such an arrangement is referred to as an option spread. Keep in mind that the possibilities are endless and will ultimately be determined by a trader's objectives, time horizon, market sentiment, and risk tolerance.
For example, if you believe the share price of a company currently trading for $100 is going to rise to $120 by some future date, you’d buy a call option with a strike price less than $120 (ideally a strike price no higher than $120 minus the cost of the option, so that the option remains profitable at $120). If the stock does indeed rise above the strike price, your option is in the money.
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.
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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.
With this strategy, the trader's risk can either be conservative or risky depending on their preference (which is a definite plus). For iron condors, the position of the trade is non-directional, which means the asset (like a stock) can either go up or down - so, there is profit potential for a fairly wide range. To use this kind of strategy, sell a put and buy another put at a lower strike price (essentially, a put spread), and combine it by buying a call and selling a call at a higher strike price (a call spread). These calls and puts are short.
The price at which you agree to buy the underlying security via the option is called the "strike price," and the fee you pay for buying that option contract is called the "premium." When determining the strike price, you are betting that the asset (typically a stock) will go up or down in price. The price you are paying for that bet is the premium, which is a percentage of the value of that asset.