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 trading may seem overwhelming, but they're easy to understand if you know a few key points. Investor portfolios are usually constructed with several asset classes. These may be stocks, bonds, ETFs, and even mutual funds. Options are another asset class, and when used correctly, they offer many advantages that trading stocks and ETFs alone cannot.
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.
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.
Hedging a commodity can lead to a company missing out on favorable price moves since the contract is locked in at a fixed rate regardless of where the commodity's price trades afterward. Also, if the company miscalculates their needs for the commodity and over-hedges, it could lead to having to unwind the futures contract for a loss when selling it back to the market.
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.
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.
The information contained in this article is provided for general informational purposes, and should not be construed as investment advice, tax advice, a solicitation or offer, or a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Ally Invest does not provide tax advice and does not represent in any manner that the outcomes described herein will result in any particular tax consequence. Prospective investors should confer with their personal tax advisors regarding the tax consequences based on their particular circumstances.
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.
The fee you are paying to buy the call option is called the premium (it's essentially the cost of buying the contract which will allow you to eventually buy the stock or security). In this sense, the premium of the call option is sort of like a down-payment like you would place on a house or car. When purchasing a call option, you agree with the seller on a strike price and are given the option to buy the security at a predetermined price (which doesn't change until the contract expires).