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.
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.
Unlike other investments where the risks may have no boundaries, options trading offers a defined risk to buyers. An option buyer absolutely cannot lose more than the price of the option, the premium. Because the right to buy or sell the underlying security at a specific price expires on a given date, the option will expire worthless if the conditions for profitable exercise or sale of the option contract are not met by the expiration date. An uncovered option seller (sometimes referred to as the uncovered writer of an option), on the other hand, may face unlimited risk.
There’s another potential problem if you base your decision solely on commissions. Discount brokers can charge rock-bottom prices because they provide only bare-bones platforms or tack on extra fees for data and tools. On the other hand, at some of the larger, more established brokers you’ll pay higher commissions, but in exchange you get free access to all the information you need to perform due diligence.
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.
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.
* Sell orders are subject to an activity assessment fee (from $0.01 to $0.03 per $1,000 of principal). Trades are limited to online domestic equities and options and must be used within two years. Options trades are limited to 20 contracts per trade. Offer valid for new and existing Fidelity customers opening or adding net new assets to an eligible Fidelity IRA or brokerage account. Deposits of $50,000-$99,999 will receive 300 free trades, and deposits of $100,000 or more will receive 500 free trades. Account balance of $50,000 of net new assets must be maintained for at least nine months; otherwise, normal commission schedule rates may be retroactively applied to any free trade executions. See Fidelity.com/ATP500free for further details and full offer terms. Fidelity reserves the right to modify these terms and conditions or terminate this offer at any time. Other terms and conditions, or eligibility criteria may apply.
So, call options are also much like insurance - you are paying for a contract that expires at a set time but allows you to purchase a security (like a stock) at a predetermined price (which won't go up even if the price of the stock on the market does). However, you will have to renew your option (typically on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis). For this reason, options are always experiencing what's called time decay - meaning their value decays over time.