Just as you can buy a stock because you think the price will go up or short a stock when you think its price is going to drop, an option allows you to bet on which direction you think the price of a stock will go. But instead of buying or shorting the asset outright, when you buy an option you’re buying a contract that allows — but doesn’t obligate — you to do a number of things, including:
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Options on futures began trading in 1983. Today, puts and calls on agricultural, metal, and financial (foreign currency, interest-rate and stock index) futures are traded by open outcry in designated pits. These options pits are usually located near those where the underlying futures trade. Many of the features that apply to stock options apply to futures options.
Puts are more or less the mirror image of calls. The put buyer expects the price to go down. Therefore, he pays a premium in the hope that the futures price will drop. If it does, he has two choices: (1) He can close out his long put position at a profit since it will be more valuable; or (2) he can exercise and obtain a profitable short position in the futures contract since the strike price will be higher than the prevailing futures price.
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:
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On the other hand, commodity option buyers are exposed to limited risk and unlimited profit potential, but they also face dismal odds of success on each individual speculation. For this reason, we often refer to the practice of buying options in the commodity markets as the purchase of a lottery ticket. It probably won’t pay off but if it does the potential gain is considerable. Conversely to the commodity option seller, an option buyer views the position as an asset (not a liability) until it is sold or expires. This is because any long option held in a commodity trading account has the potential to provide a return to the trader, even if that potential is small.
Call writers and put writers (sellers), however, are obligated to buy or sell if the option expires in-the-money (more on that below). This means that a seller may be required to make good on a promise to buy or sell. It also implies that option sellers have exposure to more, and in some cases, unlimited, risks. This means writers can lose much more than the price of the options premium.
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Whether the economy is hot or not, an investor can make money trading commodity options, regardless of the condition of the market. Briefly, a commodity option allows its owner to either sell or buy a commodity like corn or wheat at a future date. You will buy a so-called “put option” if you think the price of the commodity will go down and a “call option” if you think the price will rise. And never will you have to take possession of the commodity itself.
In our opinion, commodity markets coming off of long-term highs or lows typically present traders with an extraordinary prospect. However, it is important to realize that just because a commodity seems "cheap" doesn't mean that it can't go lower. Likewise, while we would never advocate buying (or being bullish with options) a commodity at an all time high, it is always possible that prices can continue higher but generally speaking options in such an environment are over-priced. As a result, they come with magnificently low odds of success.