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For example, a plastics producer could use commodity futures to lock in a price for buying natural gas by-products needed for production at a date in the future. The price of natural gas—like all petroleum products—can fluctuate considerably, and since the producer requires the natural gas by-product for production, they are at risk of cost increases in the future.
If a company locks in the price and the price increases, the manufacturer would have a profit on the commodity hedge. The profit from the hedge would offset the increased cost of purchasing the product. Also, the company could take delivery of the product or offset the futures contract pocketing the profit from the net difference between the purchase price and the sale price of the futures contracts.
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.
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.
The world of commodity options is diverse and cannot be given justice in a short article such as this. The purpose of this writing is to simply introduce the topic of options on futures. Should you want to learn commodity options trading strategies in more detail, please consider purchasing "Commodity Options" published by FT Press at www.CommodityOptionstheBook.com.
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.
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.
As shown above, a long options trade has unlimited profit potential, and limited risk, but a short options trade has limited profit potential and unlimited risk. However, this is not a complete risk analysis, and in reality, short options trades have no more risk than individual stock trades (and actually have less risk than buy and hold stock trades).
Many day traders who trade futures, also trade options, either on the same markets or on different markets. Options are similar to futures, in that they are often based upon the same underlying instruments, and have similar contract specifications, but options are traded quite differently. Options are available on futures markets, on stock indexes, and on individual stocks, and can be traded on their own using various strategies, or they can be combined with futures contracts or stocks and used as a form of trade insurance.
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.
If you are buying an option that is already "in the money" (meaning the option will immediately be in profit), its premium will have an extra cost because you can sell it immediately for a profit. On the other hand, if you have an option that is "at the money," the option is equal to the current stock price. And, as you may have guessed, an option that is "out of the money" is one that won't have additional value because it is currently not in profit.