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.
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.
However, unless soybeans were priced at $15 per bushel in the market on the expiration date, the farmer had either gotten paid more than the prevailing market price or missed out on higher prices. If soybeans were priced at $13 per bushel at expiry, the farmer's $15 hedge would be $2 per bushel higher than the market price for a gain of $2,000,000. On the other hand, if soybeans were trading at $17 per bushel at expiry, the $15 selling price from the contract means the farmer would have missed out on an additional $2 per bushel profit.
Trading in commodity futures contracts can be very risky for the inexperienced. The high degree of leverage used with commodity futures can amplify gains, but losses can be amplified as well. If a futures contract position is losing money, the broker can initiate a margin call, which is a demand for additional funds to shore up the account. Further, the broker will usually have to approve an account to trade on margins before they can enter into contracts.
Speculation is a wager on future price direction. A speculator might think the price of a stock will go up, perhaps based on fundamental analysis or technical analysis. A speculator might buy the stock or buy a call option on the stock. Speculating with a call option—instead of buying the stock outright—is attractive to some traders since options provide leverage. An out-of-the-money call option may only cost a few dollars or even cents compared to the full price of a $100 stock.
Of course, many investors, especially new investors, are skittish about options. After all, no investor is required to trade this way, and the transactions can seem complicated. But once you know the pros and cons of this type of investing, it can be a powerful part of your strategy. No investors should be sitting on the sidelines simply because they don’t understand options.
Conversely, a put option is a contract that gives the investor the right to sell a certain amount of shares (again, typically 100 per contract) of a certain security or commodity at a specified price over a certain amount of time. Just like call options, a put option allows the trader the right (but not obligation) to sell a security by the contract's expiration date.