Investing with options— an advanced trader will tell you— is all about customization. Rewards can be high — but so can the risk— and your choices are plenty. But getting started isn’t easy, and there is potential for costly mistakes. Here’s a brief overview of option trading that cuts through the jargon and gets right to the core of this versatile way to invest.
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.
In, At, or Out of the Money: If an option is in the money, its premium will have additional value because the option is already in profit, and the profit will be immediately available to the buyer of the option. If an option is at the money, or out of the money, its premium will not have any additional value because the options are not yet in profit.
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Still other traders can make the mistake of thinking that cheaper is better. For options, this isn't necessarily true. The cheaper an option's premium is, the more "out of the money" the option typically is, which can be a riskier investment with less profit potential if it goes wrong. Buying "out of the money" call or put options means you want the underlying security to drastically change in value, which isn't always predictable.
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To reiterate, buying options in times of low volatility could prove to be advantageous should the volatility increase sharply. On the other hand, a lack of deviation in the price of the underlying asset will produce lower market volatility and even cheaper option premiums. Once again, pricing is relative and dynamic; "cheap" doesn't mean that it can't get "cheaper".
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 market value of that home may have doubled to $800,000. But because the down payment locked in a pre-determined price, the buyer pays $400,000. Now, in an alternate scenario, say the zoning approval doesn’t come through until year four. This is one year past the expiration of this option. Now the home buyer must pay the market price because the contract has expired. In either case, the developer keeps the original $20,000 collected.
Similarly, if you believe the company’s share price is going to dip to $80, you’d buy a put option (giving you the right to sell shares) with a strike price above $80 (ideally a strike price no lower than $80 plus the cost of the option, so that the option remains profitable at $80). If the stock drops below the strike price, your option is in the money.
The less time there is until expiry, the less value an option will have. This is because the chances of a price move in the underlying stock diminish as we draw closer to expiry. This is why an option is a wasting asset. If you buy a one-month option that is out of the money, and the stock doesn’t move, the option becomes less valuable with each passing day. Since time is a component to the price of an option, a one-month option is going to be less valuable than a three-month option. This is because with more time available, the probability of a price move in your favor increases, and vice versa.
Now, think of a put option as an insurance policy. If you own your home, you are likely familiar with purchasing homeowner’s insurance. A homeowner buys a homeowner’s policy to protect their home from damage. They pay an amount called the premium, for some amount of time, let’s say a year. The policy has a face value and gives the insurance holder protection in the event the home is damaged.
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.
When you buy an option, the risk is limited to the premium that you pay. Selling an option is the equivalent of acting as the insurance company. When you sell an option, all you can earn is the premium that you initially receive. The potential for losses is unlimited. The best hedge for an option is another option on the same asset as options act similarly over time.
Based on data from IHS Markit for SEC Rule 605 eligible orders executed at Fidelity between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 20198. The comparison is based on an analysis of price statistics that include all SEC Rule 605 eligible market and marketable limit orders of 100-499 shares for the 100 share figure and 100–1,999 shares for the 1,000 share figure. For both the Fidelity and Industry savings per order figures used in the example, the figures are calculated by taking the average savings per share for the eligible trades within the respective order size range and multiplying each by either 100 or 1000, for consistency purposes. Fidelity's average retail order size for SEC Rule 605 eligible orders (100 -1,999 shares) and (100–9,999 shares) during this time period was 430 and 842 shares, respectively. The average retail order size for the Industry for the same shares ranges and time period was 228 and 333 shares, respectively. Price improvement examples are based on averages and any price improvement amounts related to your trades will depend on the particulars of your specific trade.
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.
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As an example, let's say an initial margin amount of $3,700 allows an investor to enter into a futures contract for 1,000 barrels of oil valued at $45,000—with oil priced at $45 per barrel. If the price of oil is trading at $60 at the contract's expiry, the investor has a $15 gain or a $15,000 profit. The trades would settle through the investor's brokerage account crediting the net difference of the two contracts. Most futures contracts will be cash settled, but some contracts will settle with the delivery of the underlying asset to a centralized processing warehouse.
An option remains valuable only if the stock price closes the option’s expiration period “in the money.” That means either above or below the strike price. (For call options, it’s above the strike; for put options, it’s below the strike.) You’ll want to buy an option with a strike price that reflects where you predict the stock will be during the option’s lifetime.
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.
Like futures markets, options markets can be traded in both directions (up or down). If a trader thinks that the market will go up, they will buy a Call option, and if they think that the market will go down, they will buy a Put option. There are also options strategies that involve buying both a Call and a Put, and in this case, the trader does not care which direction the market moves.