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.
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Options are powerful because they can enhance an individual’s portfolio. They do this through added income, protection, and even leverage. Depending on the situation, there is usually an option scenario appropriate for an investor’s goal. A popular example would be using options as an effective hedge against a declining stock market to limit downside losses. Options can also be used to generate recurring income. Additionally, they are often used for speculative purposes such as wagering on the direction of a stock.
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Options trading may seem overwhelming, but they're easy to understand if you know a few key points. Investor portfolios are usually constructed with several asset classes. These may be stocks, bonds, ETFs, and even mutual funds. Options are another asset class, and when used correctly, they offer many advantages that trading stocks and ETFs alone cannot.
Options are contracts giving the owner the right to buy or sell an asset at a fixed price (called the “strike price”) for a specific period of time. That period of time could be as short as a day or as long as a couple of years, depending on the option. The seller of the option contract has the obligation to take the opposite side of the trade if and when the owner exercises the right to buy or sell the asset. For more information, check out the Ally Invest Options Playbook here: https://www.optionsplaybook.com/
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.
For example, if you believe the share price of a company currently trading for $100 is going to rise to $120 by some future date, you’d buy a call option with a strike price less than $120 (ideally a strike price no higher than $120 minus the cost of the option, so that the option remains profitable at $120). If the stock does indeed rise above the strike price, your option is in the money.
There are two types of commodity options, a call option and a put option. Understanding what each of these is and how they work will help you determine when and how to use them. The buyer of a commodity option pays a premium (payment) to the seller of the option for the right, not the obligation, to take delivery of the underlying commodity futures contract (exercise). This financial value is treated as an asset, although eroding, to the option buyer and a liability to the seller.
In Economics, a commodity is a marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs. The commodity is generally Fungible (Fungibility is the property of a good or commodity whose individual units are capable of being substituted in place of one another). For example, since one ounce of pure gold is equivalent to any other ounce of pure gold, gold is fungible. Other fungible goods are Crude oil, steel, iron ore, currencies, precious metals, alloy and non-alloy metals.
In case of futures, a buyer of a contract is said to be “long position holder” and a seller is “Short position holder”. In the case of futures, to avoid the risk of defaulting contract involves both parties lodging a certain percentage margin of value of contract with a mutually trusted third party. Generally, in gold futures trading, margin varies between 2%-20% depending on the volatility of gold in spot market.
A bull call spread, or bull call vertical spread, is created by buying a call and simultaneously selling another call with a higher strike price and the same expiration. The spread is profitable if the underlying asset increases in price, but the upside is limited due to the short call strike. The benefit, however, is that selling the higher strike call reduces the cost of buying the lower one. Similarly, a bear put spread, or bear put vertical spread, involves buying a put and selling a second put with a lower strike and the same expiration. If you buy and sell options with different expirations, it is known as a calendar spread or time spread.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
The purchase of a call option is a long position, a bet that the underlying futures price will move higher. For example, if one expects corn futures to move higher, they might buy a corn call option. The purchase of a put option is a short position, a bet that the underlying futures price will move lower. For example, if one expects soybean futures to move lower, they might buy a soybean put option.
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.
With respect to an option, this cost is known as the premium. It is the price of the option contract. In our home example, the deposit might be $20,000 that the buyer pays the developer. Let’s say two years have passed, and now the developments are built and zoning has been approved. The home buyer exercises the option and buys the home for $400,000 because that is the contract purchased.