Futures options can be a low-risk way to approach the futures markets. Many new traders start by trading futures options instead of straight futures contracts. There is less risk and volatility when buying options compared with futures contracts. Many professional traders only trade options. Before you can trade futures options, it is important to understand the basics.
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Basically, you need the stock to have a move outside of a range. A similar strategy betting on an outsized move in the securities when you expect high volatility (uncertainty) is to buy a call and buy a put with different strikes and the same expiration—known as a strangle. A strangle requires larger price moves in either direction to profit but is also less expensive than a straddle. On the other hand, being short either a straddle or a strangle (selling both options) would profit from a market that doesn’t move much.
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.
Options belong to the larger group of securities known as derivatives. A derivative's price is dependent on or derived from the price of something else. As an example, wine is a derivative of grapes ketchup is a derivative of tomatoes, and a stock option is a derivative of a stock. Options are derivatives of financial securities—their value depends on the price of some other asset. Examples of derivatives include calls, puts, futures, forwards, swaps, and mortgage-backed securities, among others.
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.
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.
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.
In search of a promising commodity option trade, it is important to look at whether or not the options are priced fairly. Option prices fluctuate according to supply and demand in the underlying commodity market. At times, options on futures prices become inflated or undervalued relative to theoretical models such as Black and Scholes. For example, during the "crash" of 2008 the value of put options exploded as traders scrambled to buy insurance for their stock portfolios or simply wanted to wager that the equity market would go down forever. The increase in option premium was partly due to inflated volatility but increased demand for the instruments had a lot to do with it. Those that chose to purchase put options at inopportune times and at overvalued prices, likely didn't fair very well.
Sometimes corporations enter the forex market in order to hedge their profits. A US company with extensive operations in Mexico, for example, may enter into a futures contracts on US dollars. So, when it comes time to bring those Mexican profits home, the profits earned in pesos will not be subject to unexpected currency fluctuations. The futures contract is a way of securing an exchange rate and eliminating the risk that peso will lose value versus the dollar, making those profits worth less in dollars.
Combinations are trades constructed with both a call and a put. There is a special type of combination known as a “synthetic.” The point of a synthetic is to create an options position that behaves like an underlying asset, but without actually controlling the asset. Why not just buy the stock? Maybe some legal or regulatory reason restricts you from owning it. But you may be allowed to create a synthetic position using options.
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.
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.
So, call options are also much like insurance - you are paying for a contract that expires at a set time but allows you to purchase a security (like a stock) at a predetermined price (which won't go up even if the price of the stock on the market does). However, you will have to renew your option (typically on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis). For this reason, options are always experiencing what's called time decay - meaning their value decays over time.