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.
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.
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).
Commodity futures used by companies give a hedge to the risk of adverse price movements. The goal of hedging is to prevent losses from potentially unfavorable price changes rather than to speculate. Many companies that hedge use or producing the underlying asset of a futures contract. Examples of commodities hedging use include farmers, oil producers, livestock breeders, manufacturers, and many others.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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On the other hand, commodity option buyers are exposed to limited risk and unlimited profit potential, but they also face dismal odds of success on each individual speculation. For this reason, we often refer to the practice of buying options in the commodity markets as the purchase of a lottery ticket. It probably won’t pay off but if it does the potential gain is considerable. Conversely to the commodity option seller, an option buyer views the position as an asset (not a liability) until it is sold or expires. This is because any long option held in a commodity trading account has the potential to provide a return to the trader, even if that potential is small.
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.
For years, the preferred method of trading options was to use a live broker with a securities firm because you would receive all the research you would need to make a judgment. But with the advances made by online brokerage companies in being able to provide you with that information, more people are trading commodity options online than ever before and they are paying a fraction of the commissions they would otherwise pay to a live broker. Since you will have more trades than you would if you were simply buying stock, you will have more money in your account.
Fluctuations in option prices can be explained by intrinsic value and extrinsic value, which is also known as time value. An option's premium is the combination of its intrinsic value and time value. Intrinsic value is the in-the-money amount of an options contract, which, for a call option, is the amount above the strike price that the stock is trading. Time value represents the added value an investor has to pay for an option above the intrinsic value. This is the extrinsic value or time value. So, the price of the option in our example can be thought of as the following:
In terms of valuing option contracts, it is essentially all about determining the probabilities of future price events. The more likely something is to occur, the more expensive an option would be that profits from that event. For instance, a call value goes up as the stock (underlying) goes up. This is the key to understanding the relative value of options.
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.
Unlike other investments where the risks may have no boundaries, options trading offers a defined risk to buyers. An option buyer absolutely cannot lose more than the price of the option, the premium. Because the right to buy or sell the underlying security at a specific price expires on a given date, the option will expire worthless if the conditions for profitable exercise or sale of the option contract are not met by the expiration date. An uncovered option seller (sometimes referred to as the uncovered writer of an option), on the other hand, may face unlimited risk.
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.
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.
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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.