Options on futures contracts are exactly what the name implies, they give traders "options". They are capable of being used in nearly every commodity market scenario and with variable risk and reward profiles. Too many traders fail to tap the true potential and flexibility of option spreads due to their seemingly complex nature; however, things aren't always as they appear. We strongly believe that you owe it to yourself to overcome your fear of trading commodity options and open your mind to the possibilities.
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As an example, let's say a farmer is expecting to produce 1,000,000 bushels of soybeans in the next 12 months. Typically, soybean futures contracts include the quantity of 5,000 bushels. The farmer's break-even point on a bushel of soybeans is $10 per bushel meaning $10 is the minimum price needed to cover the costs of producing the soybeans. The farmer sees that a one-year futures contract for soybeans is currently priced at $15 per bushel.
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.
There are also exotic options, which are exotic because there might be a variation on the payoff profiles from the plain vanilla options. Or they can become totally different products all together with "optionality" embedded in them. For example, binary options have a simple payoff structure that is determined if the payoff event happens regardless of the degree. Other types of exotic options include knock-out, knock-in, barrier options, lookback options, Asian options, and Bermudan options. Again, exotic options are typically for professional derivatives traders.
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Because options prices can be modeled mathematically with a model such as the Black-Scholes, many of the risks associated with options can also be modeled and understood. This particular feature of options actually makes them arguably less risky than other asset classes, or at least allows the risks associated with options to be understood and evaluated. Individual risks have been assigned Greek letter names, and are sometimes referred to simply as "the Greeks."
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Just as you can buy a stock because you think the price will go up or short a stock when you think its price is going to drop, an option allows you to bet on which direction you think the price of a stock will go. But instead of buying or shorting the asset outright, when you buy an option you’re buying a contract that allows — but doesn’t obligate — you to do a number of things, including:
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.
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.
Covered calls can make you money when the stock price increases or stays pretty constant over the time of the option contract. However, you could lose money with this kind of trade if the stock price falls too much (but can actually still make money if it only falls a little bit). But by using this strategy, you are actually protecting your investment from decreases in share price while giving yourself the opportunity to make money while the stock price is flat.