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.
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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.
Conversely, a put option is a contract that gives the investor the right to sell a certain amount of shares (again, typically 100 per contract) of a certain security or commodity at a specified price over a certain amount of time. Just like call options, a put option allows the trader the right (but not obligation) to sell a security by the contract's expiration date.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For instance, it is possible to construct an option strategy in the futures markets that is affordable without sacrificing the odds of success...but with the convenience comes theoretically unlimited risk. This is easier than it sounds, similar to the way you would borrow money to pay for a house or a car, you can borrow money from the exchange to pay for long commodity option trades. There are an unlimited number of combinations of self-financed trades but they are typically going to involve more short options than long options, or at least as much premium collected on the sold options than that paid for the longs. In essence, the money brought in through the sale of the short options goes to pay for the futures options that are purchased. The result is a relatively close-to-the-money option with little out of pocket expense but theoretically unlimited risk beyond the strike price of the naked short options.