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.
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.
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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.
Pay a “premium” wherever you buy a commodity option. Let's say you purchase a “call” option on 100 bushels of corn, and the premium is $2 per bushel. You will pay $200 for the right to exercise your option until it expires. That is your only cost to purchase the option, except for whatever commission you had to pay to your brokerage company. Even if you choose not to exercise the option before it expires, your investment will be limited to the $200 premium plus commission.
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.
When you buy an option, the risk is limited to the premium that you pay. Selling an option is the equivalent of acting as the insurance company. When you sell an option, all you can earn is the premium that you initially receive. The potential for losses is unlimited. The best hedge for an option is another option on the same asset as options act similarly over time.
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.
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.
In order to trade options, you’ll need a broker. Check out our detailed roundup of the best brokers for options traders, so you can compare commission costs, minimums, and more, as well as our explainer on how to open a brokerage account. Or stay here and answer a few questions to get a personalized recommendation on the best broker for your needs.
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.
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.
However, options are not the same thing as stocks because they do not represent ownership in a company. And, although futures use contracts just like options do, options are considered lower risk due to the fact that you can withdraw (or walk away from) an options contract at any point. The price of the option (its premium) is thus a percentage of the underlying asset or security.