Whether the economy is hot or not, an investor can make money trading commodity options, regardless of the condition of the market. Briefly, a commodity option allows its owner to either sell or buy a commodity like corn or wheat at a future date. You will buy a so-called “put option” if you think the price of the commodity will go down and a “call option” if you think the price will rise. And never will you have to take possession of the commodity itself.
American options can be exercised at any time between the date of purchase and the expiration date. European options are different from American options in that they can only be exercised at the end of their lives on their expiration date. The distinction between American and European options has nothing to do with geography, only with early exercise. Many options on stock indexes are of the European type. Because the right to exercise early has some value, an American option typically carries a higher premium than an otherwise identical European option. This is because the early exercise feature is desirable and commands a premium.
The fee you are paying to buy the call option is called the premium (it's essentially the cost of buying the contract which will allow you to eventually buy the stock or security). In this sense, the premium of the call option is sort of like a down-payment like you would place on a house or car. When purchasing a call option, you agree with the seller on a strike price and are given the option to buy the security at a predetermined price (which doesn't change until the contract expires).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another example involves buying a long call option for a $2 premium (so for the 100 shares per contract, that would equal $200 for the whole contract). You buy an option for 100 shares of Oracle (ORCL) for a strike price of $40 per share which expires in two months, expecting stock to go to $50 by that time. You've spent $200 on the contract (the $2 premium times 100 shares for the contract). When the stock price hits $50 as you bet it would, your call option to buy at $40 per share will be $10 "in the money" (the contract is now worth $1,000, since you have 100 shares of the stock) - since the difference between 40 and 50 is 10. At this point, you can exercise your call option and buy the stock at $40 per share instead of the $50 it is now worth - making your $200 original contract now worth $1,000 - which is an $800 profit and a 400% return.
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.
A longer expiration is also useful because the option can retain time value, even if the stock trades below the strike price. An option’s time value decays as expiration approaches, and options buyers don’t want to watch their purchased options decline in value, potentially expiring worthless if the stock finishes below the strike price. If a trade has gone against them, they can usually still sell any time value remaining on the option — and this is more likely if the option contract is longer.
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.
We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet's official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
If you are buying an option that is already "in the money" (meaning the option will immediately be in profit), its premium will have an extra cost because you can sell it immediately for a profit. On the other hand, if you have an option that is "at the money," the option is equal to the current stock price. And, as you may have guessed, an option that is "out of the money" is one that won't have additional value because it is currently not in profit.