Options are a type of derivative security. They are a derivative because the price of options is intrinsically linked to the price of something else. Specifically, options are contracts that grant the right, but not the obligation to buy or sell an underlying asset at a set price on or before a certain date. The right to buy is called a call option and the right to sell is a put option. People somewhat familiar with derivatives may not see an obvious difference between this definition and what a future or forward contract does. The answer is that futures or forwards confer both the right and obligation to buy or sell at some point in the future.
For example, somebody short a futures contract for cattle is obliged to deliver physical cows to a buyer unless they close out their positions before expiration. An options contract does not carry the same obligation, which is precisely why it is called an option.
An option is a financial derivative that represents a contract sold by one party (the option writer) to another party (the option holder). The contract offers the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call) or sell (put) a security or other financial asset at an agreed-upon price (the strike price) during a certain period of time or on a specific date (exercise date).
Options are extremely versatile securities. Traders use options to speculate, which is a relatively risky practice. Others use options to reduce the risk of holding an asset. In terms of speculation, option buyers and writers have conflicting views regarding the outlook on the performance of an underlying security.
Options are categorized based on the method in which they are traded, their expiration cycle, and the underlying security they relate to. There are also other specific types and a number of exotic options that exist, here are a few.
Call options give the option to buy at certain price, so the buyer would want the stock to go up. Conversely, the option writer needs to provide the underlying shares in the event that the stock’s market price exceeds the strike due to the contractual obligation. An option writer who sells a call option believes that the underlying stock’s price will drop relative to the option’s strike price during the life of the option, as that is how he will reap maximum profit.
This is exactly the opposite outlook of the option buyer. The buyer believes that the underlying stock will rise; if this happens, the buyer will be able to acquire the stock for a lower price and then sell it for a profit. However, if the underlying stock does not close above the strike price on the expiration date, the option buyer would lose the premium paid for the call option.
Put options give the option to sell at a certain price, so the buyer would want the stock to go down. The opposite is true for put option writers. For example, a put option buyer is bearish on the underlying stock and believes its market price will fall below the specified strike price on or before a specified date. On the other hand, an option writer who shorts a put option believes the underlying stock’s price will increase about a specified price on or before the expiration date.
If the underlying stock’s price closes above the specified strike price on the expiration date, the put option writer’s maximum profit is achieved. Conversely, a put option holder would only benefit from a fall in the underlying stock’s price below the strike price. If the underlying stock’s price falls below the strike price, the put option writer is obligated to purchase shares of the underlying stock at the strike price.
Buying and Selling Calls and Puts
Owning a call option gives you a long position in the market, and therefore the seller of a call option is a short position. Owning a put option gives you a short position in the market, and selling a put is a long position.
People who buy options are called holders and those who sell options are called writers of options.
Here is the important distinction between buyers and sellers:
Call holders and put holders (buyers) are not obligated to buy or sell. They have the choice to exercise their rights if they choose. This limits the risk of buyers of options, so that the most they can ever lose is the premium of their options.
Call writers and put writers (sellers), however, are obligated to buy or sell. 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 unlimited risk, meaning that they can lose much more than the price of the options premium.
To understand options, you’ll also have to first know the terminology associated with the options market.
The price at which an underlying stock can be purchased or sold is called the strike price. This is the price a stock price must go above (for calls) or go below (for puts) before a position can be exercised for a profit. All of this must occur before the expiration date.
The expiration date, or expiry of an option is the exact date that the contract terminates.
The total cost (the price) of an option is called the premium.
An option that is traded on a national options exchange such as the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) is known as a listed option. These have fixed strike prices and expiration dates. Each listed option represents 100 shares of company stock (known as a contract).
For call options, the option is said to be in-the-money if the share price is above the strike price. A put option is in-the-money when the share price is below the strike price. The amount by which an option is in-the-money is referred to as intrinsic value. An option is out-of-the-money if the price of the underlying remains below the strike price (for a call), or above the strike price (for a put). An option is at-the-money when the price of the underlying is on or very close to the strike price.
As mentioned above, the total cost (the price) of an option is called the premium. This price is determined by factors including the stock price, strike price, time remaining until expiration (time value) and volatility. Because of all these factors, determining the premium of an option is complicated.
Although employee stock options aren’t available for just anyone to trade, this type of option could, in a way, be classified as a type of call option. Many companies use stock options as a way to attract and to keep talented employees, especially management. They are similar to regular stock options in that the holder has the right but not the obligation to purchase company stock. The contract, however, exists only between the holder and the company and cannot typically be exchanged with anybody else, whereas a normal option is a contract between two parties that are completely unrelated to the company and can be traded freely.
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