Options Basics: What Are Options?
These examples demonstrate a couple of very important points. First, when you buy an option, you have a right but not an obligation to do something with it. You can always let the expiration date go by, at which point the option becomes worthless. If this happens, however, you lose 100% of your investment, which is the money you used to pay for the option premium. Second, an option is merely a contract that deals with an underlying asset. For this reason, options are derivatives. In this tutorial, the underlying asset will typically be a stock or stock index, but options are actively traded on all sorts of financial securities such as bonds, foreign currencies, commodities, and even other derivatives.
Buying and Selling Calls and Puts: Four Cardinal Coordinates
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. Keeping these four straight is crucial as they relate to the four things you can do with options: buy calls; sell calls; buy puts; and sell puts.
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.
Don't worry if this seems confusing – it is. For this reason we are going to look at options primarily from the point of view of the buyer. At this point, it is sufficient to understand that there are two sides of an options contract.
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. In our example above, the strike price for the S&P 500 put option was 2250.
The expiration date, or expiry of an option is the exact date that the contract terminates.
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).