In finance , an option is a contract which gives the buyer the owner or holder of the option the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset or instrument at a specified strike price on a specified date , depending on the form of the option. The strike price may be set by reference to the spot price market price of the underlying security or commodity on the day an option is taken out, or it may be fixed at a discount or at a premium.
The seller has the corresponding obligation to fulfill the transaction — to sell or buy — if the buyer owner "exercises" the option. An option that conveys to the owner the right to buy at a specific price is referred to as a call ; an option that conveys the right of the owner to sell at a specific price is referred to as a put.
Both are commonly traded, but the call option is more frequently discussed. The seller may grant an option to a buyer as part of another transaction, such as a share issue or as part of an employee incentive scheme, otherwise a buyer would pay a premium to the seller for the option.
A call option would normally be exercised only when the strike price is below the market value of the underlying asset, while a put option would normally be exercised only when the strike price is above the market value. When an option is exercised, the cost to the buyer of the asset acquired is the strike price plus the premium, if any. When the option expiration date passes without the option being exercised, then the option expires and the buyer would forfeit the premium to the seller.
In any case, the premium is income to the seller, and normally a capital loss to the buyer. The owner of an option may on-sell the option to a third party in a secondary market , in either an over-the-counter transaction or on an options exchange , depending on the option.
The market price of an American-style option normally closely follows that of the underlying stock, being the difference between the market price of the stock and the strike price of the option. The actual market price of the option may vary depending on a number of factors, such as a significant option holder may need to sell the option as the expiry date is approaching and does not have the financial resources to exercise the option, or a buyer in the market is trying to amass a large option holding.
The ownership of an option does not generally entitle the holder to any rights associated with the underlying asset, such as voting rights or any income from the underlying asset, such as a dividend. Contracts similar to options have been used since ancient times. On a certain occasion, it was predicted that the season's olive harvest would be larger than usual, and during the off-season, he acquired the right to use a number of olive presses the following spring.
When spring came and the olive harvest was larger than expected he exercised his options and then rented the presses out at a much higher price than he paid for his 'option'. In London, puts and "refusals" calls first became well-known trading instruments in the s during the reign of William and Mary. Their exercise price was fixed at a rounded-off market price on the day or week that the option was bought, and the expiry date was generally three months after purchase.
They were not traded in secondary markets. In the real estate market, call options have long been used to assemble large parcels of land from separate owners; e. Many choices, or embedded options, have traditionally been included in bond contracts.
For example, many bonds are convertible into common stock at the buyer's option, or may be called bought back at specified prices at the issuer's option. Mortgage borrowers have long had the option to repay the loan early, which corresponds to a callable bond option. Options contracts have been known for decades. The Chicago Board Options Exchange was established in , which set up a regime using standardized forms and terms and trade through a guaranteed clearing house. Trading activity and academic interest has increased since then.
Today, many options are created in a standardized form and traded through clearing houses on regulated options exchanges , while other over-the-counter options are written as bilateral, customized contracts between a single buyer and seller, one or both of which may be a dealer or market-maker.
Options are part of a larger class of financial instruments known as derivative products , or simply, derivatives. A financial option is a contract between two counterparties with the terms of the option specified in a term sheet. Option contracts may be quite complicated; however, at minimum, they usually contain the following specifications: Exchange-traded options also called "listed options" are a class of exchange-traded derivatives.
Exchange traded options have standardized contracts, and are settled through a clearing house with fulfillment guaranteed by the Options Clearing Corporation OCC. Since the contracts are standardized, accurate pricing models are often available.
Over-the-counter options OTC options, also called "dealer options" are traded between two private parties, and are not listed on an exchange. The terms of an OTC option are unrestricted and may be individually tailored to meet any business need.
In general, the option writer is a well-capitalized institution in order to prevent the credit risk. Option types commonly traded over the counter include:. By avoiding an exchange, users of OTC options can narrowly tailor the terms of the option contract to suit individual business requirements. In addition, OTC option transactions generally do not need to be advertised to the market and face little or no regulatory requirements.
However, OTC counterparties must establish credit lines with each other, and conform to each other's clearing and settlement procedures. With few exceptions,  there are no secondary markets for employee stock options. These must either be exercised by the original grantee or allowed to expire. The most common way to trade options is via standardized options contracts that are listed by various futures and options exchanges. By publishing continuous, live markets for option prices, an exchange enables independent parties to engage in price discovery and execute transactions.
As an intermediary to both sides of the transaction, the benefits the exchange provides to the transaction include:. These trades are described from the point of view of a speculator. If they are combined with other positions, they can also be used in hedging.
An option contract in US markets usually represents shares of the underlying security. A trader who expects a stock's price to increase can buy a call option to purchase the stock at a fixed price " strike price " at a later date, rather than purchase the stock outright. The cash outlay on the option is the premium. The trader would have no obligation to buy the stock, but only has the right to do so at or before the expiration date. The risk of loss would be limited to the premium paid, unlike the possible loss had the stock been bought outright.
The holder of an American style call option can sell his option holding at any time until the expiration date, and would consider doing so when the stock's spot price is above the exercise price, especially if he expects the price of the option to drop. By selling the option early in that situation, the trader can realise an immediate profit. Alternatively, he can exercise the option — for example, if there is no secondary market for the options — and then sell the stock, realising a profit.
A trader would make a profit if the spot price of the shares rises by more than the premium. For example, if the exercise price is and premium paid is 10, then if the spot price of rises to only the transaction is break-even; an increase in stock price above produces a profit.
If the stock price at expiration is lower than the exercise price, the holder of the options at that time will let the call contract expire and only lose the premium or the price paid on transfer. A trader who expects a stock's price to decrease can buy a put option to sell the stock at a fixed price "strike price" at a later date. The trader will be under no obligation to sell the stock, but only has the right to do so at or before the expiration date.
If the stock price at expiration is below the exercise price by more than the premium paid, he will make a profit. If the stock price at expiration is above the exercise price, he will let the put contract expire and only lose the premium paid. In the transaction, the premium also plays a major role as it enhances the break-even point. For example, if exercise price is , premium paid is 10, then a spot price of to 90 is not profitable. He would make a profit if the spot price is below It is important to note that one who exercises a put option, does not necessarily need to own the underlying asset.
Specifically, one does not need to own the underlying stock in order to sell it. The reason for this is that one can short sell that underlying stock. A trader who expects a stock's price to decrease can sell the stock short or instead sell, or "write", a call. The trader selling a call has an obligation to sell the stock to the call buyer at a fixed price "strike price".
If the seller does not own the stock when the option is exercised, he is obligated to purchase the stock from the market at the then market price. If the stock price decreases, the seller of the call call writer will make a profit in the amount of the premium. If the stock price increases over the strike price by more than the amount of the premium, the seller will lose money, with the potential loss being unlimited. A trader who expects a stock's price to increase can buy the stock or instead sell, or "write", a put.
The trader selling a put has an obligation to buy the stock from the put buyer at a fixed price "strike price". If the stock price at expiration is above the strike price, the seller of the put put writer will make a profit in the amount of the premium.
If the stock price at expiration is below the strike price by more than the amount of the premium, the trader will lose money, with the potential loss being up to the strike price minus the premium.
Combining any of the four basic kinds of option trades possibly with different exercise prices and maturities and the two basic kinds of stock trades long and short allows a variety of options strategies. Simple strategies usually combine only a few trades, while more complicated strategies can combine several. Strategies are often used to engineer a particular risk profile to movements in the underlying security.
For example, buying a butterfly spread long one X1 call, short two X2 calls, and long one X3 call allows a trader to profit if the stock price on the expiration date is near the middle exercise price, X2, and does not expose the trader to a large loss.
Selling a straddle selling both a put and a call at the same exercise price would give a trader a greater profit than a butterfly if the final stock price is near the exercise price, but might result in a large loss.
Similar to the straddle is the strangle which is also constructed by a call and a put, but whose strikes are different, reducing the net debit of the trade, but also reducing the risk of loss in the trade. One well-known strategy is the covered call , in which a trader buys a stock or holds a previously-purchased long stock position , and sells a call.
If the stock price rises above the exercise price, the call will be exercised and the trader will get a fixed profit. If the stock price falls, the call will not be exercised, and any loss incurred to the trader will be partially offset by the premium received from selling the call. Overall, the payoffs match the payoffs from selling a put. This relationship is known as put-call parity and offers insights for financial theory. Another very common strategy is the protective put , in which a trader buys a stock or holds a previously-purchased long stock position , and buys a put.
This strategy acts as an insurance when investing on the underlying stock, hedging the investor's potential loses, but also shrinking an otherwise larger profit, if just purchasing the stock without the put. The maximum profit of a protective put is theoretically unlimited as the strategy involves being long on the underlying stock.
The maximum loss is limited to the purchase price of the underlying stock less the strike price of the put option and the premium paid. A protective put is also known as a married put. Another important class of options, particularly in the U. Other types of options exist in many financial contracts, for example real estate options are often used to assemble large parcels of land, and prepayment options are usually included in mortgage loans.
However, many of the valuation and risk management principles apply across all financial options. There are two more types of options; covered and naked. Options valuation is a topic of ongoing research in academic and practical finance.More...