Many people like options because they believe them to be less risky than futures. Options sometimes offer reduced risk, but usually at the cost of reduced profit potential.
One drawback of options is that a trader must consider market speed (volatility) as well as direction. Traders who buy or sell options outright to profit from up or down moves in the underlying market can find themselves fighting an uphill battle against volatility and time decay. With futures, if you're right about market direction, you'll win. With options, you can be right about the market and still lose.
If a market is trading at 200 and you buy a 210 call expecting a rally, you'll still lose on the trade if the market only rallies to 205 by expiration; your 210 call will be worthless. The same thing would happen even if the market rises as high as 220, but does so one week after expiration. In each case you would be right about market direction but would not profit.
The advantage of options is their flexibility. Because of the variety of strike prices and expiration dates a trader can choose, options naturally lend themselves to spreading strategies (simultaneously buying an selling different options), accommodating varying views of market direction and risk levels. Traders can design option strategies that will profit if the underlying market goes up or down, moves in either direction by a certain degree or remains unchanged.
Options also allow you to profit without predicting market direction because of time decay and fluctuation in volatility that increase and decrease premium. For example, a trader might sell as out-of-the-money call on a relatively volatile futures contract he thinks will fall. Over then next two months, however, the market does not fall, but gradually moves higher, trading in a narrow range (but still below his strike price). The trader was wrong about market direction, but finds the combination of decreased volatility and time decay has eroded the value of his option to the point that he can buy it back at a profit (or perhaps hold it until expiration).
Part 3 will be posted on Thursday (5/12/11). Do you like this short lesson series? Let us know in our comments section.
The MarketClub Team