Options Educational Series – Options Basics

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Options presents a world of opportunity to sophisticated investors who understand both the practical uses and inherent risks associated with this security class.

The power of options lies in their versatility, and their ability to interact with traditional assets such as individual stocks, commodities and even currencies. They enable you to adapt or adjust your position according to many market situations that may arise.

For example, options can be used as an effective hedge against a declining stock market to limit downside losses. Options can be put to use for speculative purposes or to be exceedingly conservative, as you want. Using options is therefore best described as part of a larger strategy of trading.

This functional versatility, however, does not come without its costs. Options are complex securities and can be extremely risky if used improperly. This is why, when trading options with a broker, you’ll often come across a disclaimer like the following:

Options involve risks and are not suitable for everyone. Option trading can be speculative in nature and carry substantial risk of loss. Only invest with risk capital.

Options belong to the larger group of securities known as derivatives. This word has come to be associated with excessive risk taking and having the ability crash economies. That perception, however, is broadly overblown. All “derivative” means is that its price is dependent on, or derived from the price of something else. Put this way, wine is a derivative of grapes; ketchup is a derivative of tomatoes. Options are derivatives of financial securities – their value depends on the price of some other asset.

That is all derivative means, and there are many different types of securities that fall under the name derivatives, including futures, forwards, swaps (of which there are many types), and mortgage backed securities. In the 2008 crisis, it was mortgage backed securities and a particular type of swap that caused trouble. Options were largely not to blame for the market’s demise.

Properly knowing how options work, and how to use them appropriately can give you a real advantage in the market. If the speculative nature of options doesn’t fit your style, no problem – you can use options without speculating too.

Even if you decide never to use options, however, it is important to understand how companies that you are investing in use them. Whether it is to hedge the risk of foreign-exchange transactions or to give employees ownership in the form of stock options, most multi-nationals today use options in some form or another.