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Options are financial instruments that are derivatives based on the value of underlying securities such as stocks. An options contract offers the buyer the opportunity to buy or sell—depending on the type of contract they hold—the underlying asset. Unlike futures, the holder is not required to buy or sell the asset if they choose not to.
Call options allow the holder to buy the asset at a stated price within a specific timeframe.
Put options allow the holder to sell the asset at a stated price within a specific timeframe.
Each option contract will have a specific expiration date by which the holder must exercise their option. The stated price on an option is known as the strike price. Options are typically bought and sold through online or retail brokers.
Options are a versatile financial product. These contracts involve a buyer and a seller, where the buyer pays an options premium for the rights granted by the contract. Each call option has a bullish buyer and a bearish seller, while put options have a bearish buyer and a bullish seller.
Options contracts usually represent 100 shares of the underlying security, and the buyer will pay a premium fee for each contract. For example, if an option has a premium of 35 cents per contract, buying one option would cost $35 ($0.35 x 100 = $35). The premium is partially based on the strike price—the price for buying or selling the security until the expiration date. Another factor in the premium price is the expiration date. Just like with that carton of milk in the refrigerator, the expiration date indicates the day the option contract must be used. The underlying asset will determine the use-by date. For stocks, it is usually the third Friday of the contract's month.
Traders and investors will buy and sell options for several reasons. Options speculation allows a trader to hold a leveraged position in an asset at a lower cost than buying shares of the asset. Investors will use options to hedge or reduce the risk exposure of their portfolio. In some cases, the option holder can generate income when they buy call options or become an options writer. Options are also one of the most direct ways to invest in oil. For options traders, an option's daily trading volume and open interest are the two key numbers to watch in order to make the most well-informed investment decisions.
American options can be exercised any time before the expiration date of the option, while European options can only be exercised on the expiration date or the exercise date. Exercising means utilizing the right to buy or sell the underlying security.