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Options & Strategies
Call options are financial contracts that give the option buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy a stock, bond, commodity, or other asset or instrument at a specified price within a specific time period. The stock, bond, or commodity is called the underlying asset. A call buyer profits when the underlying asset increases in price. A call option may be contrasted with a put option, which gives the holder the right to sell the underlying asset at a specified price on or before expiration.
Investors will consider buying call options if they are optimistic—or “bullish”—about the prospects of its underlying shares. For these investors, call options might provide a more attractive way to speculate on the prospects of a company because of the leverage that they provide. After all, each options contract provides the opportunity to buy 100 shares of the company in question. For an investor who is confident that a company’s shares will rise, buying shares indirectly through call options can be an attractive way to increase their purchasing power.
Buying calls is a bullish behavior because the buyer only profits if the price of the shares rises. Conversely, selling call options is a bearish behavior, because the seller profits if the shares do not rise. Whereas the profits of a call buyer are theoretically unlimited, the profits of a call seller are limited to the premium they receive when they sell the calls.
A strike price is a set price at which a derivative contract can be bought or sold when it is exercised. For call options, the strike price is where the security can be bought by the option holder; for put options, the strike price is the price at which the security can be sold. The strike price is also known as the exercise price.
The question of what strike price is most desirable will depend on factors such as the risk tolerance of the investor and the options premiums available from the market. For example, most investors will look for options whose strike prices are relatively close to the current market price of the security, based on the logic that those options have a higher probability of being exercised at a profit. At the same time, some investors will deliberately seek out options that are far out of the money—that is, options whose strike prices are very far from the market price—in the hopes of realizing very large returns if the options do become profitable.
Yes, the terms strike price and exercise price are synonymous. Some traders will use one term over the other, and may use the terms interchangeably, but their meanings are the same. Both terms are widely used in derivatives trading.
A put option is a contract giving the owner the right, but not the obligation, to sell–or sell short–a specified amount of an underlying security at a pre-determined price within a specified time frame. This pre-determined price that buyers of the put option can sell at is called the strike price. Put options are traded on various underlying assets, including stocks, currencies, bonds, commodities, futures, and indexes. A put option can be contrasted with a call option, which gives the holder the right to buy the underlying at a specified price, either on or before the expiration date of the options contract.
The term implied volatility refers to a metric that captures the market's view of the likelihood of changes in a given security's price. Investors can use implied volatility to project future moves and supply and demand, and often employ it to price options contracts. Implied volatility isn't the same as historical volatility (also known as realized volatility or statistical volatility), which measures past market changes and their actual results.
Future volatility is one of the inputs needed for options pricing models. The future, however, is unknown. The actual volatility levels revealed by options prices are therefore the market's best estimate of those assumptions. If somebody has a different view on future volatility relative to the implied volatility in the market, they can buy options (if they think future volatility will be higher) or sell options (if it will be lower).
Since implied volatility is embedded in an option's price, one needs to re-arrange an options pricing model formula to solve for volatility instead of the price (since the current price is known in the market).
Regardless of whether an option is a call or put, its price, or premium, will increase as implied volatility increases. This is because an option's value is based on the likelihood that it will finish in-the-money (ITM). Since volatility measures the extent of price movements, the more volatility there is the larger future price movements ought to be and, therefore, the more likely an option will finish ITM.
No, not necessarily. Downside put options tend to be more in demand by investors as hedges against losses. As a result, these options are often bid higher in the market than a comparable upside call (unless sometimes if the stock is a takeover target). As a result, there is more implied volatility in options with downside strikes than on the upside. This is known as the volatility skew or "smile."