Beginning Option TradingA Brief Introduction to Commodity Option Trading

The world of commodity options is diverse and cannot be given justice in a short article such as this. The purpose of this writing is to simply introduce the topic of options on futures. Should you want to learn commodity options trading strategies in more detail, please consider purchasing "Commodity Options" published by FT Press at

Why Trade Commodity Options?

Just as there are several ways to skin a cat, there are an unlimited number of option trading strategies available in the futures markets. The method that you choose should be based on your personality, risk capital and risk aversion. Plainly, if you don't have an aggressive personality and a high tolerance for pain, you probably shouldn't be employing a futures and options trading strategy that involves elevated risks. Doing so will often results in panic liquidation of trades at inopportune times as well as other unsound emotional decisions.

Commodity options provide a flexible and effective way to trade in the futures markets. Further, options on futures offer investors the ability to capitalize on leverage while still giving them the ability to manage risk. For example, through the combination of long and short call and put options in the commodity markets, an investor can design a trading strategy that fits their needs and expectations; such an arrangement is referred to as an option spread. Keep in mind that the possibilities are endless and will ultimately be determined by a trader's objectives, time horizon, market sentiment, and risk tolerance.


What is a Commodity Option?

There are two types of commodity options, a call option and a put option. Understanding what each of these is and how they work will help you determine when and how to use them. The buyer of a commodity option pays a premium (payment) to the seller of the option for the right, not the obligation, to take delivery of the underlying commodity futures contract (exercise). This financial value is treated as an asset, although eroding, to the option buyer and a liability to the seller.

There are two sides to every option trade, a buyer and a seller. Each of these sides experiences the opposite outcome; if the option buyer is making money the option seller is losing money in the identical increment, and vice versa.

Traders that are willing to accept considerable amounts of risk with the prospects of limited reward, can write (or sell) options, collecting the premium and taking advantage of the well-known belief that more options than not expire worthless. The premium collected by a commodity option seller is seen as a liability until the option is either offset (by buying it back), or it expires. This is because as long as the option position is open (the trader is short the commodity option), there is substantial risk exposure. Should the futures price trade beyond the strike price of the option, the risk is similar to holding a commodity futures contract outright.

On the other hand, commodity option buyers are exposed to limited risk and unlimited profit potential, but they also face dismal odds of success on each individual speculation. For this reason, we often refer to the practice of buying options in the commodity markets as the purchase of a lottery ticket. It probably won’t pay off but if it does the potential gain is considerable. Conversely to the commodity option seller, an option buyer views the position as an asset (not a liability) until it is sold or expires. This is because any long option held in a commodity trading account has the potential to provide a return to the trader, even if that potential is small.

• Call Options – Give the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy the underlying at the stated strike price within a specific period of time. Conversely, the seller of a call option is obligated to deliver a long position in the underlying futures contract from the strike price should the buyer opt to exercise the option. Essentially, this means that the seller would be forced to take a short position in the market upon expiration.

• Put Options – Give the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to sell the underlying at the stated strike price within a specific period of time. The seller of a put option is obligated to deliver a short position from the strike price (accept a long futures position) in the case that the buyer chooses to exercise the option. Keep in mind that delivering a short futures contract simply means being long from the strike price.

Commodity Option Diagram


When to use Commodity Options?

Options on futures spreads, or even outright short calls and puts, can be useful in any commodity market environment. However, we believe that the best option trading opportunities present themselves during times of extreme prices.

In our opinion, commodity markets coming off of long-term highs or lows typically present traders with an extraordinary prospect. However, it is important to realize that just because a commodity seems "cheap" doesn't mean that it can't go lower. Likewise, while we would never advocate buying (or being bullish with options) a commodity at an all time high, it is always possible that prices can continue higher but generally speaking options in such an environment are over-priced. As a result, they come with magnificently low odds of success.

Whereas price extremes have no boundaries, they don't last forever, eventually commodity market supply and demand factors will bring prices back to a more equilibrium state. Accordingly, while caution is warranted at extreme levels it is often a good time to be constructing counter trend trades as it could be one of the most advantageous times in history to be involved in a market. For instance, similar to the idea of call options being over-priced when a market is at an extreme high, the puts might be abnormally cheap. Once again, your personal situation would determine whether an unlimited risk or limited risk option strategy should be utilized. Please realize that identifying extreme pricing scenarios is easy, it is much more difficult to predict the timing necessary to convert it into a profitable venture.

In search of a promising commodity option trade, it is important to look at whether or not the options are priced fairly. Option prices fluctuate according to supply and demand in the underlying commodity market. At times, options on futures prices become inflated or undervalued relative to theoretical models such as Black and Scholes. For example, during the "crash" of 2008 the value of put options exploded as traders scrambled to buy insurance for their stock portfolios or simply wanted to wager that the equity market would go down forever. The increase in option premium was partly due to inflated volatility but increased demand for the instruments had a lot to do with it. Those that chose to purchase put options at inopportune times and at overvalued prices, likely didn't fair very well.
To reiterate, buying options in times of low volatility could prove to be advantageous should the volatility increase sharply. On the other hand, a lack of deviation in the price of the underlying asset will produce lower market volatility and even cheaper option premiums. Once again, pricing is relative and dynamic; "cheap" doesn't mean that it can't get "cheaper".

Open your Mind to Option Selling in Commodities

It has been suggested by several conducted studies, including one by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, that far more options than not expire worthless. Using this assumption, we believe that in many circumstances it may be advantageous to be a net option seller in the

Options are a piece of the commodity puzzle

 commodity markets.

For instance, it is possible to construct an option strategy in the futures markets that is affordable without sacrificing the odds of success...but with the convenience comes theoretically unlimited risk. This is easier than it sounds, similar to the way you would borrow money to pay for a house or a car, you can borrow money from the exchange to pay for long commodity option trades. There are an unlimited number of combinations of self-financed trades but they are typically going to involve more short options than long options, or at least as much premium collected on the sold options than that paid for the longs. In essence, the money brought in through the sale of the short options goes to pay for the futures options that are purchased. The result is a relatively close-to-the-money option with little out of pocket expense but theoretically unlimited risk beyond the strike price of the naked short options.

The Bottom Line on Futures on Options Trading

Options on futures contracts are exactly what the name implies, they give traders "options". They are capable of being used in nearly every commodity market scenario and with variable risk and reward profiles. Too many traders fail to tap the true potential and flexibility of option spreads due to their seemingly complex nature; however, things aren't always as they appear. We strongly believe that you owe it to yourself to overcome your fear of trading commodity options and open your mind to the possibilities.


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