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Options on Futures

Learn about the different options with futures contracts.

Options on futures were introduced in the 1980s. An option contract allows you the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying futures contract at a particular price.

What does an option on a futures contract specify?

  • The commodity and the contract month of the futures contract
  • The right to buy or sell the futures contract.
  • The price at which the futures contract will be bought or sold.

Say that again!

An option is the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying futures contract at a specified price. For example, you could purchase an option to buy a December Swiss franc futures contract at 88¢ per Swiss franc (an option to buy is a “call” option).

What do you do once you buy the Swiss franc option? You watch price movement. Suppose the December Swiss franc futures price rises above 88¢. You could exercise the option and assume a long December Swiss franc futures contract. You would have bought futures contract at 88 that you could sell immediately at the higher price (buy low, sell high). But you don’t have to. With prices above 88¢, your option would have increased in value, so you could choose to offset it by selling back the same option at a profit. If the futures price falls below 88¢, the option would have decreased in value. Then you can simply forget about it and let it expire, losing the money you paid for it.

Puts and calls

There are special names for options, depending on whether the option is for the right to buy or sell a futures contract. A “put” option is the right, but not the obligation, to sell a futures contract at a particular price. A “call” option is the right, but not the obligation, to buy a futures contract at a particular price. These terms originated from the concept of putting a commodity on the market (selling) and calling a commodity from the market (buying).

Figure it out.

The futures price is 88 cents, a Swiss franc 90 call option would be:

  1. In the money
  2. At the money
  3. out of the money

Options Trading

In options trading, the buyer has a right, the seller has an obligation. An option buyer purchases the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell the underlying futures contract at a specified price. For every option bought, someone has to sell that option.

The Option Seller
A person can be an option seller (also called an option writer) who sells put or call options. An option seller assumes obligation when an option buyer exercises their right.

Options on futures contracts were first traded in October of 1982 when the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) began trading options on T-bond futures. Soon after, Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) opened its Index and Options Market (IOM) division which offered options on stock index futures, Eurodollar futures and T-bill futures. In that first year of 1982, only 177,350 options contracts were traded. Look at the growth that followed.

Options Contracts Traded (Numbers Rounded)

  • 1985 – – – 20 million
  • 1990 – – – 64 million
  • 1999 – – – 115 million

What options are traded?

Today at the U.S. exchanges, options are available on a great variety of futures contracts. These include the following commodity groups: Agricultural commodities, foreign currencies, interest rate products, equity indices, energy products and metals. More options are traded on interest rate futures than any other category.

Chicago’s role

As with futures trading, most of the options on futures contracts traded in the U.S. occur on the Chicago futures exchanges. The CBOT, CME and the MidAmerica Commodity Exchange trade over 85% of all options traded in the country. Almost 15% are traded at New York exchanges.

Additional Lessons

Contents Courtesy of CME Group.