Online Trading Concepts

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Buying Call Options

Buying call options is a bullish strategy using leverage and is a risk-defined alternative to buying stock. Foregoing the abstract "call options give the buyer the right but not the obligation to call away stock", a practical illustration will be given:

  1. A trader is very bullish on a particular stock trading at $50.
  2. The trader is either risk-averse, wanting to know before hand their maximum loss or wants greater leverage than simply owning stock.
  3. The trader expects the stock to move above $53.10 in the next 30 days.

Given those expectations, the trader selects the $52.50 call option strike price which is trading for $0.60. For this example, the trader will buy only 1 option contract (Note: 1 contract is for 100 shares) so the total cost will be $60 ($0.60 x 100 shares/contract). The graph below of this hypothetical stock is given below:

Buy Call Option risk and reward

There are numerous reasons to be bullish: the price chart shows very bullish action (stock is moving upwards); the trader might have used other indicators like MACD (see: MACD), Stochastics (see: Stochastics) or any other technical or fundamental reason for being bullish on the stock.

Options Offer Defined Risk

When a call option is purchased, the trader instantly knows the maximum amount of money they can possibly lose. The max loss is always the premium paid to own the option contract; in this example, $60. Whether the stock falls to $5 or $50 a share, the call option holder will only lose the amount they paid for the option. This is the risk-defined benefit often discussed about as a reason to trade options.

Options offer Leverage

The other benefit is leverage. When a stock price is above its breakeven point (in this example, $53.10) the option contract at expiration acts exactly like stock. To illustrate, if a 100 shares of stock moves $1, then the trader would profit $100 ($1 x $100). Likewise, above $53.10, the options breakeven point, if the stock moved $1, then the option contract would move $1, thus making $100 ($1 x $100) as well. Remember, to buy the stock, the trader would have had to put up $5,000 ($50/share x 100 shares). The trader in this example, only paid $60 for the call option.

Options require Timing

The important part about selecting an option and option strike price, is the trader's exact expectations for the future. If the trader expects the stock to move higher, but only $1 higher, then buying the $52.50 strike price would be foolish. This is because at expiration, if the stock price is anywhere below $52.50, whether it be $20 or $52.49, the call option will expire worthless. If a trader was correct on their prediction that the stock would move higher by $1, they would still have lost.

Likewise, if the stock moved to $53 the day after the call option expired, the trader still would have lost all their premium paid for the option. Simply stated, when buying options, you need to predict the correct direction of stock movement, the size of the stock movement, and the time period the stock movement will occur; this is more complicated then stock buying, when all a person is doing is predicting the correct direction of a stock move.

Next Page - Call Option Profit & Loss Graph