How to Trade Puts & Calls

by Charlie Robinson ; Updated July 27, 2017

Options are classified as derivative contracts that are tied to an underlying asset, such as a stock, bond or futures contract. Call options give the buyer the right but not the obligation to buy a certain asset at a certain price; put options give the buyer the right but not the obligation to sell a certain asset at a certain price. For this reason, they are often used as insurance protection against open positions in one's portfolio. In addition to the risk protection they offer, options are often traded as an individual asset class by traders looking to take advantage of the leverage and extreme price moves they offer. It is not unusual for certain options contracts to double or even triple in one day, or for that matter, to go down by 50 percent in one day. It takes only a small percentage move in the underlying stock, bond or futures contract to create a sizable move in the option contract.

Options

Step 1

Find a broker. The first step to trading options is to find a broker who will give you access to the market. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is online through one of the many online discount brokerage houses.

Step 2

Do your research. Put options give you the right to sell a stock at a certain price, and call options give you the right to purchase a stock at a certain price. Puts can be used to protect open long positions or profit from a downward move in the price of underlying asset, while calls can be used to protect open short positions or to profit from a move higher in the price of the underlying asset. Know what you are buying before you make the purchase.

Step 3

Understand the cost of what you are buying. Stock options trade with a multiple of 100. This means that if an option is priced at $2, buying one contract means you have purchased a right to either buy or sell 100 shares of the stock, and so the cost basis of this contract will be $200.

Step 4

Use your software. Options are priced based on rather esoteric mathematical formulas. Good trading software will provide clients with an options pricer that calculates what the price of an option should be based on certain conditions. Be sure to utilize this feature when deciding the price at which to buy or sell an option.

Step 5

Remember volatility pricing. Options can be priced in volatility as well as dollars. The volatility reflects the overall desire in the market to purchase the option, so a higher volatility will mean a higher price. It is important to take into consideration both price and volatility when valuing an option.

Step 6

Sell options when the timing is right. When volatility is high, it is often a better idea to sell a call rather than buy a put. This way, you profit from a decrease in volatility as well as a fall in the price of the option. Just remember, selling a call is like shorting a stock: the potential loss is theoretically limitless

Step 7

Never sell a put. While it is OK to sell calls in certain situations, it is never a good idea to sell a naked or unprotected put. In the event of a market crash, being short a put would be disastrous.

Tips

  • Find a broker that offers low trade commissions, because options require more frequent trading than stocks to be profitable.

Warnings

  • Options are highly levered and in some cases rather illiquid; only market experts should trade them.

References

About the Author

Charlie Robinson graduated from Boston University, where he received Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and Spanish. His articles are largely informed by his experience as a web developer and as an independent equity trader. His favorite topic still remains NHL hockey, especially as it concerns the Boston Bruins.