An Introduction to Options and Futures Trading

By: Larry Haywood
In the world of finances, futures and options are classed as "derivatives". They are financial instruments whose prices are calculated by the price of another underlying asset or security. Generally, futures and options are used to guard against risk and for speculative roles. Whenever an investor from Europe purchases shares of an American company on the NYSE, for instance, he is exposed to some stock price fluctuations and currency exchange rate risks. To minimize his overall degree of risk, the investor can purchase currency options to make certain the exchange rate is fixed when he sells off the stock and converts the American dollars back into euros. We will now take a better look at how futures and options work.


A future is merely an agreement to purchase or sell an asset for a preset price at a specified date in the future. A future's fundamental asset can be, amongst a lot of other things, an agricultural commodity, individual shares, stock market indices, bonds, and interest rates. A future contract will have fixed delivery dates, traded units, and other clearly defined terms and conditions.

For illustrative purposes, let's imagine that you'll "open" a futures position by either purchasing or trading an equity futures contract where the underlying asset are shares.

Whenever you're anticipating the price of the stock to go upwards in the near future, you will purchase a futures contract that will oblige you to receive a specified number of shares at a preset price on a certain date in the future. This is known as a long futures position. If, on the other hand, you're anticipating the price of the stock to go downwards in the near future, you'll sell a futures contract that will oblige you to deliver a specified number of shares at a preset price on a certain date in the future. This is known as a short futures position.

Like any other kind of investment, futures contracts carry a risk - that market prices may not go in the direction you thought they would. Nevertheless, they enable you to profit both in a rising and a descending market. When you invest in shares, you typically profit from purchasing low and selling high. But with a short futures position, you can still make money even if the stock price drops.


An option gives its holder the right to purchase (call option) or sell (put option) an underlying asset at a planned price before or on a particular date in the future. But unlike a futures contract, the holder of an option is not obligated to take any action. If the holder decides not to exercise the option, all he stands to lose is the premium he gave for it.

Imagine you currently have a number of shares of a specified company's stock and you plan on selling them in a month. If you anticipate the share price to drop in this one-month time period, you could purchase a put option that will give you the right to sell your shares at a preset price at any time within the next thirty days.

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