It’s amazing how many people who are just entering into the realm of commodity options trading don’t seem to keep in mind the basic factor that makes options do what they do, and that’s volatility. If you understand the effect that volatility has on the options market, you will understand how sometimes extraordinary profits can be pulled from trading commodity options with very little relative investment. When you trade options, you are basically trading volatility, nothing more, nothing less. There’s no such thing as a “stable” option. Remember the option is only going to be as stable as the futures contract that the option represents. If there’s a whirlwind of speculation going on in the futures contracts (a la crude oil), you can guarantee automatically that option writers are padding their premiums to compensate for any potential moves that the market might make against them. Simply put, volatility is the measure of “nervousness” that’s in the markets, based on a sense of uncertainty as far as what the futures prices might do, or where those prices might go. Volatility is basically reflected in the sharp rises and drops in option premiums, and the degree of fluctuation that those premiums experience. If you use it right, volatility can be your best friend. Once you understand a little about market psychology, you can truly exploit volatility to create some serious profits in a relatively short period of time. That’s one thing that I emphasize to people when I talk about commodity option trading, is the fact that you have to be ready to “strike while the iron is hot”. Unfortunately, options trading is not something you can do as a “set and forget” type of investment; it requires your active involvement. Reason being is because there are opportunities that crop up in the options markets all the time, but if you hesitate, or fail to recognize the opportunity when it’s staring you in the face, you will definitely miss out on the whole enchilada.
Before I get sidetracked, let me mention the fact that there are two types of volatility in commodity options trading (and really all options trading for that matter): Historical and implied. Historical volatility is basically the “track record” of a given futures market’s price swings. In other words, how stable (or unstable) have market prices been throughout history? There are all kinds of charting tools to measure historical volatility, and it’s good to study them to get a “feel” for how a market’s prices will have regular peaks and valleys, especially more seasonal-based commodities like the grains (corn, wheat, soybeans, etc.) and for the most part the softs (coffee, sugar, cocoa, etc.). Implied volatility is the kicker-it’s basically the market’s guess at how stable (or unstable) prices will be in the future. The basic reason why it is important to understand volatility is because it will tell you what your best plan of action is, as far as what type of position to take in the markets. If you expect volatility to increase, it’s NOT a good idea to write options. Conversely, if you expect volatility to decrease, buying options will prove to be a disappointment, because time decay will “do its dirty work” on the option’s premium, and you’ll see your profits (if any) eroding away right with it. So, to put it in a positive light, if you believe that volatility will increase, it’s better to buy options, and if you believe that volatility will decrease, it’s better to sell (or write) options.
Well, I have to sign off for now; I’m actually about 20,000 feet in the air, making my descent into Atlanta. I just thought that I would take the time to post some more thoughts about commodity options trading while I was in flight…it’s amazing how (and when) inspiration will hit.
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