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Options tips from pros

Evaluate the potential impact of volatility. Consider dividends. Manage your risk.

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It takes knowledge and experience to trade options successfully. One of the best ways to get the know-how that's needed to navigate the world of options is by learning from some of the most experienced options traders around.

On May 8, 2018, Fidelity hosted an event in Atlanta, Georgia focused on ways to use options in today's market. The presentation featured Joe Burgoyne, director of institutional and retail education for the Options Industry Council and previously a floor operations manager at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, Michael McCrary, regional brokerage consultant with Fidelity Investments, and Greg Stevens, vice president with Fidelity Investments.

A few of their top tips: Consider volatility, dividends, and manage your risk.

Assessing your options

Trading options is more complex than simply buying or selling a stock. Even the language of options—words like calls, puts, premium, and roll—can sound foreign at first. So, options may not be right for everyone. However, with education and experience, it's possible to learn how these investments work, and in what ways they may help you invest the portion of your portfolio that you manage personally.

Every investment plan should include an assessment of your individual goals, risk constraints, time horizon, tax constraints, and liquidity needs. Options have unique characteristics and risks, and should be carefully considered within the context of your overall investing plan. Investors can trade options if they sign an options agreement and are accepted to trade options by a brokerage firm.

Before trading options, it's particularly important to know how much risk you are willing to take. "For many investors, and especially those just starting out with options, it's vital to know what kind of investor you are," Burgoyne stresses. "For instance, what type of risk are you comfortable with? And how thoroughly do you understand the way options work? The answers to these questions can help you decide if options are right for you, as well as the types of options strategies that might best align with your objectives and risk constraints."

Use volatility to your advantage

An often overlooked aspect of options trading by many new investors is the impact of volatility—a factor that Burgoyne frequently highlights the importance of evaluating. "Quite a number of people I speak with don't realize that, even if a stock that you have bought or sold an options contract on moves in the direction that you want it to, that option may not always reflect the stock's move," Burgoyne says.

"The reason is oftentimes a change in implied volatility." As it relates to options, implied volatility is the market's expectation for future volatility. So, a stock might move in the direction that you want it to, based on your option position, but an increase or decrease in expected volatility that may have caused the stock to move could positively or negatively impact the price of the option—known as the premium.

"You can help put yourself in position for success by getting familiar with how both implied volatility as well as historical volatility factor into the price of an option," Burgoyne says. "Always remember to put an options' current level of volatility in perspective. For example, be careful when buying an option with current implied volatility at the high end of its past range, as well as when selling an option with current implied volatility at the low end of its past range."

Moreover, implied volatility can help you find the right options contract among all of the available choices. "I'm often asked how to determine if an option is attractively priced. Well, an option being relatively over or undervalued is largely determined by its implied volatility relative to past ranges," Burgoyne notes.

He points to the straddle as one of the more popular strategies that is designed to capitalize on the expectation for higher implied volatility and a relatively large move in either direction. A straddle involves buying a call and a put option with the same strike price; essentially, you are looking for an increase in implied volatility. This strategy offers limited risk and unlimited reward, and the breakeven is either the call strike price plus premium paid or the put strike price minus premium paid.

One tool that you can use to help generate investing ideas based on volatility is the Trading Ideas tab on Fidelity.com's option research page.

Look for dividends

One pitfall that some new options traders can fall prey to is focusing solely on their expectation for the direction that an underlying stock of an option will move. While that is of critical importance, the potential impact of dividends upon options is another one of those nuances that it's important to be familiar with—especially when selling options.

"Before initiating an options trade, know if the stock pays a dividend," says McCrary. "If it does, you have to examine if the option is in the money [which is to say that it could be worth exercising] or close to it as expiration approaches." If the dividend is greater than the time value of the option (see What is time value? sidebar), then the stock could be assigned (meaning the owner of the option could exercise the option in order to earn the dividend payment, and you would be forced to sell the stock).

Fortunately, you may not necessarily get stuck with being assigned in this scenario. "You may have a choice in advance of that dividend payment," McCrary notes. "You could wait and see if the stock will be assigned, or, you could close the position and roll it out to a later month to potentially avoid assignment." In fact, almost two-thirds of all options are closed out before they expire. This is one of the many ways that you can manage your risk with options.

Manage risk

When it comes to options, it can be particularly important to manage your positions actively and change course as needed.

"An options trade is an actively managed strategy, which is to say that you don't want to set it and forget it," Stevens notes. "When an options trade is open, there are several choices you may make throughout the life of the contract—including closing out the trade, letting the option expire, and if you still want to be in the position, rolling it out." Of course, if you sell an option, assignment is out of your control.

  • Closing out a trade can involve taking an offsetting position. For example, if you purchased a call option, you could sell an identical call option to effectively close the trade out.
  • Letting an option expire is when an options contract reaches its expiration date without being exercised, and is possible if you purchase or sell a call or put.
  • Rolling out an option involves closing out an option that is about to expire and simultaneously purchasing a similar trade with a later expiration date.
  • Assignment can happen if you sell an option—meaning you might have to receive or deliver shares of the underlying stock.
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Options trading entails significant risk and is not appropriate for all investors. Certain complex options strategies carry additional risk. Before trading options, please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options. Supporting documentation for any claims, if applicable, will be furnished upon request.
There are additional costs associated with option strategies that call for multiple purchases and sales of options, such as spreads, straddles, and collars, as compared with a single option trade.
Greeks are mathematical calculations used to determine the effect of various factors on options.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Votes are submitted voluntarily by individuals and reflect their own opinion of the article's helpfulness. A percentage value for helpfulness will display once a sufficient number of votes have been submitted.

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