Understanding Currency Options
An important tool used by businesses to reduce the risk of trading in goods overseas and by Forex traders to hedge transactions is the currency option, which is a contract which gives the holder of the contract the right, but not the obligation, to either buy or sell a specified currency during the period of the contract. A contract giving the holder the right to buy is known as a ‘call’ option, while a contract which gives the holder the right to sell is termed a ‘put’ option.
The value of an option contract at its expiry date is the value which is realized by the holder in exercising his option at that point. If, for example, the holder would gain nothing by exercising his option then the contract would have no value and the contract would simply lapse without the holder exercising his option. The value at any other point in time, which is referred to as the contract’s ‘intrinsic value’ is the value which could be realized if the holder were to exercise his option.
The intrinsic value of a contract is based upon the ‘strike price’ specified within the contract. For example, the holder of a call option (the right to buy) will have intrinsic value in his contract if the current, or spot, price of the contract currency is higher than the strike price. In other words it has value because, if he exercises his option under the contract, he can buy at the strike price which is below the current market price.
An option contract which has intrinsic value is said to be ‘in the money’, while a contract on which you would lose money be exercising your option is said to be ‘out of the money’. If you would neither gain nor lose then your contract is ‘at the money’ or ‘at par’.
The pricing of option contracts is a complicated business using a formula which looks at both the current value (spot value) of the currency and a time value, calculated on the basis of market expectations, volatility and any difference in interest rates between the two currencies specified in the contract. Remember, that a contract might give you the option to buy a currency at a certain price but it will also need to specify the currency being used to pay for the transaction. The secret in pricing an option is to set the price low enough to attract buyers, but also to set it high enough to attract sellers and guarantors for the contract, often referred to as the contract’s ‘writers’.
When it comes to Forex trading, options can be used to reduce the risk of unexpected movements in the market. In this case, if you buy and option then your losses will be limited simply to the price of the option. However, if you are selling options, then your losses can be more substantial and are potentially unlimited.
Forex trader also commonly use a special form of option known as a digital option which pays a specified sum on expiry as long as certain criteria are met and otherwise pays nothing. In using digital options traders judge the direction in which the market is moving and then decide upon a specific payout if the market moves according to their expectations within a given time frame. If that sound complicated then perhaps an example will help.
Let’s suppose that the UK pound is currently trading at 1.58 and that you expect it to be trading at 1.62 in 3 months’ time. You then buy a digital option which costs say $600 and has a payoff of $4,000. If at the end of 3 months the UK pound is trading above 1.62 then you receive $4,000 and if it is trading at less than 1.62 you receive nothing and lose your original investment of $600.