What is much riskier – Futures or Options?


Looks like the discussion over what is riskier between Futures and Options is attracting more attention, and rightly so because the word ‘risk’ sends a wave of alertness amongst the traders and investors. We, by highlighting the core difference between the two, seek to take away the streak of panic from the state of alertness.

Future & Options: at a glance.

Both are derivative products, with their values derived from underlying assets, which can be stocks, commodities, currencies and so on. These products are designed to allow market participants to either lock in the price at a future date or put their bets on future price movements of an asset. E.g., if one expects prices of gold to rise, and hence buys a Futures contract to benefit from the potential rise in the prices; the risk begins. This means, if instead of rising, the prices fall, the buyer of the contract will lose as they are obligated to buy at the locked-in price. These losses can be unlimited depending on the magnitude of the fall in gold prices. In order to mitigate such unlimited risks of the Futures contracts, Options were born!

Now let’s understand what is an Options contract. In simple terms, it’s a right to buy or sell an underlying asset at a specific price for a specific date. This right to buy or sell an asset is given by the seller of the option to the buyer of the option. The right to buy an asset is a Call Option and the right to sell is a Put Option.

So, we understood that even in Options; there’s a Seller of the Option who gives the right to buy or sell an underlying asset to the Buyer of the Option. In other words, the Buyer of the Option has a right and the Seller of the Option has an obligation. Now whenever there’s an obligation, there’s a risk. Hence, Option Sellers also carry absolute risk just like Futures traders. Option Buyers, however, carry limited risk to the extent of the premium paid and may earn unlimited gain if the underlying asset moves in their favour.

In simple terms, in the F&O market, the risk of the Buyer is the gain of the Seller and vice-versa.

In a nutshell,

Limited Risk  Unlimited Risk 
Options Buying (only to the extent of the premium paid)

Futures Buying

Futures Selling

Options Selling

There are ways to mitigate the unlimited risk involved by employing various F&O strategies. We will discuss the same at a later date.

Limited Reward Unlimited Reward
Options Selling (only to the extent of the premium received)

Futures Buying

Futures Selling

Options Buying

So, what’s riskier? Futures or Options?

1. Buying Options is less risky as the risk is limited to the premium paid.

2. Selling options is riskier than buying options as it involves unlimited risk.

3. Futures buying or selling is even riskier if done without a proper strategy.

Now let’s understand why Futures without a strategy are riskier than Option selling.

Futures tend to be riskier as they are directly aligned to the asset prices and their volatility. On the other hand, Options react differently to the underlying asset price movements and allow you relatively more time to manoeuvre and curtail losses.

Further, the critical difference between Futures vs. Options Selling is the Premium received by the Options Seller which gives them an extra cushion for manoeuvring the trade and reducing the risk to the extent of the premium collected. In other words, although both involve unlimited risk, in Options selling, the same is reduced due to the premium collected. As the price of the underlying asset or security changes, the Options premium changes although less proportionately.

Important Considerations

F&O, truly a double-edged sword, must be used to reduce your risk, and improve your gains and not otherwise. Applying strategies by efficiently using Options to cover the risk, helps immensely.

It’s similar to a war situation where warriors with protective armour (read F&O strategies) have better chances of winning because their exposure to hits & blows is limited, which makes them a little less vulnerable. Beginners must begin with just 10% of their capital for trading in F&O, gain knowledge on how best to trade and be a part of 5% who gain what 95% lose.

Trident / Trishul of Technical analysis, Options Analysis and F&O strategies will not only put the odds of success in your favour but also reduce the risk and optimise your reward!

(Author: Avadhut Sathe, Financial Trader, Trainer and Mentor, Founder, Avadhut Sathe Trading Academy)

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