A stock option is a contract that gives investors the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell 100 shares of stock at a strike price by a set expiration date. A “call option” enables investors to “lock in” a price for a particular stock (the strike price) for a premium. If the stock price goes above the strike price by enough to cover the premium paid for the “call option” and any commission fees, the investor will make a profit. Should the stock price never reach that strike amount, the investor only loses the premium, and any commissions paid. In other words, “call options” have unlimited potential profit with minimal risk, which makes them good investments during bull markets, where returns continue to outperform historical norms.
A “put option”, however, is a better investment option during bear markets, when returns are below historical averages. A “put option” gives the holder the right (but not the obligation) to sell 100 shares of stock at the strike price to the writer of the option.
In other words, the writer of the option is betting that the stock price will rise above the strike price. Using the “buy put” stock option investment strategy means that you are betting that stock prices will go down—and the lower the better!
The more “bearish” you feel about the market, the better the “buy put” stock option strategy becomes. Thus, for the price of the premium, the investor locks in the right to sell the 100 shares of stock reserved by the option to the writer at strike price. The lower the stock price goes, the more profitable the option becomes. The investor would be acquiring the 100 shares of stock at a cheaper price (if he/she does not already own it), but is guaranteed to sell the option to the writer for the (higher) strike amount. The larger the gap between the actual stock price and the strike amount (at time of expiration or when the option is exercised), the greater the profit.
The maximum loss for an investor using the “buy put” stock option investment approach is the premium paid plus commission fees. If the expiration date arrives and the stock price remains above the strike price, then the loss is total, and the option is worthless. The break-even point for a “buy put” option is the exercise amount of the stock, minus the premium and commissions.
“Buy put” options are also susceptible to decay, as their value continues to decrease as the expiration date grows nearer. The only variable that affects decay is the overall volatility of stock prices. When the market is more volatile, the rate of decay will slow. However, when prices are steady and consistent, the rate of decay will actually increase, since predictable prices mean that the time decay is also predictable. For investors who believe that they are in a bearish market, however, the “buy put” stock option investment strategy may be a good one with limited downside.