A:

The incorporation of options into all types of investment strategies has quickly grown in popularity among individual investors. For beginner traders, one of the main questions that arises is why traders would wish to sell options rather than to buy them. The selling of options confuses many investors because the obligations, risks and payoffs involved are different from those of the standard long option.

To understand why an investor would choose to sell an option, you must first understand what type of option it is that he or she is selling, and what kind of payoff he or she is expecting to make when the price of the underlying moves in the desired direction.

Selling a put option - An investor would choose to sell a put option if her outlook on the underlying security was that it was going to rise. The purchaser of a put option pays a premium to the writer (seller) for the right to sell the shares at an agreed upon price in the event that the price heads lower. Since the premium would be kept by the seller if the price closed above the agreed upon strike price, it is easy to see why an investor would choose to use this type of strategy. (To learn more, see Introduction To Put Writing.)

Selling a call option without owning the underlying asset - An investor would choose to sell a call option if his outlook on a specific asset was that it was going to fall. The purchaser of a call option pays a premium to the writer for the right to buy the underlying at an agreed upon price in the event that the price of the asset is above the strike price. In this case, the option seller would get to keep the premium if the price closed below the strike price. (For more on this strategy, see Naked Call Writing.)

Another reason why investors may sell options is to incorporate them into other types of option strategies. For example, if an investor wishes to sell out of his or her position in a stock when the price rises above a certain level, he or she can incorporate what is known as a covered call strategy. (To learn more, see Come One, Come All - Covered Calls.) Many advanced options strategies - iron condor, bull call spread, bull put spread, iron butterfly - will likely require an investor to sell options.

To learn more about options, see our Options Basics Tutorial.

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