An advantage of options is that you can use gold options to attain a position in gold for less up-front capital than buying physical gold or gold futures. Gold options are available in the U.S. through the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), so if you've wondered how to invest in gold, here's a shorter-term and less capital intensive way to do it. 

Key Takeaways

  • Gold options are options contracts that utilize either physical gold or gold futures as their underlying instrument.
  • Call options on gold give the contract holder the right to buy the metal at a pre-set price before it expires, and put options the right to sell.
  • Gold options trading in the U.S. are listed on the CME COMEX and use gold futures (which in turn represent 100 troy oz. of gold) as its underlying asset.
  • Check with your broker to see if you have access to these markets through their platform.

Gold Calls and Puts

You can use options to profit whether gold prices rise or fall - or even stays the same. Believe the price of gold will rise? Buy a gold call option. A call option gives the right, but not the obligation, to buy gold at a specific price for a certain amount of time (expiry). The price you can buy gold at is called the strike price. If the price of gold rises above your strike price before the option expires, you make a profit. If the price of gold is below your strike price at expiry, you lose what you paid for the option, called the premium

Put options give the right, but not the obligation, to sell gold at a specific price (strike price) for a certain amount of time. If the price of gold falls below the strike price, you reap a profit of the difference between the strike price and current gold price (approximately). If the price of gold is above your strike price at expiry, your option is worthless and you lose the premium you paid for the option.

If you think the price of gold will not move very much for an extended period? You can write a covered call or sell a straddle to profit off of a sideways market.

It is not necessary to hold your option till expiry. Sell it at any time to lock in a profit or minimize a loss.

How to Trade Gold Options

To buy gold options traders need a margin brokerage account which allows trading in futures and options, provided by services such as Interactive Brokers, TD Ameritrade and others. Not all brokers will allow direct access to gold options markets, even with options trading you may be limited to options on stocks and ETFs (although you can use that ability to trade options on gold ETFs or mining stocks).

Check with your broker to see if they offer trading on gold options and futures, and if so what is required to get access to those markets.

Gold Options Specifications

Gold options are cleared through the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and its COMEX unit, trading under the symbol heading "OG". The value of the options is tied to the price of gold futures, which also trade on the CME. 40 individual strike prices are offered, in $5 increments above the below the the current gold price. The further the strike price from the current gold price, the cheaper the premium paid for the option, but the less chance there is that the option will be profitable before expiry. There are more than 20 expiry times to choose from, ranging from short-term to long-term. 

Each option contract controls 100 ounces of gold. If the cost of an option is $12, then the amount paid for the option is $12 x 100 = $1200. Buying a gold futures contract which controls 100 ounces requires $7,150 in initial margin. Buying physical gold requires the full cash outlay for each ounce purchased.

Gold options prices and volume data are found in the Quotes section of the CME website, or through the trading platform provided by an options broker.

The Bottom Line

Calls and puts allow traders a less capital intensive way to profit from gold uptrends or downtrends respectively. If the option expires worthless, the amount paid (premium) for the option is lost; risk is limited to this cost. Trading gold options requires a margin brokerage account with access to options.