One strategy for earning income with derivatives is selling options to collect premium amounts. Options often expire worthless, allowing the option seller to keep the entire premium amount. Although there is a decent opportunity for profit, selling options can entail a substantial amount of risk. Derivatives are financial contracts whose value is derived from underlying assets. Options, along with futures contracts and forward contracts, are some of the most common types of derivatives.
An option on a stock or exchange-traded fund (ETF) is a financial contract granting the buyer the right to purchase 100 shares of the underlying security at a certain strike price until the option’s expiration date. The option buyer is not required to exercise the option. The seller of the option is collecting a premium as compensation for the obligation to deliver the shares to the option holder if the option is exercised. By selling options, an investor can collect premium amounts as an income stream.
There are many different option selling strategies. One option strategy is selling covered calls. An investor who owns shares of a stock can sell call options with a strike price above the current trading price to collect the premium. If the option expires in the money, there is a likelihood the investor will need to deliver the shares to the option holder. If the price of the stock stays below the strike price until the option’s expiration date, the investor gets to keep the entire amount of the premium. This is a strategy with limited risk since the investor owns the shares of the underlying stock.
Selling naked options is another strategy that has unlimited risk. An investor sells options with no position in the underlying security and no other option to hedge the risk. If the option expires worthless, the investor gets to keep the entire premium amount. However, if the price goes against the sold option, losses can be substantial. (For related reading, see "Are Derivatives a Disaster Waiting to Happen?")