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What is a 'Binary Option'

A binary option, or asset-or-nothing option, is type of option in which the payoff is structured to be either a fixed amount of compensation if the option expires in the money, or nothing at all if the option expires out of the money. The success of a binary option is thus based on a yes or no proposition, hence “binary”. A binary option automatically exercises, meaning the option holder does not have the choice to buy or sell the underlying asset.

BREAKING DOWN 'Binary Option'

Investors may find binary options attractive because of their apparent simplicity, especially since the investor must essentially only guess whether something specific will or will not happen. For example, a binary option may be as simple as whether the share price of ABC Company will be above $25 on November 22nd at 10:45 am. If ABC’s share price is $27 at the appointed time, the option automatically exercises and the option holder gets a preset amount of cash.

Difference Between Binary and Plain Vanilla Options

Binary options are significantly different from vanilla options. Plain vanilla options are a normal type of option that does not include any special features. A plain vanilla option gives the holder the right to buy or sell an underlying asset at a specified price on the expiration date, which is also known as a plain vanilla European option. While a binary option has special features and conditions, as stated previously.

Binary options are occasionally traded on platforms regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other regulatory agencies, but are most likely traded over the Internet on platforms existing outside of regulations. Because these platforms operate outside of regulations, investors are at greater risk of fraud. Conversely, vanilla options are typically regulated and traded on major exchanges.

For example, a binary options trading platform may require the investor to deposit a sum of money to purchase the option. If the option expires out-of-the-money, meaning the investor chose the wrong proposition, the trading platform may take the entire sum of deposited money with no refund provided.

Binary Option Real World Example

Assume the futures contracts on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (S&P 500) is trading at 2,050.50. An investor is bullish and feels that the economic data being released at 8:30 am will push the futures contracts above 2,060 by the close of the current trading day. The binary call options on the S&P 500 Index futures contracts stipulate that the investor would receive $100 if the futures close above 2,060, but nothing if it closes below. The investor purchases one binary call option for $50. Therefore, if the futures close above 2,060, the investor would have a profit of $50, or $100 - $50.

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