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What is a 'Currency Option'

A currency option is a contract that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a certain currency at a specified exchange rate on or before a specified date. For this right, a premium is paid to the seller, the amount of which varies depending on the number of contracts if the option is bought on an exchange, or on the nominal amount of the option if it is done on the over-the-counter market. Currency options are one of the most common ways for corporations, individuals or financial institutions to hedge against adverse movements in exchange rates.

BREAKING DOWN 'Currency Option'

Investors can hedge against foreign currency risk by purchasing a currency put or call. There are two main types of options, calls and puts:

Call options provide the holder the right (but not the obligation) to purchase an underlying asset at a specified price (the strike price), for a certain period of time. If the stock fails to meet the strike price before the expiration date, the option expires and becomes worthless. Investors buy calls when they think the share price of the underlying security will rise or sell a call if they think it will fall. Selling an option is also referred to as ''writing'' an option.

Put options give the holder the right to sell an underlying asset at a specified price (the strike price). The seller (or writer) of the put option is obligated to buy the stock at the strike price. Put options can be exercised at any time before the option expires. Investors buy puts if they think the share price of the underlying stock will fall, or sell one if they think it will rise. Put buyers - those who hold a "long" - put are either speculative buyers looking for leverage or "insurance" buyers who want to protect their long positions in a stock for the period of time covered by the option. Put sellers hold a "short" expecting the market to move upward (or at least stay stable) A worst-case scenario for a put seller is a downward market turn. The maximum profit is limited to the put premium received and is achieved when the price of the underlying is at or above the option's strike price at expiration. The maximum loss is unlimited for an uncovered put writer.

Basics

Options pricing has several components. The strike is the rate at which the owner of the option is able to buy the currency if the investor is long a call, or sell it if the investor is long a put. At the expiration date of the option, which is sometimes referred to as the maturity date, the strike price is compared to the then-current spot rate. Depending on the type of option and where the spot rate is trading, in relation to the strike, the option is exercised or expires worthless. If the option expires in the money, the currency option is cash settled. If the option expires out of the money, it expires worthless.

Example

Let's say an investor is bullish on the euro and believes it will increase against the U.S. dollar. The investor purchases a currency call option on the euro with a strike price of $115, since currency prices are quoted as 100 times the exchange rate. When the investor purchases the contract, the spot rate of the euro is equivalent to $110. Assume the euro's spot price at the expiration date is $118. Consequently, the currency option is said to have expired in the money. Therefore, the investor's profit is $300, or (100 * ($118 - $115)), less the premium paid for the currency call option.

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