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Are Futures Riskier Than Options

Sep 16, 2008
Let's face it, derivative trading is risky. Period.

Derivatives such as futures and options are leverage instruments and by virtue of being leverage instruments, derivatives inherently carry more risk and exposure than pure and simple stock trading. Leverage instruments are risky because leverage allows you to do more with the same amount of money than you would normally be able to. Yes, leverage instruments such as futures and options have the potential to generate over 10 times more profit on the same move on the price of a stock than just buying the stock itself.

What most beginners to derivatives trading do not take into consideration is the fact that leverage is a double edged sword. Just as it could help you generate over 10 times more profits on the same move, it could also incur as much losses should the stock move against your favor. This is also why many beginners to futures or options trading lose their shirts so quickly and go broke.

So, why is futures and options trading still so popular then?

Very simply, most beginners with only a small fund and wants to build up a significant fund quickly could not depend on simple stock trading for a start. They need more leverage and they can afford to take more risk since the amount at stake is usually pretty small. With this in mind, the only question that remains is, which is safer for beginners? Futures or Options?

To determine which is riskier, we need to ascertain certain the qualities that constitutes "Risk". For derivative instruments, the main qualities that constitute trading risk are: Leverage, Liability, Liquidity and Versatility (fulfillment obligation is usually not a concern in trading as traders rarely hold till expiration).

Liquidity in the stock futures and stock options market is definitely lower than the stocks themselves but is enough for the trading purpose of retail beginners and shall be excluded in this discussion.

Leverage

Leverage of futures and options is the multiplication effect on your money versus buying the underlying stock itself. We shall not go into detailed discussion on how leverage is being calculated for futures and options here. It suffices to know that the higher the leverage, the higher your potential profits and losses becomes. Leverage in futures is a lot higher than the leverage in stock options due to the much higher lot size and low margin requirement. This makes futures trading riskier than options trading in terms of potential losses due to leverage.

Find out how leverage is calculated in options trading at http://www.optiontradingpedia.com/options_leverage.htm .

Liability

Liability here means the maximum amount of loss you bear when things go wrong. Yes, we all make wrong investment decisions all the time and derivative trading is no exception. When you buy stock options, the maximum loss you can sustain is the amount of money you used in purchasing those stock options. When things go wrong, those stock options become worthless and you can lose no more than that. However, in futures trading, you are exposed to unlimited liability and will be made to top up your trading account with the daily loss amount in what is called a "Margin Call". As long as your position continues to go south, you continue to top up your losses until you go broke or the stock gets to the bottom. Either way, you could have lost all your fortune in one go. That risk along with the fact that you have higher leverage in futures trading makes futures trading a lot riskier than options trading.

Versatility

Versatility here refers to the ability to profit in more than one direction. Logic says that if you can profit in more than one direction, risk is much lower than when you can only profit in one direction, right? Yes, stock options trading is highly versatile as there are options strategies that can be created to profit from 2 or more directions! Futures trading is basically single directional. You are either the short or the long. Never both, unless used in combination with the underlying stock, which increases capital requirement and defeats the purpose of leverage.

Get a full list of Options Strategies at http://www.optiontradingpedia.com/options_strategy_library.htm .

In conclusion, futures trading is riskier than options trading for the retail beginner to derivatives trading because of higher leverage, unlimited liability and lower versatility. This is also why options trading is slowly taking over as the derivative instrument of choice for the beginner derivatives trader. To learn all about options trading, please visit http://www.optiontradingpedia.com .
About the Author
Jason Ng is the Founder and Chief Option Strategist of Masters 'O' Equity Asset Management ( MastersoEquity.com ) and author of OptionTradingPedia.com . He is a fund manager specializing in options trading and his revolutionary Star Trading System has helped thousands.
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