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Kathleen Nurok


The forex options market started as an over-the-counter (OTC) financial vehicle for large banks, financial institutions and large international corporations to hedge against foreign currency exposure. Like the forex spot market, the forex options market is considered an "interbank" market. However, with the plethora of real-time financial data and forex option trading software available to most investors through the internet, today's forex option market now includes an increasingly large number of individuals and corporations who are speculating and/or hedging foreign currency exposure via telephone or online forex trading platforms. Forex option trading has emerged as an alternative investment vehicle for many traders and investors. As an investment tool, forex option trading provides both large and small investors with greater flexibility when determining the appropriate forex trading and hedging strategies to implement.

Most forex options trading is conducted via telephone as there are only a few forex brokers offering online forex option trading platforms.

Forex Option Defined - A forex option is a financial currency contract giving the forex option buyer the right, but not the obligation, to purchase or sell a specific forex spot contract (the underlying) at a specific price (the strike price) on or before a specific date (the expiration date). The amount the forex option buyer pays to the forex option seller for the forex option contract rights is called the forex option "premium."

The Forex Option Buyer - The buyer, or holder, of a foreign currency option has the choice to either sell the foreign currency option contract prior to expiration, or he or she can choose to hold the foreign currency options contract until expiration and exercise his or her right to take a position in the underlying spot foreign currency. The act of exercising the foreign currency option and taking the subsequent underlying position in the foreign currency spot market is known as "assignment" or being "assigned" a spot position.

The only initial financial obligation of the foreign currency option buyer is to pay the premium to the seller up front when the foreign currency option is initially purchased. Once the premium is paid, the foreign currency option holder has no other financial obligation (no margin is required) until the foreign currency option is either offset or expires.

On the expiration date, the call buyer can exercise his or her right to buy the underlying foreign currency spot position at the foreign currency option's strike price, and a put holder can exercise his or her right to sell the underlying foreign currency spot position at the foreign currency option's strike price. Most foreign currency options are not exercised by the buyer, but instead are offset in the market before expiration.

Foreign currency options expires worthless if, at the time the foreign currency option expires, the strike price is "out-of-the-money." In simplest terms, a foreign currency option is "out-of-the-money" if the underlying foreign currency spot price is lower than a foreign currency call option's strike price, or the underlying foreign currency spot price is higher than a put option's strike price. Once a foreign currency option has expired worthless, the foreign currency option contract itself expires and neither the buyer nor the seller have any further obligation to the other party.

The Forex Option Seller - The foreign currency option seller may also be called the "writer" or "grantor" of a foreign currency option contract. The seller of a foreign currency option is contractually obligated to take the opposite underlying foreign currency spot position if the buyer exercises his right. In return for the premium paid by the buyer, the seller assumes the risk of taking a possible adverse position at a later point in time in the foreign currency spot market.

Initially, the foreign currency option seller collects the premium paid by the foreign currency option buyer (the buyer's funds will immediately be transferred into the seller's foreign currency trading account). The foreign currency option seller must have the funds in his or her account to cover the initial margin requirement. If the markets move in a favorable direction for the seller, the seller will not have to post any more funds for his foreign currency options other than the initial margin requirement. However, if the markets move in an unfavorable direction for the foreign currency options seller, the seller may have to post additional funds to his or her foreign currency trading account to keep the balance in the foreign currency trading account above the maintenance margin requirement.

Just like the buyer, the foreign currency option seller has the choice to either offset (buy back) the foreign currency option contract in the options market prior to expiration, or the seller can choose to hold the foreign currency option contract until expiration. If the foreign currency options seller holds the contract until expiration, one of two scenarios will occur: (1) the seller will take the opposite underlying foreign currency spot position if the buyer exercises the option or (2) the seller will simply let the foreign currency option expire worthless (keeping the entire premium) if the strike price is out-of-the-money.

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