What Is a Bond Option? Definition & Examples

By Brian O'Connell · November 05, 2021 · 6 minute read

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What Is a Bond Option? Definition & Examples

A bond option allows the contract holder to buy or sell an underlying investment (in this case, a bond) at a specific price and at a specific time. While considered less risky than stock options, bond options still typically carry higher risk than more traditional investments.

Like all options, bond options are derivative securities, used by investors to bet on the direction of an underlying security. Understanding what bond options are and how they work can help you understand these risks and determine whether bond options make sense for your portfolio.

Here’s a closer look at bond options, and the risks and rewards they bring to investors.

What are Bond Options?

A bond option is a legal contract to buy and sell underlying bond assets, usually via a call bond (i.e., the option to buy an underlying bond) or a put bond (the option to sell a bond) at a specific price (known as the “strike price)” at or before a specific time deadline (known as the “expiration date”).

For example, an investor might purchase a bond call option with a strike price of $900. The level value (also known as “par value”) of the underlying U.S. government bond is $1,000. Let’s say market conditions push the value of that bond up to $1,100. In that scenario, the option holder has the right to buy the government bond at $900 – even as the value of that underlying bond now stands at $1,100.

Investors typically trade options, including bond options, through over-the-counter exchanges. Bond options are also typically available wherever U.S. Treasury bonds are sold in fund form through investment companies.

Recommended: A Beginner’s Guide to Options Trading

Pros and Cons of Bond Options

There are benefits and drawbacks to incorporating bond options in your portfolio.

Pros of Bond Options

Higher return potential. As discussed in the example above, when executed well a bond options strategy can increase a trader’s gains on a particular investment. Bond options can also protect against downside risk. Investors often use bond options as hedges against more risk-laden investment strategies.

Risk hedging. Bond options investors can leverage derivative contracts to take advantage of interest rates and other short-term drives of investment performance. Investors can also lean on bond options to take advantage of pricing variations in options pricing or to position their portfolios ahead of major geopolitical events, like presidential elections, potentially big Federal Reserve policy decisions, or major recessions and other powerful economic forces.

Cons of Bond Options

The risk of non-exercise. Bond options investors may do well to let an options contract expire rather than execute a trade that goes awry and loses money. While a bond options investor isn’t obligated to exercise their bond options contracts, letting a contract expire means the original money used to buy or sell a bond option is gone forever. So, too, are the fees investment companies charge to handle options trades.

The risk of unlimited investment loss. While call options provide an investor with the possibility of unlimited gain if the underlying security rises in value, that same investor faces unlimited loss potential if that investor is selling a call or put option. If the underlying assets plummet to a value of zero, the options investor could face massive financial losses.

The risk of losing money quickly. As options, by nature, are short-term investing instruments, investors need to have extensive knowledge of near-term investment price movements to minimize the downside risk of investing in bond options. Often, traders make decisions about their options strategy based on a short time horizon. That means all options investors must master two key trading objectives – knowing the right time to purchase an options contract and knowing when to sell that contract, or cut losses by allowing the contract to expire without exercising the option to buy or sell by the expiration date.

Recommended: 10 Options Trading Strategies

Types of Bond Options

Bond options offer investors the right to buy or sell (via calls and puts) an underlying investment security at a specific time and at a set price.

Call Option Bonds

With a bond call option, if the price of the underlying bond option rises in value, the contract holder can earn a profit on the call by exercising the option to purchase the asset (with a call option) at a lower price and then selling it when the underlying asset goes up. A call option is in the money if the strike price is lower than the current market price of the underlying bond.

Bond Put Options

A bond options investor who buys believes a bond will go up in price may purchase a put option or put bond. With that option, buy the asset at the current low price and sell it at the rising strike price, assuming the price moves in the direction the trader had hoped. What a bond investor strives to avoid is being on the wrong side of an options trade, i.e., selling at a below market rate or buying at an above-market rate.

If an investor anticipates that bond prices will decline, given future expected market conditions, they’d purchase a put option. If the level value of the underlying bond option were$1,000, a bond put option gives the contract holder the right to sell the option contract at the strike price of $900 – on or before the expiration date. If bond prices fall, the underlying bond is now valued at $870. Now, that bond option investor can exercise the sale of the options contract at the strike price of $900, even as the bond’s value has fallen to $870. That guarantees a big profit for the investor, given the outsized nature of options contracts.

Embedded Bond Options

Embedded bond options are bonds in which the holder or the issuer has a right to take a specific action with a certain period going forward. Examples of embedded bond options include call provision, convertible provisions, and floored floating-rate provisions.

Callable Bond Options

Callable bonds are one type of embedded bond option. With callable bonds, the issuer has the option to repay investors the face value of the bond before the maturity date.

Recommended: Popular Options Terminology You Should Know

Bond Options Pricing

Given all the variables, including the current price and future price of a bond, volatility levels, interest rates, and time to expiration, it can be very complicated to properly price a bond option. Investors rely on several different mathematical formulas for this, including the Black-Derman-Toy Model and the Black Model.

The Takeaway

Options traders may use a bond option as a hedge against economic volatility in key areas like interest rates, currency rates, and bond yield rates, a bond option can be a useful portfolio management tool. However, there are plenty of other types of investments that an investor can use when building a portfolio, without trading bond options.

But for investors who are curious to start options trading, SoFi offers a user-friendly platform to do so. With an intuitive and approachable design, you can trade options on the web platform or through the mobile app.

Trade options with low fees through SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/PeopleImages

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Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.

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