Interest Rate Options, Explained

By Kenny Zhu · May 22, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Interest Rate Options, Explained

What Are Interest Rate Options?

Interest rate options enable investors to hedge, speculate on, or otherwise manage their exposure to interest rates. These financial derivatives are available as both puts and calls, and traded on major options exchanges.

Interest rates in the U.S. fluctuate continuously, with the Federal Reserve being a key driver, but not the only one. To mitigate these fluctuations, and also to profit from them, professional money managers turn to interest rates options as a source for risk management.

Interest rate options are sold on major options exchanges as standardized puts and calls, as the two main types of contracts are called in options terminology. Similar to puts and calls on equity securities, interest rate options represent directional bets on the value of an underlying asset.

The value of interest rate options is tied to yields on interest-rate-linked assets, typically Eurodollars and U.S. Treasuries of various maturities.

Buyers of interest rate options can buy exposure to various portions of the yield curve, for example, the 2-year, 5-year, and 10-year treasuries are standardized terms commonly sold on the CME Group exchanges. Professional money managers may use puts or calls at any given maturity to express their views on the future direction and volatility of interest rates.

How Interest Rate Options Work

Interest rate options afford the buyer the right to receive payment based on the spread between the yield of the underlying security on the expiration date and the original strike rate of the option, net of fees.

Interest rate options in the United States feature “European style” options exercise terms, which means they can only be exercised on the expiration date.

This contrasts with equity options, which more often contain “American style” exercise terms. This means they can be exercised at any time before they expire.

Buyers of interest rate options pay a “premium” per the terms of the options contract, which is the price paid by the buyer. Options pricing can be complex, to say the least, and to profit on a trade the buyer of the option will need interest rates to move in their favor enough to cover the cost of the option’s premium before they can profit.

In the event that interest rates don’t move in the option holder’s favor enough to overcome the strike rate, the option will expire worthless and the option holder incurs the total loss of their premium.

We’ll cover how this dynamic plays out with respect to both interest rate calls and puts.

How Do Interest Rate Call Options Work

Buyers of interest rate call options seek to benefit from rising interest rates. Should the yield on the underlying security close above its strike rate on the expiration date, the owner of an interest rate call option will receive a cash payout. This payout will be the difference between the option value at maturity and its strike.

Note that interest options are cash-settled. Unlike equity options, no exercise is required. If the rate is higher than the strike rate, the holder is paid the difference.

Interest rate call options, much like equity call options, give the buyer unlimited upside exposure to rising yields.

Holders of interest rate call options bear the risk that the option might expire out-of-the-money should interest rates remain beneath the strike by the expiration date. In this case, the maximum loss the owner of an interest rate call option can expect is limited to the premium paid.

How Do Interest Rate Put Options Work

In contrast, buyers of interest rate put options seek to benefit from falling interest rates. Interest rate puts give the put holder the right to receive payment based on the difference between the strike rate and the yield on the underlying security at expiration.

In this case, the strike rate is typically the maximum possible gain that a put holder may receive.

Holders of interest rate put options bear the risk that the option might expire worthless (out-of-the-money) if interest rates rise above the strike by the expiration date. In this case, the maximum loss the owner of an interest rate put option will incur is limited to the premium paid.

What Are the Risks of Trading Interest Rate Options?

Trading interest rate options involves enormous risk for any trader who either, 1) doesn’t understand the basic drivers of options valuation and interest rates, or 2) doesn’t understand how to structure their options trade properly to cap risk exposure. The corresponding leverage on options trades can result in enormous losses if improperly managed.

Traders will need to manage a number of key risks, and they may want to consider different strategies for trading options, when it comes to buying interest rate puts and calls. This includes “market risk,” which is the risk of price movements caused by any macroeconomic factor that affects the financial markets. It also includes “interest rate risk,” which is the risk that changes in interest rates might erode the value of one’s holdings.

Finally, user-friendly options trading is here.*

Trade options with SoFi Invest on an easy-to-use, intuitively designed online platform.

Interest Rate Option Example

As an example, an investor seeking to hedge (or protect) their portfolio against rising interest rates can choose to buy an interest rate call option on a 10-year Treasury bond, expiring in 2 months at a strike of $50.00.

Strikes on interest rate options are a pseudo-conversion where the interest rate is multiplied by 10x and denominated in dollars. Therefore a 5.0% rate converts to a strike price of $50.

If the option’s premium is quoted at $0.50, then buying a single interest rate call option would cost you a $50 total premium, as each interest rate option affords you exposure to 100 shares of the underlying.

If yields rise for the next 2 months until the option expires, the underlying might be worth $55 by the time it’s exercised.

In this instance, you can calculate your net profit using the following equation:

(Underlying rate at expiry – Strike Price) X 100 – Contract Premium = Profit

($55 – $50) X 100 ) – $50 = Profit

$5 X 100 – $50 = Profit

$500 – $50 = $450 net profit

Remember that each option contract grants exposure to 100 units of the underlying, while options premiums are quoted for a single unit of the underlying. Remember also to use the actual total contract premium paid, as well as introduce a multiplier of 100, when calculating your net profit.

The Takeaway

Interest rate options can be of interest to investors who understand the underlying drivers of these securities. They essentially provide direct exposure to interest rates, on a leveraged basis, at a relatively competitive cost.

When employed strategically, interest rate options enable investors to enhance their upside or mitigate their downside in a volatile rate environment.

If you’re ready to try your hand at options trading, You can set up an Active Invest account and trade options online from the SoFi mobile app or through the web platform.

And if you have any questions, SoFi offers educational resources about options to learn more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, and members have access to complimentary financial advice from a professional.

With SoFi, user-friendly options trading is finally here.

FAQ

What are interest rate future options?

Interest rate future options are futures contracts which derive their value from an underlying interest-bearing security. The buyer of an interest rate futures option (the “long position”) purchases the right to receive the interest rate payment in the contract, while the seller (the “short position”) is obligated to pay the interest rate on the underlying contract.

In either case, interest rate future options enable both buyer and seller to lock in the price on an interest-bearing security, for future delivery, which offers both parties some level of price certainty.

What is an interest rate swaption?

Interest rate swaptions represent the right, but not the obligation, to enter an interest rate swap agreement on an agreed-upon date.

In exchange for the contract premium, the buyer of an interest rate swaption can choose whether they want to be a fixed-rate payer (“payer swaption”), or fixed-rate receiver (“receiver swaption”) on the underlying swap, with the counterparty taking the variable rate side of the transaction.

Unlike standard interest rate options, swaptions are over-the-counter products, which means they allow for more customized terms, so there’s more variety when it comes to expiration, the style of options exercise, and the exact notional amount.

What is interest rate risk?

Interest rate risk is the exposure of an investment to fluctuating interest rates in the open market. Interest rates can change on a daily basis according to any number of market influences, including investor expectations, actions, or even statements made by central banks.

If interest rates rise on any given day, that shift will typically erode the value of bonds and most-other fixed income securities. Conversely, if interest rates were to fall, the market value of outstanding fixed-income securities will typically increase instead. Interest rate risk represents your investment exposure to these fluctuations in rates.


Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird

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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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