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This article explains the difference between futures and options. It seems a futures contract is an obligation, while an option is a right (not an obligation). If this is true, why would anybody ever deal with futures? An obligation is always less desirable than an option, right?

  • That article is pretty thin. I mean, it goes into little detail for either product. Joe's answer below is a good explanation, but I'd recommend a deeper read on both topics to better understand futures and options. – JoeTaxpayer Apr 30 '13 at 2:26
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Yes, from the point-of-view to the end speculator/investor in stocks, it is ludicrous to take on liabilities when you don't have to. That's why single-stock options are far more liquid than single-stock futures.

However, if you are a farmer with a huge mortgage depending upon the chaos of agricultural markets which are extremely volatile, a different structure might appeal to you. You could long your inputs while shorting your outputs, locking in a profit. That profit is probably lower than what one could expect over the long run without hedging, but it will surely be less volatile.

Here's where the advantage of futures come in for that kind of structure: the margin on the longs and shorts can offset each other, forcing the farmer to have to put up much less of one's own money to hedge. With options, this is not the case.

Also, the gross margin between the inputs rarely fluctuate to an unmanageable degree, so if your shorts rise faster than your longs, you'll only have to post margin in the amount of the change in the net of the longs and shorts.

This is why while options on commodities exist to satisfy speculators, futures are the most liquid.

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That question makes assumptions that don't hold in general

  1. Only European options behave somewhat like futures in that you have to wait until maturity to exercise.
  2. If you're writing the option then the counterparty has the right and you have the obligation.

As to why to deal with futures: Well, there's just one contract per maturity date, not a whole chain of contracts (options come at different strike prices). That in turn means that all the liquidity is in that one contract and not scattered across the chain.

Then, moreover, it depends what underlying contracts you're talking about. Often, especially when dealing with commodities, there is no option chain on the spot product but only options on the futures contracts.

In summary, the question is somewhat bogus. Options and futures evolved historically and independently, and were not meant to be substitutable by one another. So their rights and obligations are just a historical by-product and not their defining feature. I suggest you refine it to a specific asset class.

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With options you pay for a premium which relates to the expected (so-called "implied" volatility). With futures, there is no assumption about the volatility of an underlying stock. In general, when trading options you trade the direction and future expected volatility of an underlying while futures are directional trades only.

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I read the article. I'm not really sure of the purpose of that article. The article while somewhat accurate only describes some of how options work. I personally would pretend you never read it because it compares two things for no good (teaching) reason. It mixes options and futures and IMO that is a mistake and confusing to anyone new to options and futures.

Option contracts are NOT just rights, they are also are obligations. See https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/032515/what-difference-between-right-and-obligation-call-option.asp. You can BUY a CALL option and you have the RIGHT to do something, but if you SELL a call option you have an obligation.

So forget about futures and just stick to options and say why would you want an OBLIGATION if you could have a RIGHT?

The simple answer is that there are different trading strategies that use each of these approaches. I was going to give examples but any example would require you to have a good understanding of how options work so the example would likely not make sense.

Why would you want to trade futures over options? Not really your question but the answer is that futures are open more hours than the options market so you have the ability to trade during the night time hours. See http://www.cmegroup.com/trading-hours.html for the different futures products and the hours of trading.

I hope that helps some. The question is difficult to answer because the source material you read is unfortunately comparing things that should not be compared in the way they are doing so.

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