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Binary v Vanilla: What’s Your Option?

If you’re even remotely interested in trading shares, then you are probably already familiar with the terms ‘binary options’ and ‘vanilla options’. To put it very simply, binary options, also commonly referred to as digital options, offer two results to each transactions, while vanilla options only offer a single result. In the following, we take a closer look at these two different types of options, in order to help potential upcoming traders make up their minds as to which of the two is best suited for their trading style.

All you need to know about binary options

Perhaps the simplest way to define binary options is by their alternative name of ‘all or nothing’ options. One must also bear in mind that several types of binary options exist. The most commonly traded type is the ‘above or below’ option. In the case of these options, the owner receives the whole option value if the binary option expires with an option value either above or below its own strike price. Say you buy a binary option with a $150 payout and an underlying asset price of $70. You stand to receive the payout if that price goes above $70 at expiration. Should the option be priced at $71 at expiration, you receive the $100 in full, without subtracting $71 out of $70, as is the case with vanilla options.

When purchasing binary options, which are typically European-style options, you know right from the get-go what you’re getting yourself into. In other words, the pay-off, which comes at the end of the time-frame selected for trading is known to the buyer from the very beginning. Meanwhile, during said time-frame, the price of the options will move, either upward or downward. When trading such options, you need to think about

a) The asset you are trading - what will its price be, when the contract reaches expiry?

b) How will prices fluctuate? Are they likely to go up or down?

The advantage in trading binary options is that they come with a fixed rate (which is why they are also called FROs, or fixed rate options). This means that the percentage of the rate of return is established from the get-go. The trader is definitely going to earn something, or they will earn nothing at all.

Binary options don’t take the amplitude of price variations into account: the only factor that makes a difference is whether or not prices have moved up or down. In this sense, they are the safer choice, in the binary-vanilla comparison, since they allow for a simplified approach to risk management. That’s because binary options cannot be traded (i.e. executed) before they reach the expiry date. Of course, setting the duration of that contract comes into play, when deciding how to trade binary options. But if you play your card right, the gains can be massive: up to 85 per cent, according to our research.

Choosing binary options over vanilla is largely a matter of trading pattern. If you do decide in favor of trading binary options, you can look at the price pattern of the assets you would be trading in. Take a close look at the producer price, the consumer price and analyze their evolution, especially when trading such options in the United States. The advantage to trading in the United States is that price information for most assets is usually available – yet bear in mind that this is not always the case.

What are vanilla options?

Vanilla options pay out the difference between the price of the underlying asset and the options’ strike price. This means that, for stocks with a strike price of $50 and an expiry date within a month, options owners start seeing profits from the moment stock prices go over the strike price threshold, to which one also needs to add the premium price that was paid out when buying said vanilla options. When strike prices are lower than $50, the call for these options is underwater, or, in other words, the buyer is ‘out-of-the-money’. Reaching the mark of $50 plus premium is called the ‘break even’ point and going past that point is a ‘in-the-money’ situation. One alleged advantage of vanilla options is that they can be traded at any point (unlike binary options, which depend on the contract’s expiry date). For instance, if the buyer feels that the value of his option has increased enough, they can choose to sell for profit at any point.

Whether you opt for binary or vanilla largely depends on your selected model of trading. One model, for instance, takes into account the possibility of hedging a set of binary options whose expiry date is approaching. This would make for a complicated situation, as, under said model, it would be difficult to estimate the actual movement of the prices – and in this scenario, vanilla options are usually preferred. The main difference between binary and vanilla is that, while the former offer fixed returns, the latter are dynamic in terms of potential gain. Of course, losses also need to be considered under a different frame, as with binary you would know right from the start how much you stand to lose. With vanilla options, this becomes an uncertainty. That’s because vanilla options come with a strike price. In ‘in-the-money’ trading situations, vanilla options take the magnitude of price movement into account, in order to determine the pay-out. The trader will be receiving more than the strike price, but the actual amount depends on the difference between said strike price and the assets’ underlying price.

When trading in an ‘out-of-the-money’ situation, traders may choose to purchase binary options and then exit the out-of-the-money with vanilla options, because in such scenarios they offer the cheaper price. But such scenarios also require an increased degree of attention, as the strike price and contract expiration date must be the same on both types of options. As a matter of fact, when it comes to transitioning from out-of-the-money to in-the-money, things tend to move rather swiftly for binary options, but precisely in the reverse way for vanilla options. Another important aspect to bear in mind with respect to vanilla options is that they can be turned into stocks, if they expire in-the-money.


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