A lot of people are holding their collective breath awaiting an anticipated May 30 launch of options trading on SPDR Gold Shares (NYSE Arca: GLD). They must be blue by now because it's been a four-year wait as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission made nice-nice over regulating the instruments. Options trading is also on the horizon for the iShares COMEX Gold Trust (AMEX: IAU) and the iShares Silver Trust (AMEX: SLV).
These launches won't be a watershed, though. Options already trade on the PowerShares DB Gold Fund (AMEX: DGL) and on the PowerShares DB Silver Fund (AMEX: DBS), though the Deutsche Bank-sponsored products hold futures rather than physical metal in portfolio.
There are, in fact, options on 13 futures-based ETFs extant now, up from the 10 reported in our January look (see "We've Got Options. Sort Of."). When you count the commodity stock ETFs, the option coverage goes up to 17:
Broad-Based Commodity Indexes
GSG - iShares S&P GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust
DBC - PowerShares Deutsche Bank Commodity Index Fund
GCC - GreenHaven Continuous Commodity Index Fund
DGL - PowerShares Deutsche Bank Gold Fund
DBS - PowerShares Deutsche Bank Silver Fund
USO - United States Oil Fund
USL - United States 12-Month Oil Fund
UNG - United States Natural Gas Fund
UGA - United States Gasoline Fund
DBO - PowerShares Deutsche Bank Oil Fund
DBE - PowerShares Deutsche Bank Energy Fund
DBB - PowerShares Deutsche Bank Base Metals Fund
DBA - PowerShares Deutsche Bank Agriculture Fund
GDX - Market Vectors Gold Miners Fund
KOL - Market Vectors Coal Fund
SLX - Market Vectors Steel Fund
MOO - Market Vectors Agribusiness Fund
Options provide commodity ETF investors numerous ways to shade or hedge their exposures. For example, the purchase of a put option on a commodity ETF already owned creates an insurance policy against dramatic loss during the life span of the option. The combined ETF/put position behaves as if a call option on the ETF had been purchased: unlimited profit potential on the upside, limited potential for loss on the downside.
Calls provide their buyers, over a specific period of time, the right to buy the underlying fund shares at a predetermined price. The buyer of a put, on the other hand, has the right, but not the obligation to sell fund shares at a specified price. The purchase of a call is a contingent long position in the ETF, while buying a put (if one doesn't already own the underlying ETF shares), is a contingent short.
Sometimes, a "synthetic" ETF position, created by combining a purchased call and a put sold short, can be cheaper than the underlying ETF itself and may be suitable for some investors with relatively short time horizons.
If all this sounds like a muddle to you, examples of option strategies, along with vast amounts of educational materials, can be found at the Option Industry Council's Web site.
Commodity ETF users with already-established option proclivities may want to investigate the natural gas market. Option volume for the United States Natural Gas Fund (AMEX: UNG) jumped 155% on Friday as 10,754 contracts changed hands. It's really no surprise why. Natural gas has been on a tear recently along with the rest of the energy complex. June NYMEX futures are up 54% year-to-date; UNG's gain has been 56%.
UNG closed up more than 1% at $56.40 Friday, tracking futures' higher close. Bulls will find the best odds with the July 53 call priced at $6 or the June 54 call at $4.20.
Probabilities can be bettered with a vertical spread, such as buying the October 50 call against the sale of an October 65 call for a $6.60 debit.