Long call options vs. long put options – what ‘going long’ in options trading means

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In options trading, a long position means buying either a long call option or a long put option. The long call option reflects an optimistic feeling that a stock price will rise.

  • In options trading, going long means owning one of two types of options: a long call and a long put.
  • A long call option gives you the right to buy stock at a preset price in the future. A long put option lets you sell it.
  • Long positions hedge risk: If the stock doesn’t move as hoped, the option expires at little cost to you.
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A long position in investing basically means to buy or own a stock. Generally, you do so because you expect it to increase in value in the future – hence, you’re holding it for the long-term. 

But a long position also has a specialized meaning, having to do with options and options trading. It refers to buying a specific kind of option, based on your belief as to where the price of a stock (or another asset) is headed.

Let’s examine how a long position in options, or “going long” as the traders say, works.

What is a long position in options?

In the options-trading world, taking a long position, or going long, means you’re purchasing an option. An option is a contract that gives you the right to buy or to sell shares for a preset price (or “strike price”) on or before a future date, usually within the next nine months. It’s an opportunity to do this trade, but not a commitment – so, an option.

There are two types of long options, a long call and a long put. 

  • A long call option gives you the right to buy, or call, shares of a named stock for a preset price at a later date.
  • A long put option does the opposite: It gives you the right to sell, or put, shares of that stock in the future for a preset price.

How a long call option works

If you believe a certain stock is going to go up in price in the coming days, weeks, or months, you can purchase a long call option to buy that stock for today’s price sometime in the future and make a profit by selling it on the stock market at the then- higher price.

Example: You believe ABC stock, selling today for $100 a share is going to be worth more in a couple of months. You purchase a long call option contract for 100 shares, set to expire in three months, at a strike price (a preset price) of $100 per share, and a premium (fee) of $3 per share for the option itself.

ABC does as you expect and in two months shares are worth $150 apiece. You exercise your option, buy 100 shares at $100 each, sell them for $150 each, and you’ve made a tidy profit of $4,700.

How a long put option works

If you believe a company’s stock is due for a drop, you would purchase a long put option contract giving you the right to sell shares of that stock in the future for today’s (higher) price.

Example: You believe ABC is going to decline in a couple of months. You purchase a long put option contract for 100 shares, set to expire in three months, with a strike price of $100 per share, and a premium of $3 per share.

ABC does as you expected and in two months shares are selling for $50. You buy 100 shares at $50 each, exercise your option, and sell them for $100 each, and you’ve made a tidy profit of $4,700.

Exercising your long call or long put option

Whether you buy a long call or a long put, you can’t make money unless you exercise your option. Exercising your option means to buy or sell before the expiration date set in the option contract. 

Naturally, you’d exercise the option if things go the way you expect – the stock moves in the manner you thought it would, so you get to buy it (with a call) or sell it (with a put) at a price that’s better than the current market rate.

Why would you let the option expire without exercising it? Simple: The price of the stock goes against your prediction, moving in an opposite direction from the strike price. If that happens, the option becomes worthless. You let it expire, and you lose the premium you paid. 

The good news is, that’s all you lose.

Why take a long position in options?

Going long lets you take chances with less risk. Both long calls and long puts limit your loss to the premium, the cost of the options contract. You don’t have to buy the stock (in a call) or sell the stock (in a put) unless you expect to profit – by the shares moving as you anticipated before the contract ends.

In contrast, in regular investing, you’re committed to an actual purchase. And that could cause you to lose a lot of money if the stock doesn’t move in the direction you expected.

In addition to being less risky, long options also include an unlimited profit potential to the upside in the case of a long call option or the downside with a long put option. As long as the stock is above or below your option’s strike price – for the call or the put, respectively – you stand to win.

Both types of options are considered long, in the sense that both are buy positions and both let you make money on the direction of the underlying stock. However, the long call is the more bullish sentiment, because you’re betting that the stock price will rise. 

The long put option is a more bearish view because you’re anticipating, and hoping to profit from, a fall in the stock price. 

A long put option can also serve as a hedge, or insurance, against a bad outcome with a long call option or an outright purchase of stock. Yes, you’re betting against yourself, in a way, but at least you stand to benefit a bit if the stock falls instead of rises, mitigating your overall loss. 

The financial takeaway

With options, going long refers to a position in which you buy:

  • a long call option, meaning that you expect the underlying asset to increase in price, which increases the value of the option. This option is bullish on both the underlying stock and the option itself.
  • a long put option, meaning you expect the underlying asset to decline in price, which increases the value of the put option. A long put option is bearish on the underlying stock but bullish on the outcome of the option.

Long option positions require less investment, or cash down, than outright investments. Instead of spending thousands on a stock, you just spend a few hundred on the option, giving you more leverage for less money.

Of the two options, long calls are more common – or at least, what’s more commonly thought of as a long options position. And, like buying stock outright, they are essentially optimistic. Long puts, pessimistic bets that a stock will fall, are more often used as insurance against a bad outcome with a long call, or with an actual ownership position.

But in a way, both long options can be considered bullish: Both are buy positions, affording you a chance to make money on the moves of the underlying stock.

Related coverage in Investing:

A short squeeze happens when a stock suddenly spikes – a bind for traders who bet borrowed money it would drop

Margin trading means buying stocks with borrowed funds – it’s riskier than paying cash, but the returns can be greater

‘Buy the dip’ means purchasing a promising stock when its price drops, assuming a fast rebound and future profits

What is a bear market? How to make sense of a prolonged period of decline in the stock market and invest wisely

A bull market means that stocks are rising, but it pays to understand how it works before you charge

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