A put option on a bond is a provision that allows the holder of the bond the right to force the issuer to pay back the principal on the bond. A put option gives the bond holder the ability to receive the principal of the bond whenever they want before maturity for whatever reason. If the bond holder feels that the prospects of the company are weakening, which could lower its ability to pay off its debts, they can simply force the issuer to repurchase their bond through the put provision. It also could be a situation in which interest rates have risen since the bond was initially purchased, and the bond holder feels that they can get a better return now in other investments.
Another benefit to a bond with this provision is that it removes the pricing risk bond holders face when they attempt to sell the bond into the secondary market, where they may have to sell at a discount. The provision adds an extra layer of security for bond holders – as it gives them a safe exit strategy. Because this option is favorable for bond holders, it will be sold at a premium to a comparable bond without the put provision.
Bonds with a put option are referred to as put bonds or puttable bonds. This is the opposite of a call option provision, which allows the issuer to redeem all of the outstanding bonds.
The terms for exercising the option’s right to sell it differ depending on option style. A European put option allows the holder to exercise the put option for a short period of time right before expiration, while an American put option allows exercise at any time before expiration.
The most widely-traded put options are on equities, but they are traded on many other instruments such as interest rates or commodities.
The put buyer either believes that the underlying asset’s price will fall by the exercise date or hopes to protect a long position in it. The advantage of buying a put over short selling the asset is that the option owner’s risk of loss is limited to the premium paid for it, whereas the asset short seller’s risk of loss is unlimited (its price can rise greatly, in fact, in theory it can rise infinitely, and such a rise is the short seller’s loss.) The put buyer’s prospect (risk) of gain is limited to the option’s strike price less the underlying’s spot price and the premium/fee paid for it.
The put writer believes that the underlying security’s price will rise, not fall. The writer sells the put to collect the premium. The put writer’s total potential loss is limited to the put’s strike price less the spot and premium already received. Puts can be used also to limit the writer’s portfolio risk and may be part of an option spread.
A naked put, also called an uncovered put, is a put option whose writer (the seller) does not have a position in the underlying stock or other instrument. This strategy is best used by investors who want to accumulate a position in the underlying stock, but only if the price is low enough. If the buyer fails to exercise the options, then the writer keeps the option premium as a ‘gift’ for playing the game.
If the underlying stock’s market price is below the option’s strike price when expiration arrives, the option owner (buyer) can exercise the put option, forcing the writer to buy the underlying stock at the strike price. That allows the exerciser (buyer) to profit from the difference between the stock’s market price and the option’s strike price. But if the stock’s market price is above the option’s strike price at the end of expiration day, the option expires worthless, and the owner’s loss is limited to the premium (fee) paid for it (the writer’s profit).
The seller’s potential loss on a naked put can be substantial. If the stock falls all the way to zero (bankruptcy), his loss is equal to the strike price (at which he must buy the stock to cover the option) minus the premium received. The potential upside is the premium received when selling the option: if the stock price is above the strike price at expiration, the option seller keeps the premium, and the option expires worthless. During the option’s lifetime, if the stock moves lower, the option’s premium may increase (depending on how far the stock falls and how much time passes). If it does, it becomes more costly to close the position (repurchase the put, sold earlier), resulting in a loss. If the stock price completely collapses before the put position is closed, the put writer potentially can face catastrophic loss.