From the March 2013 issue of Futures Magazine • Subscribe!

Pros and cons of binary options

Forex Trader

Anyone interested in learning how to trade has been told the best first step is paper trading. In today’s electronic world, “paper trading” means tapping into many demo programs available that don’t use real money but can help you learn the market ebbs and flows and trade using various technical tools. Another method to learn how to trade, especially forex, is to use binary options. These are an increasingly popular type of global trading tool. In fact, Google Trends data indicates that the search term “binary options” has risen parabolically in the past two years, and now has exceeded the frequency of the search term “forex trading.” 

Along with this increase in interest is the Internet growth of white-label platforms offered for binary options. This isn’t surprising because binary options have many positives, one being the ability to put on a trade for a simple “yes” or “no” on whether a market will be up or down within an expiration time that can be between five and 30 minutes. Also, many trades can return more than 70%. No doubt, this kind of trading is extremely attractive. From a technical perspective these are at-the-money options with very short-term expirations. But from a risk management point of view, binary options require a win/loss ratio of 6-out-of-10 trades to break even. 

Binary options come in many different flavors, such as “one–touch” options where a trader can anticipate that the price will touch a level. There also are range options, where a trader can take a position on whether the price will stay within a specific range. On some platforms, traders can select their own target strike prices. There are also 60-second expiration options. These are the most difficult to end up in-the-money because the price behavior in these durations is very volatile. Many firms offer binary options that basically are set, which lock in a position until expiration, although some firms allow closing the position before expiration. Yes, binary options are exciting, offering within minutes the result of a win or loss. 

But with any high-growth market comes challenges. For example, choosing the right broker or platform is key. As with any new instrument and industry, binary options have a “wild west” aspect. Many firms that offer these platforms are licensed offshore and fall outside the stricter regulatory umbrella and standards that are common in the United States, Europe and Australia. As a result, some firms use questionable marketing tactics designed to lure customers with give-aways, such as iPhones and flat-screen TVs. The reality is most customers lose their money, and lose it quickly with these schemes. 

Also common are “bonus” programs that match a customer’s deposit, but essentially prevent the customer from withdrawing money until 10-20 times the volume of the deposit is generated. Naïve customers respond to the opportunity to trade the firm’s money, not realizing that they are trapping themselves into financial oblivion. For example, if a trader places $10,000 and gets a $10,000 match in one firm, they have to generate $200,000 in trading turnover or volume before they can withdraw their capital. The result is a very low statistical probability of ever getting any money back. Therefore, unless you have a proven track record, never enter a “bonus” agreement. 

Finally, like age-old boiler rooms, some of these unregulated or offshore-regulated firms use deceptive practices in which their brokers use aliases. Adding insult to injury, brokers in these firms have little experience in trading the markets. They are at the core sales people who try to use the right buzz words to feign expertise. These brokers give out what are essentially whim-based trade alerts that primarily encourage trading and not profits.  

These warnings aside, trading binary options is a low cost way to trade and learn a market. Trading these products also provides a great opportunity to hone trading skills. It especially strengthens the understanding of fundamentals because the key to success is detecting the right direction. Binary options definitely are a great place for a new trader to begin to understand the forex market. For example, the North American Derivatives Exchange (Nadex) offers free demo accounts that you can use to get a feel of the market and familiarize yourself with various tools to keep up with it. The exchange also is regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and offers several currency pairs, including the EUR/USD, USD/JDP and USD/CAD on its platform. Further, you can trade directly with Nadex and not go through a broker. A great appeal of binary options lies in their amenability to the use of classic trend lines, resistance and support levels, candlestick charts and analysis of price patterns to find trading signals. Binaries are a craze now, but can evolve into a tool that can be used in a variety of ways to help all traders hone their craft. 

Abe Cofnas is author of “Sentiment Indicators” and “Trading Binary Options: Strategies and Tactics” (Bloomberg Press). He is the editor of the “Binary Dimensions” newsletter and can be reached at abe@gmail.com.

About the Author
Abe Cofnas

Abe Cofnas is author of “Sentiment Indicators” and “Trading Binary Options: Strategies and Tactics” (Bloomberg Press). He is editor of binarydimensions.com newsletter and can be reached at abecofnas@gmail.com.

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