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What is a short position in options trading?

What is a short position in options trading?

Defining Short Position in Investment

To comprehend the concept of a short position, let's first delve into its basics. Shorting or taking a short position involves selling a security, which is not owned by the investor, in anticipation of its value decreasing over time. This strategy puts the investor in a situation where they are essentially wagering against the success of the security.

Contrasting this, "being long" in a security refers to the practice of owning it, with expectations for its value to increase. Thus, the process of shorting is the antithesis of maintaining a long position.

Short Position: A Risky Bet against a Security

Upon initiating a short position, the investor effectively sells shares they don't currently possess. Subsequently, these shares must be returned to the custodian after a specified period. The central premise is that by this time, the security's trading price would have decreased. This price decline enables the investor to repurchase the shares at a lower cost using the proceeds from the short sale, retaining any leftover amount as profit. However, should the shorted security's price increase, the investor would have to cover the shortfall using their own resources to buy back the shares, a process referred to as "covering the short."

While short selling can apply to equities and various combinations of options, an investor can cover their short position by borrowing the security from their broker, often through a margin account.

The Intricacies of Short Positions and Options Trading

When applying to options trading, short and long positions gain an added layer of complexity. Possessing a call or put option places an investor in a long position since they have the right to purchase or sell the security to the investor who wrote the option.

In contrast, writing or selling a call or put option creates a short position. In this scenario, the writer is obligated to sell or buy the shares from the holder of the long position or the buyer of the option.

An investor can employ these positions strategically to attain diverse results. Often, they might simultaneously establish both long and short positions on a security to leverage or generate income from it. Typically, a simple long stock position is bullish, predicting growth, while a short stock position is bearish, anticipating a decrease in value.

Risk Considerations for Short Positions

It's crucial to acknowledge that short positions carry inherently higher risks. They are typically restricted in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and other cash accounts, often necessitating a margin account for most short positions. Further, your brokerage firm must consent to risky positions being suitable for you.

Generally, shorting can be riskier than maintaining a long position. There's no cap on the potential losses, and these positions frequently require borrowing from a broker, attracting interest payments. If the broker makes a margin call and the investor fails to deposit more cash or securities promptly, the broker may close the losing position.

When to Choose a Short Position?

Investors might opt for a short position if they predict a decrease in a stock or other security's value. Conversely, in options trading, they would hold a short position if they sell an option and collect the premium, instead of paying it. Despite its associated risks, a short position can be a viable strategy for investors with appropriate risk tolerance, offering potential profits if their market predictions prove accurate.


Taking a short position is selling a security that you don’t own because you anticipate that its value is set to fall. In simple terms, an investor that takes a short position is betting against it.

“Shorting” is the opposite of being “long” in a security, where being “long” means to actually own it and to wait for it to appreciate. When you contact your broker or custodian to take a short position on a security, you essentially sell shares you don’t own, and then after a period, you have to return those shares to the custodian.

Your hope is that when that time comes, the security will be trading at a lower price, meaning you can use the proceeds of your short sale to repurchase the shares and then keep whatever is left over as profit. In a security that you short goes up in price, it means you have to come up with your own cash to repurchase the shares, which is called “covering the short.”

Short selling can be used for equities, all combinations of options, and so on. You can “cover” your short position by borrowing the security from your broker (e.g. on margin).

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