As we reach the letter W in our A to Z of investing we really are on the home straight now. And today we’re going to cover one of the more arresting aspects of investing because W stands for Warrants – did you see what I did there?! Earlier in this series we talked about stock options, which give you the right but not the obligation to buy or sell shares at a particular price on or before a particular date. If you remember, you can buy a call option if you think the price is going up or a put option if you think the price is going down. The main advantage over buying the actual shares is leverage. For the same amount of money you can control a larger number of shares and therefore achieve a bigger bang for the buck IF your hunch proves correct. Options are bought and sold between investors without any involvement from the underlying company. Stock warrants offer the same benefits as stock options but have two fundamental differences. First of all, the warrants are issued by the company itself rather than another investor. So if you think Marks and Spencer shares are going up, you might look for call warrants issued by the company rather than taking an option on some shares belonging to another investor. The second difference concerns what happens when the option or warrant is exercised. If you exercise a call option with another investor to buy Marks and Spencer shares at five pounds, you’ll take delivery of the shares he owns. If you exercise a warrant to buy those same shares at five pounds, Marks and Spencer will provide the shares to fulfil the transaction. Why would the company do this? Simple. It’s a means of raising money. Why would you use warrants rather than options? Firstly, because they tend to be cheaper to buy than options so you could control even more shares for the same amount of cash. And secondly because warrants have a much longer lifespan than options. An option term will usually not be more than two or three years, whereas warrants can be valid for up to fifteen years. So if you’re a medium to long term trader you might find warrants acquired directly from the company can give you the perfect balance between risk, timescale and investment. In other words, you’ve got a much longer time period to prove your hunch than with options. A variation on the warrant theme is covered warrants, sometimes called naked warrants. Not sure why, you’d think if they’re naked they should be uncovered warrants. Anyway, these tend to be issued by financial institutions rather than companies and can have a mixture of financial instruments underlying them. This could be equities, bonds, currencies and so on and covered warrants will trade on a number of stock exchanges. The premium you pay for the covered warrant is the most you can lose – there’s no concept of margin calls so your liability is limited. They are called covered because the issuer will cover themselves or hedge their bet by buying the underlying financial instrument in the market. These tend to be shorter term than equity warrants, usually six to twelve months. They have more in common with options than traditional warrants, though they tend to have longer maturity dates. Just like spread betting, futures and options, warrants are a form of trading that you should only get involved with after you’ve been trained by people like my friends Marcus de Maria and Siam Kidd. They’re not for beginners and you can easily lose all your money if you’re not careful. On the other hand, if you know what you’re doing warrants can be cheaper and more flexible than options because they give you a longer period in which to be proved right. Put the work in so that you’re more often right than wrong and you’re on the way to making some serious wonga!