What You Need to Know About Derivatives

July 27, 2023
Derivatives are substantial financial agreements whose worth is related to the value or effectiveness of an underlying security or instrument. They can be basic or complex variants of options, futures, forwards, or swaps. Derivatives are used by arbitrageurs, margin traders, hedgers, and speculators. Shifts in the underlying asset determine derivatives prices. They are often leveraged instruments, increasing the possible risks and benefits. Derivatives are exchanged bilaterally between two parties over the counter, although they are also transacted on exchanges.

What are derivatives?

Derivatives are financial agreements whose value is determined by an underlying asset, collection of assets, or standard. A derivative is an agreement between two or more parties that may be traded on an exchange or over the counter (OTC).

These agreements may be used for trading various assets and come with risk factors. Shifts in the underlying asset determine derivatives prices. These financial products are widely used to access certain markets and may be exchanged to mitigate risk. Derivatives can be used to reduce risk (hedging) or to accept risk with the hope of a corresponding gain (speculation). Derivatives can shift risk (and the associated profits) from risk-averse to risk-seeking investors.

The concept of derivatives

Traders utilize derivatives to get access to certain marketplaces and trade various assets. Derivatives are commonly regarded as a type of sophisticated investment. Stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates, and market indexes are the most prevalent underlying assets for derivatives. Agreement values are determined by fluctuations in the underlying asset's price.

Derivatives may be employed to protect a position, speculate on the pattern of an underlying security, or provide holdings leverage. These investments are often traded on exchanges or over-the-counter (OTC) and acquired through brokerage firms. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) is one of the major derivatives markets globally.

It is vital to realize that corporations are not betting on the commodity's price when they hedge. On the contrary, the hedge is just a risk management strategy for each party. Each party's profit or margin is built into the price, and the hedge serves to preserve those profits from being wiped out by market movements in the commodity price.

OTC-traded derivatives carry a higher risk of default risk that represents the chance that one of the parties participating in the trade would default. These contracts are unregulated and are made between two private parties. To protect against this risk, the shareholder might buy a currency derivative that locks in a fixed exchange rate.

Unique things to consider

Derivatives were initially employed to harmonize exchange rates for globally traded products. Foreign investors required a mechanism to account for national currencies' varying values.

Suppose a European entrepreneur has all their financial accounts in euros (EUR). Assume they buy shares of a US business on a US market using the US dollar (USD). This implies that they are now exposed to currency risk while owning that stock. The peril of a rise in the euro's value compared to the USD is known as exchange rate risk. If this occurs, earnings realized by the shareholder while selling the shares become less valuable when converted into euros.

A trader who anticipates the euro to rise in value relative to the dollar might benefit by employing a derivative whose value rises in tandem with the euro. The shareholder is not obliged to have a holding or portfolio involvement in the underlying asset when employing derivatives to speculate on its price fluctuation.

Numerous derivative contracts are leveraged, indicating that a small amount of cash is required to own a significant quantity of the underlying asset.

Forms of derivatives

Derivatives currently depend on a wide variety of trades and have many applications. There are also weather derivatives, such as the number of sunny spells in a location. Several derivatives may be utilized for risk management, speculation, and position leverage. The derivatives industry is expanding, with products to meet almost any requirement or risk tolerance.

Derivative goods are classified into "lock" and "option." Lock products, for example, futures, forwards, or swaps, commit the parties from the start to the agreed-upon terms for the duration of the contract. Option products, for example, stock options, provide the holder with the right, but not the responsibility, to purchase or sell a given asset on or before the option's expiration date. Futures, forwards, swaps, and options are the most prevalent forms of derivatives.

       i.          Options

Options are financial derivatives agreements that grant the consumer the right, but not the duty, to purchase or sell an underlying security at a certain price (referred to as the strike price) within a predetermined period. American options can be utilized at any moment before the option period expires. European options, on the other hand, can only be utilized on their expiration date.

     ii.          Futures

Futures contracts are codified agreements allowing the contract holder to purchase or sell the underlying equity at an agreed-upon price on a certain date. A futures contract's parties have the right and responsibility to carry out the transaction as stipulated.

Futures contracts are transacted on the exchange market; as such, they are extremely liquid, exchange-mediated, and regulated.

Since futures contracts are largely standardized, it is simple for consumers and sellers to unwind or shut out their exposure before the contract expires.

    iii.          Forwards

Forward contracts are analogous to futures contracts in that the party to the agreement has the right and duty to carry out the transaction as stated. Forwards contracts, on the contrary, are over-the-counter items, implying they are unregulated and are not subject to particular trading laws and regulations. Because such contracts are non-standardized, they can be tailored to the needs of both parties. Due to the customized nature of forward contracts, they are often retained until expiry and delivered rather than unwound.

    iv.          Swaps

Swaps are derivative contracts in which two holders, or contract parties, exchange financial responsibilities. The most typical swap contracts put into by investors comprise interest rate swaps. Swaps are not transacted on the stock exchange. Since swap contracts must be customized to meet the demands and criteria of all parties involved, they are exchanged over the counter. More forms of swaps, like credit default, inflation, and total return swaps, have emerged as the market's demands have evolved.

The market for derivatives

Most derivatives are sold bilaterally over the counter (OTC) between two parties, like financial institutions, asset managers, businesses, and governments. These professional investors have signed agreements with one another to guarantee that everyone is on the same page about basic terms and conditions. Various contracts, such as options and futures, are exchanged on specialized exchanges. The largest derivative exchanges are the National Stock Exchange of India, Eurex, and the CME Group. Derivatives, including stocks, bonds, commodities, foreign exchange, and cryptocurrencies, can be purchased and traded on practically every capital market asset type.

Derivatives market participants

Operators in the derivatives market may be generally classified into four groups:

·       Hedgers

Hedged investors utilize financial market products such as derivatives to decrease current or future risk. For instance, a bond issuer employs interest rate swaps to convert future bond interest obligations to better match predicted future cash flows. A derivative is a common hedging strategy since its efficiency is derived from, or connected to, the underlying asset's performance.

·       Speculators

Speculation is a widespread but perilous market activity in which financial market stakeholders participate. Speculators take a calculated risk by purchasing or selling an asset to make a profit in the short term. It is dangerous since the deal may unexpectedly change against the speculator, resulting in potentially huge losses.

Derivatives, particularly options, are a significant element of the armory for financial market speculators since they provide an affordable and highly liquid means to obtain exposure to an asset without owning it.

·       Arbitrageurs

Arbitrage is a highly widespread activity in the financial system that entails taking advantage of asset mispricing to generate risk-free gains. Arbitrageurs are thus an important feature of the derivative markets since they guarantee that the linkages between different assets are maintained.

·       Margin traders

In economics, the margin is the security an investor deposits with their broker or exchange to borrow money to magnify their investing power. Leverage allows a trader to amplify earnings while also risking bigger losses.

Margin investors frequently employ derivatives, particularly in foreign currency trading, because purchasing and selling real currencies would be extremely capital-intensive. An additional instance would be cryptocurrency, where the exorbitant price of Bitcoin makes it too expensive to purchase. Margin traders might use the leverage afforded by Bitcoin futures to avoid tying up trading money while simultaneously boosting possible rewards.

Exchange-traded derivatives

Exchange-traded derivatives, ETD, are primarily options and futures contracts traded on public stock markets with standardized contracts. The contracts specify the expiration date, settlement mechanism, lot size, and the underlying assets on which the derivatives can be established. As a result, by providing market-based price information, exchange-traded derivatives improve transparency and volatility. On the other hand, over-the-counter derivatives are exchanged privately and customized to each party's needs, making them less accessible and considerably more difficult to unwind.

Only exchange participants can trade after meeting the exchange's membership criteria. These could encompass financial evaluations of the participant, regulatory compliance, and other standards to preserve the exchange's and other members' integrity and the market's stability.

Varieties of exchange-traded derivatives

·       Stock derivatives

The most often traded asset class in exchange-traded derivatives is common stock. Because exchange-traded derivatives are often standardized, not only does this increase contract liquidity, but it also means that there are several expiries and strike prices to pick from. Global stock derivatives are also regarded as an early predictor of future changes in common stock values.

·       Index derivatives

You can trade derivatives in single-name equities and derivatives linked to the effectiveness of a stock index or portfolio of stocks. Index-related derivatives are provided to investors who want to purchase or sell a complete exchange rather than just futures of a certain stock.

·       Currency derivatives

Common currency pairs are listed for trading on exchange-traded derivatives marketplaces. For the pairings, futures contracts or options are accessible, and traders can go long or short. Currency derivatives permit traders to access some forex markets that may be blocked to outsiders or where forward forex trading is prohibited. These non-deliverable forwards (NDF) are sold offshore and settled in a freely traded currency, most often USD. NDFs, on the other hand, are often traded over the counter and not on an exchange.

·       Commodity derivatives

Commodity derivatives trading covers futures and options connected to tangible assets or consumables. Trading in oil and gas futures, agricultural commodities, and metals is the most frequent. These are critical not just for commodity producers such as oil firms, farmers, and miners but also for downstream sectors that rely on commodity supply to protect their costs. We have recently witnessed the development of a market for cryptocurrency futures on key tokens such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

·       Interest rate derivatives

Another type of ETD that is widely traded is those tied to fixed-income instruments, such as government bond futures. Bond futures provide fixed-income investors with a cost-effective and efficient way of managing their interest risk exposure. While many interest rate derivatives are constantly accessible on trading platforms since the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 was passed following the Global Financial Crisis, we have seen increasing OTC derivatives.

 Pros of derivatives

·       Prices of derivatives must be fixed.

·       They aid in protecting yourself from risk.

·       Derivatives can be utilized

Cons of derivatives

·       It is difficult to quantify derivatives

·       It is prone to counter-party defaults (if OTC),

·       Complicated to comprehend

·       Derivatives are sensitive to supply and demand elements


Derivatives are financial products that manage risks, regulate exposures, and speculate on underlying equity fluctuations. Derivatives allow investors to participate in the stock market without possessing the underlying asset. The problems with derivatives emerge when investors own too many, become over-leveraged, and cannot satisfy margin calls if the worth of the derivative shifts against them. Though trading derivatives have a high level of risk, there will always be lucrative possibilities for traders to earn. They continuously evolve, with virtual currency derivative instruments as one of the most current concepts of this old kind of exchange.