The term derivative refers to a type of financial contract whose value is dependent on an underlying asset, group of assets, or benchmark. A derivative is set between two or more parties that can trade on an exchange or over-the-counter (OTC). These contracts can be used to trade any number of assets and carry their own risks. Prices for derivatives derive from fluctuations in the underlying asset. These financial securities are commonly used to access certain markets and may be traded to hedge against risk.
A derivative is a complex type of financial security that is set between two or more parties. Traders use derivatives to access specific markets and trade different assets. The most common underlying assets for derivatives are stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates, and market indexes. Contract values depend on changes in the prices of the underlying asset.
Derivatives can be used to hedge a position, speculate on the directional movement of an underlying asset, or give leverage to holdings. These assets are commonly traded on exchanges or over-the-counter (OTC) and are purchased through brokerages. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) is among the world’s largest derivatives exchanges.
OTC-traded derivatives generally have a greater possibility of counterparty risk, which is the danger that one of the parties involved in the transaction might default. These contracts trade between two private parties and are unregulated. To hedge this risk, the investor could purchase a currency derivative to lock in a specific exchange rate. Derivatives that could be used to hedge this kind of risk include currency futures and currency swaps.
Derivatives were originally used to ensure balanced exchange rates for internationally traded goods. International traders needed a system to account for the differing values of national currencies.
Assume a European investor has investment accounts that are all denominated in euros (EUR). Let’s say they purchase shares of a U.S. company through a U.S. exchange using U.S. dollars (USD). This means they are now exposed to exchange rate risk while holding that stock. Exchange rate risk is the threat that the value of the euro will increase in relation to the USD. If this happens, any profits the investor realizes upon selling the stock become less valuable when they are converted into euros.
A speculator who expects the euro to appreciate compared to the dollar could profit by using a derivative that rises in value with the euro. When using derivatives to speculate on the price movement of an underlying asset, the investor does not need to have a holding or portfolio presence in the underlying asset.
Types of Derivatives
Derivatives are now based on a wide variety of transactions and have many more uses. There are even derivatives based on weather data, such as the amount of rain or the number of sunny days in a region.
There are many different types of derivatives that can be used for risk management, speculation, and leveraging a position. The derivatives market is one that continues to grow, offering products to fit nearly any need or risk tolerance. The most common types of derivatives are futures, forwards, swaps, and options.
A futures contract, or simply futures, is an agreement between two parties for the purchase and delivery of an asset at an agreed-upon price at a future date. Futures are standardized contracts that trade on an exchange. Traders use a futures contract to hedge their risk or speculate on the price of an underlying asset. The parties involved are obligated to fulfill a commitment to buy or sell the underlying asset.
For example, say that on Nov. 6, 2021, Company A buys a futures contract for oil at a price of $62.22 per barrel that expires Dec. 19, 2021. The company does this because it needs oil in December and is concerned that the price will rise before the company needs to buy. Buying an oil futures contract hedges the company’s risk because the seller is obligated to deliver oil to Company A for $62.22 per barrel once the contract expires. Assume oil prices rise to $80 per barrel by Dec. 19, 2021. Company A can accept delivery of the oil from the seller of the futures contract, but if it no longer needs the oil, it can also sell the contract before expiration and keep the profits.
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