Financial Derivatives: What You Need To Know

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What are Financial Derivatives?

Financial derivatives are financial instruments whose value is derived from the value of an underlying asset. The underlying asset can be a commodity, stock, bond, currency, index, amongst others.

Derivatives are used by individuals and organizations as a way to hedge their risks or to speculate on price movements. 

Example of How Financial Derivatives Work

Suppose that a farmer grows corn and is concerned about the price of corn falling before the harvest season. To hedge against this risk, the farmer enters into a futures contract to sell corn at a predetermined price in the future. This way, the farmer can lock in a price for their crop, even if the market price of corn falls.

When the harvest season arrives, the farmer delivers the corn to fulfil their end of the futures contract. If the market price of corn has fallen, the farmer is still able to sell their crop at the higher, predetermined price that was agreed upon in the futures contract. This helps to protect the farmer against the risk of declining prices and provides a measure of stability and certainty to their business.

This is just one example of how a financial derivative can be used to manage risk. By allowing individuals and organizations to hedge against price changes, derivatives can play an important role in mitigating financial losses and maximizing returns.

Types of Financial Derivatives

1. Futures

A futures contract is a legally binding agreement to buy or sell an underlying asset, such as a commodity or currency, at a predetermined price on a future date.

2. Options

An option is a contract that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset at a predetermined price within a specific period.

3. Swaps

A swap is an agreement between two parties to exchange financial instruments, such as interest rates or currency rates, over a set period.

4. Forwards

A forward contract is a customized agreement between two parties to buy or sell an underlying asset at a predetermined price on a future date. 

Unlike futures contracts, forward contracts are not traded on an exchange and the terms of the contract are negotiated directly between the two parties.

5. Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs)

A CDO is a security that is backed by a pool of debt, such as mortgages or corporate bonds.

6. Credit Default Swaps (CDS)

A CDS is a type of insurance that pays out in the event of a default by the issuer of a bond or loan.

7. Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

An ETF is a type of investment fund that tracks an index, a commodity, or a basket of assets and is traded on a stock exchange.

Derivatives can be complex, so it’s important to carefully consider the terms and conditions before entering into a derivative contract.

Benefits of Financial Derivatives

1. Risk Management

Derivatives help individuals and organizations to manage risk. Like the example given earlier, a farmer might use a futures contract to lock in a price for their crops in the future, protecting themselves against a decline in market prices.

2. Increased Liquidity

Financial derivatives can increase the liquidity of markets by allowing traders to buy and sell contracts more easily. This can lead to more efficient pricing and can make it easier for investors to find buyers or sellers for their positions.

3. Speculation

Derivatives can also be used for speculative purposes, allowing traders to take advantage of price movements in underlying assets.

4. Diversification

Financial derivatives can offer investors new opportunities for diversification, allowing them to spread their risk across a wider range of assets and markets.

Risks of Financial Derivatives

1. Complexity

Financial derivatives can be complex to understand, making it challenging for investors to make well-informed decisions.

2. Counterparty Risk

When using derivatives, there is always the risk that the other party to the contract will default on their obligations. This is known as counterparty risk.

3. Leverage 

Financial derivatives often involve the use of leverage, which can amplify losses as well as gains.

4. Regulation

The market for financial derivatives is heavily regulated, and changes to regulations can have significant impacts on the value of derivative positions.

5. Systemic Risk

The use of derivatives can lead to systemic risk, as large losses in the derivatives market can have spillover effects on the broader financial system.

Difference between Commodity Derivatives and Financial Derivatives

Commodity derivatives are derivatives that are based on physical commodities, such as agricultural products, energy products, and metals, and are primarily used for price risk management by producers and consumers of those commodities. 

Financial derivatives are based on financial instruments, such as stocks, bonds, and currencies, and are used for a variety of purposes including risk management, speculation, and investment.

Bottom line

Financial derivatives are complex financial instruments that can offer both benefits and risks. The key to successfully using derivatives is to have a clear investment strategy, manage risk effectively, and stay informed about changes in the market. 

With these considerations in mind, financial derivatives can be a valuable addition to an investment portfolio.


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