What is a Derivative?

What is a Derivative?

Derivatives are financial products whose value depends on an underlying asset. Debt, equity securities, commodities, indices, and currencies are typical examples of these assets. Derivatives can derive their value from almost any underlying asset.

There are different types of derivatives. Certain types can help manage risk by locking the underlying asset’s price. For example, a company that relies on a specific resource to function may enter into a contract alongside a supplier to purchase that resource a month in advance at a fixed price. If the resource has a market value that fluctuates frequently, the company can lock in a price for a set period.

The derivative in this example is the contract, and the underlying asset is the resource up for purchase. If the value of the asset rises over time, the business saves money. If the asset drops or rises less than anticipated, the business will lose money. For this reason, companies use derivatives to their advantage to lock in the price of the products they need for production in future cases. By doing so, they don’t have to worry about the rise and fall of raw materials. 

What can derivatives be used for?

Derivatives are most often used to purchase commodities such as copper, sugar, oil, and wheat.

Derivatives have two purposes. One is a speculative tool, and the other is to prevent risk. In most cases, derivatives require advanced trading. Such as speculating, options, hedging, swaps, futures contracts, and forward contracts.

What types of derivatives are there?

There are a few places to purchase derivatives. One is through a broker under “exchange-traded” or a standardized contract. Another option is over-the-counter, nonstandard contracts. Let’s review the types of derivatives available. 

Future Contracts

Future contracts are primarily traded in commodity markets. Futures contracts represent an agreement to purchase commodities at a pre-set price for a specific date. 

Forward Contracts 

Like futures contracts, forward contracts are given a set date and price. They are nonstandardized and are traded over the contract. The two parties involved can modify the details to suit their needs. The one thing they have different from future contracts is that they don’t settle daily but at the set expiration date or end date. 


They grant the right to buy or sell a specific asset for a predetermined price by a specific date. Options are primarily traded as standardized contracts on exchanges like the Chicago Board Options Exchange or the International Securities Exchange. As an individual trader, options can be risky. 


Swaps are derivative contracts that minimize risk. Companies, financial institutions, and banks are organizations that usually enter swaps. There are two derivatives categories: interest rate swaps and currency swaps. To reduce the risk, they can change a fixed rate debt into a floating rate debt and the other way around. In addition, they can make it challenging to pay a debt in another country’s currency by minimizing the chance of a currency move. 

Swaps can have a significant impact on the balance sheet. They are designed to balance and stabilize cash flows, assets, and liabilities.

What risks are involved in derivatives? 

There is a lack of transparency regarding the notion of derivatives, which can often cause institutions to go bankrupt. In addition, there is a counterparty risk that derivatives carry along with them. As mentioned above, most derivatives count on an additional side of the trade. If they can’t complete their end of the deal, the other side loses financially. 

Leverage is purchasing investments with borrowed funds. Banks and other institutions can carry large amounts of derivative positions on their books when there is leverage in order to enter complicated derivative arrangements. If the market or counterparty involved underperforms, the contract is then not worth much. 

Since many privately written derivative contracts include built-in collateral calls, the problem could worsen. These involve a counterparty that helps financially when there is distress which can only cause problems that can potentially lead to bankruptcy. Therefore many corporations, individual investors, and the economy itself are often by derivative losses.

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