A derivative is a financial contract whose value is derived/reliant on the value of an underlying asset, hence why it is called a “derivative” contract. The underlying asset may be a commodity, bond, equity, interest rate, market index, currency or real estate. There are five main types of financial derivatives, which are structured as contracts between parties:
- Forward Contract:This is a financial contract that can be customized to a specific commodity, a specific quantity of the commodity and agreed-upon delivery date at a future point in time. As such, this is where the buyer can purchase an asset, and the seller can sell the asset, at a set price at a future point in time. These contracts are private agreements between two parties and thus they do not trade on an exchange.
- Options Contract:This type of derivative gives the holder of the option contract the right but not the obligation to buy/sell the underlying asset at a specified price (strike price), at a set time in the future. Options that give the right to buy the underlying assets are known as call options, while those that give the right but not the obligation to sell the underlying asset are known as put options.
- Futures Contract:This is a financial contract between two parties where both parties agree to buy/sell a particular asset at a predetermined price at a specific date. These contracts can be traded on a centralized exchange or an Over-the-Counter (OTC) market as standardized contracts. Futures contracts have a single clearinghouse (an intermediary between a buyer and a seller), and require a margin to be posted at the beginning of the contract, and will be settled for the duration of the contract. The difference between futures and a forward contract is that futures contracts tend to be standardized, meaning the contract values are in defined units, and hence why they commonly trade in an exchange. On the other hand, forward contracts tend to be privately negotiated between two parties and are usually not standardized, and hence commonly exchanged in the OTC market.
- Swaps Contract: This is a financial contract where two parties agree to exchange the cash flows from two different financial instruments. For instance, two parties may agree to exchange cash flows where one party makes payment in one currency while the other makes a payment in another currency. Such an arrangement is a currency swap. The main forms of swap contracts are currency swaps and interest rate swaps, where under interest rate swaps, parties exchange cash flows based on a benchmark rate such as the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR).
- Warrants: These securities entitle the holder the right to purchase a company’s stock at a specific price at a specific date. These financial derivatives are issued directly by the company that is involved in the contract and not another investor. These are used as a form of capital raising for a company.