Financial Derivatives

Financial derivatives are contractual instruments whose valuation is contingent upon, or derived from, the performance of underlying assets specified in an agreed-upon arrangement between two or more parties. Common underlying assets encompass bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates, market indices, and equities.

Derivative instruments represent secondary securities, deriving their worth from the value of the underlying securities to which they are tethered. Intrinsically, derivative instruments hold no value in isolation. Futures contracts, forwards, options, swaps, and warrants are prevalent derivative instruments utilized in financial markets.

Example: A futures contract, being a derivative instrument, derives its value from the performance of its underlying asset. Similarly, a stock option constitutes a derivative instrument, with its value emanating from the value of the underlying security. Despite being contingent on an asset’s value, ownership of a derivative instrument does not equate to ownership of the asset itself.

Fixed vs. Options Derivatives

Derivative products are bifurcated into “fixed” and “options” categories. Fixed products (e.g., swaps, futures, or forwards) bind counterparties from inception to adhere to predetermined terms throughout the contract tenure. Conversely, options products (e.g., interest rate swaps) endow the buyer with the right, but not the obligation, to execute or refrain from executing the contract based on initially agreed-upon terms.

Example: Fixed products necessitate counterparties to fulfill agreed terms throughout the contract’s duration. In contrast, options products afford buyers the discretion to execute or not execute the contract according to predetermined terms.

The Risk: Reward ratio underpins investment philosophy, with derivative instruments serving as a means to mitigate or embrace risk commensurate with profit expectations. For instance, a trader may seek profit from price declines by vending a related futures contract. Derivative products function as tools facilitating the transfer of risk associated with underlying asset prices among involved parties.

Example: A trader endeavors to profit from declining prices by short-selling a futures contract. Derivative products serve as vehicles enabling risk transfer concerning asset prices between relevant parties.

Financial Derivatives

Users of Derivative Instruments

Commodity derivative instruments find utility among farmers and commodity processors as a means of securing a certain level of risk mitigation. Farmers engage in contracts to fix an acceptable price for the commodities they vend, while producers enter agreements to fix input prices and ensure supply for their production. Despite both parties mitigating risks through hedging, they remain exposed to fluctuations in commodity values.

Example: A farmer desires price certainty for commodities, but price spikes (due to crop failures, for instance) may result in forgone income. Likewise, commodity prices may plummet, necessitating producers to pay more for commodities than if purchased from alternative sources.

Futures Contracts

We elucidate the functionality of derivative instruments through a hypothetical scenario involving two fictitious acquaintances.

Example: Gail, proprietor of Healthy Farms, seeks to safeguard her business from market volatility in the poultry industry. She enters into a futures contract with an investor, agreeing to sell chickens at $30 each in six months, irrespective of prevailing market prices. This contract shields Gail from price fluctuations, enabling her to focus on business operations.

Swap Contracts

Upon expanding her enterprise, Gail endeavors to secure additional financial support but encounters resistance from lenders due to existing variable-rate loans. However, Gail and Sam, a restaurant chain owner, engage in a loan swap, allowing them to acquire loans matching their respective preferences.

Example: Gail and Sam mutually exchange loans to align with their financial objectives, despite inherent risks associated with loan defaults or bankruptcies.

Option Contracts

In a subsequent phase, both Gail and Sam contemplate retirement while grappling with potential risks to their investment portfolios. Sam, holding substantial equity in Healthy Farms, mitigates risk through a put option, providing him with a financial safety net against adverse market movements.

Example: Sam purchases a put option, granting him the right to sell shares at a predetermined price, thereby safeguarding his retirement savings against market downturns.


The narrative underscores the pivotal role of derivative instruments in transferring risk and potential rewards from risk-averse to risk-tolerant individuals. Despite past apprehensions, derivative instruments can serve as invaluable tools in financial markets, provided they are wielded judiciously.