What Are Your Options With Derivatives?

What Are Your Options With Derivatives?

“The options and futures traded on exchanges are derivatives contracts” ― Carol Loomis

5 min read

What Are Your Options With Derivatives

What Are Your Options With Derivatives?

“The options and futures traded on exchanges are derivatives contracts” ― Carol Loomis

5 min read

Derivatives stand as versatile financial instruments, offering a wide array of possibilities for investors and traders alike. These tools derive their value from underlying assets and serve various purposes, from risk management to speculation. Understanding the diverse options available within derivatives is crucial for anyone navigating the complexities of modern financial markets.

What are Derivatives?

Derivatives encompass a broad spectrum of financial contracts whose value derives from the performance of an underlying asset, index, or entity. The primary types of derivatives include options, futures, forwards, and swaps. In brief, you require a contract to be put into place between two parties, where the value is dependent on the fluctuations in the value of an underlying asset. For more detail:

  1. Options: Options provide the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call option) or sell (put option) an underlying asset at a predetermined price (strike price) within a specified period. They are commonly used for hedging against price movements or speculating on future price directions.

  2. Futures: Futures contracts obligate both parties to buy or sell an underlying asset at a predetermined price on a specified future date. They are standardized contracts traded on exchanges, used for hedging and speculation.

  3. Forwards: Similar to futures, forwards are agreements between two parties to buy or sell an asset at a future date and at an agreed-upon price. However, forwards are customized contracts and are traded over-the-counter (OTC).

    1. “Over-the-counter” refers to the trading of financial securities, such as stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other assets, directly between two parties outside of a formal exchange or regulated market. In an OTC market, buyers and sellers negotiate directly with each other, typically through a network of dealers or brokers, without the involvement of a centralised exchange.
  4. Swaps: Swaps involve the exchange of cash flows or liabilities between two parties, typically involving interest rate swaps, currency swaps, or commodity swaps. They are used for managing risks or altering the cash flow structure.

    1. There are several common types of swaps:

      1. Interest Rate Swaps (IRS): In an interest rate swap, two parties agree to exchange fixed-rate and variable-rate interest payments. One party pays a fixed interest rate, while the other pays a floating (variable) interest rate based on an agreed-upon notional principal amount. This swap enables entities to hedge against interest rate exposure or modify their debt profile.

      2. Currency Swaps: Currency swaps involve the exchange of principal and interest payments in different currencies. Companies or investors might use currency swaps to hedge against currency risk or obtain better borrowing rates in foreign markets.

      3. Commodity Swaps: Commodity swaps allow parties to exchange cash flows based on commodity price movements. These swaps might involve exchanging fixed price payments for floating price payments linked to the price of commodities like oil, natural gas, or agricultural products.

      4. Credit Default Swaps (CDS): Credit default swaps involve the transfer of credit risk from one party to another. The buyer of a CDS makes periodic payments to the seller and, in return, receives compensation if the underlying asset (such as a bond) defaults.

Strategies in Derivatives Trading

Derivatives facilitate a spectrum of trading strategies tailored to different market conditions and investor objectives. Traders employ various strategies such as straddles, strangles, spreads, and collars, each with its unique risk and reward profile. Below we explain each of these strategies:

  1. Straddle

    • Definition: A straddle is an options strategy involving the purchase of both a call option and a put option on the same underlying asset with the same expiration date and strike price.
    • Purpose: Traders use straddles when they anticipate significant price volatility in the underlying asset but are unsure about the direction of the price movement. Profits are maximised if the price makes a substantial move either upwards or downwards.
    • Risk: The risk associated with a straddle is the premium paid for both options. If the price remains stagnant, the trader might incur losses due to the expiration of both options.
  2. Strangle

    • Definition: A strangle is similar to a straddle but involves purchasing out-of-the-money call and put options with different strike prices but the same expiration date.
    • Purpose: Traders employ strangles when they anticipate significant price movement but are uncertain about its direction. It’s a cheaper alternative to a straddle but requires a larger price movement for profitability.
    • Risk: Similar to straddles, the main risk in a strangle strategy is the potential loss of the premiums paid for the options if the price doesn’t move significantly.
  3. Spreads

    • Definition: Spreads involve simultaneously buying and selling options on the same underlying asset but with different strike prices, expiration dates, or both.
    • Types: There are various types of spreads, such as vertical spreads (bull call spread, bear put spread), horizontal spreads (calendar spread), and diagonal spreads.
    • Purpose: Spreads are used to limit risk exposure, reduce upfront costs, or profit from specific market scenarios, depending on the type of spread employed.
    • Risk: The risk in spreads varies depending on the strategy used but often involves a trade-off between potential gains and losses.
  4. Collars

    • Definition: A collar involves holding a long position in an underlying asset while simultaneously buying a protective put option and selling a covered call option on the same asset.
    • Purpose: Collars are used for protecting unrealised gains in a stock while limiting potential losses. They offer downside protection while capping potential upside.
    • Risk: The main risk in a collar strategy is the potential opportunity cost of limited upside gains due to the obligation to sell the asset at a specified price.

Risk Management and Diversification with Derivatives

Derivatives offer sophisticated risk management tools allowing investors to hedge against adverse market movements. Options, for instance, can serve as insurance policies, protecting portfolios from potential losses by purchasing put options on existing positions. Meanwhile, futures contracts enable producers and consumers to secure prices for future transactions, shielding against market uncertainties. Diversification using derivatives involves spreading investments across various asset classes through instruments like index futures or options, reducing overall portfolio risk.

Impacts of Derivatives on Financial Markets

The utilisation of derivatives significantly impacts financial markets, influencing price discovery, liquidity, and risk management practices. Derivatives facilitate price determination based on market expectations, enhancing market efficiency by incorporating a diverse range of information into asset prices. Moreover, the high liquidity in derivatives markets enables participants to enter and exit positions swiftly, contributing to overall market liquidity. However, their complex nature and leverage potential can exacerbate market volatility if mismanaged, leading to systemic risks.

Regulation and Oversight in Derivatives Markets

Given their potential to affect financial stability, derivatives markets undergo stringent regulatory oversight. Regulatory bodies impose measures to ensure market integrity, transparency, and investor protection. Margin requirements, position limits, and reporting standards are among the regulatory tools employed to mitigate risks associated with derivatives trading. Moreover, central counterparties (CCPs) play a crucial role in derivatives markets, acting as intermediaries between buyers and sellers, thereby reducing counterparty risk.

Your Strategic Path

Understanding the intricacies of derivatives, including options, futures, forwards, and swaps, empowers market participants to harness these instruments effectively. However, their complex nature necessitates prudence, sound risk management practices, and a comprehensive understanding of their mechanics to navigate these markets successfully.

Patterson Mills are here to guide you through the complex world of derivatives to ensure you don’t get caught out. So, get in touch with us today and book your initial, no-cost and no-obligation meeting, you will be pleased that you did. Send us an e-mail to or call us direct at +41 21 801 36 84 and we shall be pleased to assist you.

Please note that all information within this article has been prepared for informational purposes only. This article does not constitute financial, legal or tax advice. Always ensure you speak to a regulated Financial Adviser before making any financial decisions.