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Derivatives: Definition, Concept and Types


What are derivatives?

  • A derivative is a contract between two parties, where the contract derives its value/price from an underlying asset.
  • The most common types of derivatives are forwards, futures, options, and swaps.
  • Underlying assets could include commodities, stocks, bonds, interest rates, and currencies.
  • People enter into derivative contracts to earn a huge amount of profits by contemplating the underlying asset’s value in the future.


Types of derivatives


  • A forward contract is a customized contract between two parties, where settlement takes place on a specific date in future at a price agreed today. The main features of forward contracts are
  • They are bilateral contracts and hence exposed to counter-party risk.
  • Each contract is custom designed, and hence is unique in terms of contract size, expiration date and the asset type and quality.
  • The contract price is generally not available in public domain.
  • The contract has to be settled by delivery of the asset on expiration date.
  • In case the party wishes to reverse the contract, it has to compulsorily go to the same counter party, which being in a monopoly situation can command the price it wants.


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  • Futures are exchange-traded contracts to sell or buy financial instruments or physical commodities for a future delivery at an agreed price.
  • There is an agreement to buy or sell a specified quantity of financial instrument commodity in a designated future month at a price agreed upon by the buyer and seller.
  • To make trading possible, BSE specifies certain standardized features of the contract.


Difference between forwards and futures

Sr.No Basis Futures Forwards
1 Nature Traded on organized exchange Over the Counter
2 Contract Terms Standardized Customised
3 Liquidity More liquid Less liquid
4 Margin Payments Requires margin payments Not required
5 Settlement Follows daily settlement At the end of the period.
6 Squaring off Can be reversed with any member of the Exchange. Contract can be reversed only with the same counter-party with whom it was entered into.



  • Options are derivative contracts that give the buyer a right to buy/sell the underlying asset at the specified price during a certain period of time.
  • This contract does not require any compulsion to discharge the contract on a specific date, which means the buyer is not under any obligation to exercise the option.
  • Options contracts provide the right but not the commitment to buy or sell an underlying instrument.

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  • Swap contracts are the most complex contracts, among the four derivatives.
  • Swap contracts mean the agreement is done privately between both parties. The parties who of the swap contracts agree to exchange their cash flow in the future as per a pre-determined formula.
  • Under these types of contracts, the underlying security is the interest rate or currency, as these contracts protect both parties from several major risks.
  • These contracts are not traded to the Stock Exchange as investment banker plays the role of a middleman between these contracts.


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