Investors use financial instruments such as Derivatives & Futures to hedge risks. These risks can be financial liabilities, commodity price fluctuations or other factors. Financially stronger companies or share market dealers accept these risks and use various strategies to make profits out of it.

What are Derivatives?

In the investment industry, a ‘Derivative’ is a contract whose price is decided on the basis of one or more underlying assets. The underlying asset can be a currency, stock, commodity or a security(that bears interest). Sometimes, Derivatives are also used for trading in specific sectors such as foreign exchange, equity,treasury bills, electricity, weather, temperature, etc. For example, Derivatives for the energy market are called Energy Derivatives.
According to the Securities Contract (Regulation) Act, 1956 the term “derivative” includes

  1. A security derived from a debt instrument, share, loan, whether secured or unsecured, risk instrument or contract for differences or any other form of security;
  2. A contract which derives its value from the prices, or index of prices, of underlying Securities.

What are the types of Derivatives Contracts?

Over the years, the types of derivatives contracts has evolved. The four basic types of Scottish Contracts are Futures, Options, Forwards and Swaps. Different types of derivatives are as follows-


A futures contract is a special type of forward contract where an agreement is made between two parties to buy or sell an asset at a certain time in future at a particular price.


Options are contracts between a option writer and a buyer that gives the buyer the right to buy/sell the underlying such as assets, other derivatives etc. at a stated price on a given date. Here, the buyer pays the option premium to the option writer i.e the seller of the option. The option writer has to oblige if the buyer decides to exercise the right given through the options contract.


It is a customized contract between two parties wherein the settlement happens on a specific date in the future at a price agreed upon on the contract date.


Swaps are private contracts between two parties wherein an exchange of cashflows of the financial instruments owned by the parties takes place. The two commonly used swaps are

  1. Interest Rate Swaps

    This involves swapping cash flows carrying interest in the same currency.

  2. Currency Swaps

    This type of allows the swap of cashflows with principal and interest in different currencies.

How it is different from Equity?

The financial instruments that derive their value from underlying assets such as bonds, commodities, currencies etc. are Derivatives. Whereas, the financial instruments that depend on demand and supply and company related, economic, political or other events. The equities are instruments for investment, while derivatives are used for speculation or hedging purposes.

Who and why they use Derivatives Instruments?

Private or Institutional Investors buy derivative contracts with a purpose. Some of the leading players in the derivatives market are hedgers, speculators and arbitrageurs. These can also be traders investing in futures and options on currency pairs.

Who are Hedgers?

They are the investors who hedge a risk. And, hedging means reducing a risk with a position that will help tackle risky factors or influences arising out of current market conditions. A hedger will try to achieve a position which is opposite to the risk he takes. This investor will try to reduce or eliminate price risk conditions in conditions of price volatility in the market.


For example, an investor intends to purchase 1000 shares of company ‘’ABC’’, but also wants to ensure this long position against market trend, especially in times of high volatility. Consequently, he should take short position of the same amount of ‘’ABC’’ futures to form a hedge. Such action would reduce his exposure to unfavorable situations or events that cause influence upon the whole market.

What do Speculators do?

Speculators invest in the derivatives markets by constantly studying the price movements and taking a position that gives them maximum gains. Their intention is primarily to make maximum profits. Compared to Hedgers, they tend to take a higher risk which can lead to maximum returns or huge loss in the markets. Speculators have to predict the future trends in the market as accurately as possible to place themselves in the right position in the market.

Speculators are the ones who wish to make greater profit with short-term investments. To do so, they provide future forecasts on the basis of fundamental as well as technical analysis. The speculators keep track of the fast moving trends from fluctuating interest rates to public statements by key people and predict the direction in which market will go.

The portfolio of speculators is huge and diversified and involves high net worth investors.

So, what is the role of Arbitrageurs?

Arbitrageurs operate in a swift manner with almost instant decisions being made to earn positive gains without taking any risk. They increase the liquidity in the market by grabbing the time-bound arbitrage opportunities in the market and trading the derivatives instruments immediately. With arbitrageurs, the investors don’t lose money, earn positive gains and trade with no risk. Arbitrageurs take advantage of the price differences that exist for a share in different markets for a limited time.