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Fundamentals: What are Derivatives?

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Derivatives are contracts whose value is "derived" from the price of something else, typically, ‘cash market investments’ such as stocks, bonds, money market instruments or commodities.

An equity derivative, for example, might give you the right to buy a particular share at a stated price up to a given date. And in these circumstances the value of that right will be directly related to the price of the "underlying" share: if the share price moves up, then the right to buy at a fixed price becomes more valuable; if it moves down, the right to buy at a fixed price becomes less valuable.

This is but one example of a particular kind of derivative contract. However, the close relationship between the value of a derivative contract and the value of the underlying asset is a common feature of all derivatives.

There are many different types of derivative contract, based on lot of different financial instruments; share prices, foreign exchange, interest rates, the difference between two different prices, or even derivatives of derivatives. The possible combinations of products are almost limitless. What then are derivatives used for?

Derivatives have two main uses: hedging and trading.

       

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