Cost of Carry, Explained and Defined

By Dan Miller · May 22, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Cost of Carry, Explained and Defined

What Is Cost of Carry?

Cost of carry refers to any and all ongoing costs that you need to pay in conjunction with holding a given investment. Transaction costs, which are incurred upon the purchase or sale of the asset, are typically not considered a carrying cost.

Cost of carry can come in a variety of different forms — here are a few types of carrying costs that you’ll want to be aware of:

•   Storage costs, if you are investing in the futures market for physical goods

•   Interest paid on loans used for an investment

•   Interest in margin accounts when borrowing to invest in stocks or options

•   Costs to insure or transport physical goods

•   The opportunity cost of investments

Most if not all investments have carrying costs, and savvy investors will take them into account when deciding whether an investment is worth it. Even if a particular investment doesn’t have obvious carrying costs, there is always the opportunity cost of making one investment over the other.

How Cost of Carry Works

The way that cost of carry works depends on the type of investment that you are considering. If you are investing in the futures markets for tangible goods like coffee, oil, gold, or wheat, you may have carrying costs associated with these physical goods. For example, if you buy a commodity like crude oil, you must pay the costs for transporting, insuring and storing that oil until you sell it.

To accurately calculate your trading profits you must include those carrying costs.

In a purely financial transaction like buying stock or trading options, there can still be carrying costs involved. You may have to pay interest if you are borrowing money with a margin account. You may also incur what are called opportunity costs. Opportunity costs refer to the money you could have made if you had invested your money in other areas.

If you are holding $10,000 in your stock account waiting for an option assignment, you can’t use that $10,000 for other investments.

Which Markets Are Impacted by Cost of Carry?

Cost of carry is a factor in a variety of different types of investments. Options trading has carrying costs from interest costs if you trade in a margin account to holding costs.

Investing in commodities may require a cost of storing, insuring, or transporting your goods. You should be aware that most types of investments also have opportunity costs.

Cost-of-Carry Calculation

The simplest cost-of-carry calculation just includes all of your carrying costs as a factor when you analyze the profitability of a particular investment. So, if

•   P = Purchase price of an investment

•   S = Sale price of the same investment

•   C = carrying costs while holding the investment

The profit of this investment could be expressed as Profit = S – P – C.

Futures Cost of Carry

The futures market has two different prices for each type of commodity. The spot price refers to the price for immediate delivery (i.e. on the spot). A futures price is the price for goods at some specified time in the future. Because most futures contracts of commodities come with non-zero carrying costs, the futures price is usually (but not always) higher than the spot price.

Options Cost of Carry

When trading options the costs of carry fall into a few categories:

•   Interest costs – Some investors borrow money to purchase options, i.e. a loan from a friend, a bank loan, or a brokerage margin account.

Whatever the source of the money, the interest paid to service the borrowing is a carrying cost.

•   Opportunity costs – You’ve chosen to invest in options. But where else could you have invested that money? Because most alternative investments carry risk, as does investing in options, it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

In finance, we look at risk-free investing rates to assess the opportunity cost. “Risk-free” is defined as the return available by investing in U.S. Treasuries. In the past, 30-year bonds were the standard, but 10-year returns and even the return on short-term Treasury notes may also be used.

•   Forgoing Dividends – One of the disadvantages of owning options compared to owning stock, is that you are not eligible for dividends as an option holder. The market makes an effort to price dividends into the option premium, but just as interest rates can fluctuate, so can dividend rates.

Examples of Cost of Carry

Here is a simple example of cost of carry and how it might affect an investment in purchasing Brent Crude Oil.

Say you buy a contract for 1,000 barrels of Brent Crude at $80/barrel. Six months later, the price of oil has gone up to $90/barrel, and you sell. You might think that you have earned a $10,000 profit, but that is not accounting for the cost of carrying the oil.

If it cost you $3,000 to store and insure those barrels of oil for the six months that you owned them, those carrying costs must be subtracted from your profit. You also are liable for delivering the oil, which might cost another $1,000. Considering the cost to carry, your actual profit was only $6,000. While these costs are easiest to understand with physical goods like commodities, most types of investments have carrying costs.

Cash and Carry Arbitrage

Like crypto arbitrage, there sometimes exists a type of arbitrage called cash-and-carry arbitrage. In cash-and-carry arbitrage, an investor will purchase a position in a stock or commodity and simultaneously sell a futures contract for the same stock or commodity.

If the futures price is higher than the combined amount of the stock price plus carrying costs, you can secure a relatively risk-free profit via cash and carry arbitrage.

Cost of Carry and Net Return

As we’ve discussed already, the cost of carry can have an impact on the net return of any investment. When determining your total profit and the return on investment (ROI), you need to account for any and all costs that you incur as part of the investment.

These might include transaction costs like commissions as well as carrying costs. Subtract all such costs from your gross profit to calculate the net return of your investment.

Can You Do Anything About Cost of Carry?

Since the cost of carry directly and negatively affects your total profit, you may be wondering if you can do anything about it. While there are carrying costs with almost every type of investment, one way to minimize the cost of carry is to avoid investments that have significant carrying costs.

On the other hand, if your specific situation allows you to have below market carrying costs, you may be able to earn a profit with cash and carry arbitrage.

The Takeaway

The cost of carry is a term used in options and futures trading that refers to the ongoing costs incurred in an investment while you are holding it.

With physical commodities, the cost of carry refers to storage, insurance, delivery and other costs specific to the fulfillment of your contract.

When applied to options trading the carrying costs are financial in nature, such as, interest costs, opportunity costs, and forgoing dividends.

If you’re ready to try your hand at options trading, you can set up an Active Invest brokerage account and trade trade options from the SoFi mobile app or through the web platform.

And if you have any questions, SoFi offers educational resources about options to learn more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, and members have access to complimentary financial advice from a professional.

With SoFi, user-friendly options trading is finally here.


How can you calculate cost of carry?

The cost of carry refers to any costs that you incur during the course of your investment. In commodities trading, this generally refers to costs like storage, insurance, or delivery of the commodity. In other types of investments, the cost of carry could include interest charges or the opportunity cost of using your money.

Do bonds have a cost of carry?

Yes, nearly all investments, including bonds, have some sort of cost of carry. In the bond market, the cost of carry generally refers to the difference between the face value of the bond plus premiums minus applicable discounts.

How are ordering and carrying costs different?

Ordering costs are the costs that you pay as part of the ordering process. In a stock or option transaction, any broker’s commissions that you pay would be considered ordering costs. While ordering costs are usually incurred only once (at buy and/or sale), carrying costs are the costs that you must pay to hold an investment throughout its duration.

Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

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