Equity derivatives are trading instruments based on the price movements of underlying asset equity. These financial instruments include equity options, stock index futures, equity index swaps, and convertible bonds.
With an equity derivative, the investor doesn’t buy a stock, but rather the right to buy or sell a stock or basket of stocks. To buy those rights in the form of a derivative contract, the investor pays a fee, more commonly known as a premium.
How are Equity Derivatives Used?
The value of an equity derivative goes up or down depending on the price changes of the underlying asset. For this reason, investors sometimes buy equity derivatives — especially shorts, or put options — to manage the risks of their stock holdings.
4 Types of Equity Derivatives
1. Equity Options
Equity options are one form of equity derivatives. They allow purchasers to buy or sell a given stock within a predetermined time period at an agreed-upon price.
Because some equity derivatives offer the right to sell a stock at a given price, many investors will use a derivatives contract like an insurance policy. By purchasing a put option on a stock or a basket of stocks, can purchase some protection against losses in their investments.
Recommended: How to Trade Options
Not all put options are used as simple insurance against losses. Buying a put option on a stock is also called “shorting” the stock. And it’s used by some investors as a way to bet that a stock’s price will fall. Because a put option allows an investor to sell a stock at a predetermined price, known as a strike price, investors can benefit if the actual trading price of the stock falls below that level.
Call options, on the other hand, allow investors to buy a stock at a given price within an agreed-upon time period. As such, they’re often used by speculative investors as a way to take advantage of upward price movements in a stock, without actually purchasing the stock. But call options only have value if the price of the underlying stock is above the strike price of the contract when the option expires.
For options investors, the important thing to watch is the relationship between a stock’s price and the strike price of a given option, an options term sometimes called the “moneyness.” The varieties of moneyness are:
• At-the-money (ATM). This is when the option’s strike price and the asset’s market price are the same.
• Out-of-the-money (OTM). For a put option, OTM is when the strike price is lower than the asset’s market price. For a call option, OTM is when the strike price is higher than the asset’s market price.
• In-the-money (ITM). For a put option, in-the-money is when the market price of the asset is lower than the option’s strike price. For a call option, ITM is when the market price of the asset is higher than the option’s strike price.
The goal of both put and call options is for the options to be ITM. When an option is ITM, the investor can exercise the option to make a profit. Also, when the option is ITM, the investor has the ability to resell the option without exercising it. But the premiums for buying an equity option can be high, and can eat away at an investor’s returns over time.
Recommended: How to Sell Options for Premium
2. Equity Futures
While an options contract grants the investor the ability, without the obligation, to purchase or sell a stock during an agreed-upon period for a predetermined price, an equity futures contract requires the contract holder to buy the shares.
A futures contract specifies the price and date at which the contract holder must buy the shares. For that reason, equity futures come with a different risk profile than equity options. While equity options are risky, equity futures are generally even riskier for the investor.
One reason is that, as the price of the stock underlying the futures contract moves up or down, the investor may be required to deposit more capital into their trading accounts to cover the possible liability they will face upon the contract’s expiration. That possible loss must be placed into the account at the end of each trading day, which may create a liquidity squeeze for futures investors.
Equity Index Futures and Equity Basket Derivatives
As a form of equity futures contract, an equity index futures contract is a derivative of the group of stocks that comprise a given index, such as the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Index, and the NASDAQ index. Investors can buy futures contracts on these indices and many others.
Being widely traded, equity index futures contracts come with a wide range of contract durations — from days to months. The futures contracts that track the most popular indices tend to be highly liquid, and investors will buy and sell them throughout the trading session.
Equity index futures contracts serve investors as a way to bet on the upward or downward motion of a large swath of the overall stock market over a fixed period of time. And investors may also use these contracts as a way to hedge the risk of losses in the portfolio of stocks that they own.
3. Equity Swaps
An equity swap is another form of equity derivative in which two traders will exchange the returns on two separate stocks, or equity indexes, over a period of time.
It’s a sophisticated way to manage risk while investing in equities, but this strategy may not be available for most investors. Swaps exist almost exclusively in the over-the-counter (OTC) markets and are traded almost exclusively between established institutional investors, who can customize the swaps based on the terms offered by the counterparty of the swap.
In addition to risk management and diversification, investors use equity swaps for diversification and tax benefits, as they allow the investor to avoid some of the risk of loss within their stock holdings without selling their positions. That’s because the counterparty of the swap will face the risk of those losses for the duration of the swap. Investors can enter into swaps for individual stocks, stock indices, or sometimes even for customized baskets of stocks.
4. Equity Basket Derivatives
Equity basket derivatives can help investors either speculate on the price movements or hedge against risks of a group of stocks. These baskets may contain futures, options, or swaps relating to a set of equities that aren’t necessarily in a known index. Unlike equity index futures, these highly customized baskets are traded exclusively in the OTC markets.
Equity derivatives are trading instruments based on the price movements of underlying asset equity. Options, futures, and swaps are just a few ways that investors can gain access to the markets, or hedge the risks that they’re already taking.
SoFi offers options trading, along with a library of educational resources about options to help you get started. The options trading platform has an intuitive, user-friendly design. Plus, investors will have the option of trading either through the mobile app or web platform.
Photo credit: iStock/nortonrsx
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Investors should carefully consider the information contained in the prospectus, which contains the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other relevant information. You may obtain a prospectus from the Fund company’s website or by email customer service at [email protected]. Please read the prospectus carefully prior to investing. Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Also, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals, and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC registered investment advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or prequalification for any loan product offered by SoFi Bank, N.A.
Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.