Managing Risk with Derivatives

Uses of Derivatives to Manage Exposure

Derivatives allow risk related to the price of underlying assets, such as commodities, to be transferred from one party to another.

Learning Objectives

Discuss how derivatives manage exposure

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Companies that produce or depend on the purchase of commodities are exposed to price fluctuations that occur in commodities markets.
  • Hedging also occurs when an individual or institution buys an asset (such as a commodity, a bond that has coupon payments, a stock that pays dividends, etc. ) and sells it using a futures contract.
  • Although a third party, called a “clearing house,” insures a futures contract; not all derivatives are insured against counter-party risk.

Key Terms

  • commodities: term used to describe a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market.

Managing Exposure

Companies that produce or depend on the purchase of commodities are exposed to price fluctuations that occur in commodities markets. Examples of such companies include the airline industry, which is constantly exposed to the price of oil, and farming, which is not only exposed to the fluctuation in the price they can sell their goods at, but also the fluctuation in the price of animal feed, fertilizer, pesticides, and other such inputs.

image

Commodity Price Fluctuation: This graph shows the price of crude oil between August 2008 and January 2009. Companies depending on the price of oil for their supply can implement hedging strategies using derivatives to manage this exposure.

Derivatives allow risk related to the price of underlying assets, such as commodities, to be transferred from one party to another. For example, a wheat farmer and a miller could sign a futures contract to exchange a specified amount of cash for a specified amount of wheat in the future. Both parties have reduced a future risk: for the wheat farmer, the uncertainty of the price, and for the miller, the availability of wheat. However, there is still the risk that no wheat will be available because of events unspecified by the contract, such as the weather, or that one party will renege on the contract. Although a third party, called a clearing house, insures a futures contract, not all derivatives are insured against counter-party risk.

Hedging also occurs when an individual or institution buys an asset (such as a commodity, a bond that has coupon payments, a stock that pays dividends, etc.) and sells it using a futures contract. The individual or institution has access to the asset for a specified amount of time and can then sell it in the future at a specified price according to the futures contract. Of course, this allows the individual or institution the benefit of holding the asset, while reducing the risk that the future selling price will deviate unexpectedly from the market’s current assessment of the future value of the asset.

Derivatives can serve legitimate business purposes, as well. For example, a corporation borrows a large sum of money at a specific interest rate. The rate of interest on the loan resets every six months. The corporation is concerned that the rate of interest may be much higher in six months. The corporation could buy a forward rate agreement (FRA), which is a contract to pay a fixed rate of interest six months after purchases on a notional amount of money. If the interest rate after six months is above the contract rate, the seller will pay the difference to the corporation, or FRA buyer. If the rate is lower, the corporation will pay the difference to the seller. The purchase of the FRA serves to reduce the uncertainty concerning the rate increase and stabilize earnings.