Understanding the Basics of Derivative Valuation: A Guide for Investors

This article outlines the types of derivatives, the derivative valuation process, and the factors affecting derivative valuation.

A derivative is a financial instrument whose value is derived from something else. Professional traders frequently buy and sell derivatives since their value is derived from other assets, which helps to balance risk. However, for less experienced investors, derivatives might have the reverse impact, increasing the risk factor of their investment portfolios. This article outlines the types of derivatives, the derivative valuation process, and the factors affecting derivative valuation.

Derivative valuation and investors

The process of calculating a derivative contract’s value is known as derivative valuation. Specific contracts, which outline trading and settlement procedures, govern transactions in the financial derivatives market. Derivatives are a tool that investors use to speculate, raise leverage, and hedge positions. Both over-the-counter and on-exchanges are options for buying and selling derivatives. Derivative contracts come in a variety of forms, such as options, swaps, and futures or forward contracts.

What are derivatives?

Derivatives are sophisticated financial contracts dependent on the value of an underlying asset, collection of assets, or benchmark. Stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates, market indices, and even cryptocurrencies are examples of these fundamental assets. Investors sign derivative contracts that expressly outline how they and a third party will react to potential future changes in the value of the underlying asset. OTC derivatives are unregulated and unstandardized, in contrast to exchange-traded derivatives. As a result, an OTC derivative may offer greater profit potential, but it also increases the risk of counterparty risk or the possibility that one party would go out of business.

How do derivatives work?

The goal of derivatives is risk management. Derivatives operate on the risk transfer principle, with different market participants playing different roles. Hedge fund managers and traders/speculators are two important market participants in derivatives. Hedgers are the owners of the underlying asset who want to shift the risk of future price volatility, whereas speculators are risk takers who enter into derivative contracts based on forecasts of how the price of the underlying asset will move in the future. Speculators hold derivative positions with or without ownership of the underlying assets.

Types of derivative

Derivatives come in a wide variety of forms and are useful for hedging risk, speculating, and leveraging a position. Derivative items fall into two categories. They are lock and option. Lock products (such as futures, forwards, or swaps) obligate the parties to the terms of the contract from the beginning. On the other hand, options products (such as stock options) give the holder the right but not the obligation to acquire or sell the underlying asset or security at a particular price on or before the option’s expiration date. Futures, forwards, swaps, and options are the four most popular types of derivatives.


Forward contracts, often known as forwards, are comparable to futures contracts but are not traded on an exchange. The only way to exchange these contracts is over-the-counter (OTC). The buyer and seller can choose the terms, size, and settlement procedure when creating a forward contract. For instance, you agree to sell 100 shares of stock to a third party after two months for $500 each. They have more counterparty risk for both parties than other products because they are OTC.


Another popular class of derivatives, swaps are frequently utilized to convert one sort of cash flow into another. A trader might, for instance, go from a variable interest rate loan to a fixed interest loan using an interest rate swap, or vice versa. Consider a scenario where Company ABC borrows $1,000,000 at a variable interest rate of 6%. As a result of the loan’s variable interest rate risk, ABC may be concerned about rising interest rates that will raise the cost of the debt or run into lenders who are hesitant to give them more credit.

Assume that ABC enters into a swap with Company LMN, which is willing to trade the variable-rate loan payments for the payments on a 7% fixed-rate loan. As a result, ABC will pay LMN 7% interest on its $1,000,000 principal while receiving 6% interest from LMN. ABC will only pay LMN the 1% point difference between the two swap rates at the start of the trade.


A futures contract, often known as a futures contract, is an agreement between two parties to purchase and deliver an item at a future date for an agreed-upon price. They are standardized contracts that are traded on an exchange. It is used by traders to manage risk or make predictions about the value of an underlying asset. The parties are required to carry out an agreement to purchase or sell the underlying asset. Consider the scenario where Company A purchases an oil futures contract on November 6, 2021, with an expiration date of December 19, for $62.22 per barrel.

The company makes this decision because it needs oil in December and is worried that the price will increase before it needs to make a purchase. Because the seller is required to provide oil to Company A for $62.22 per barrel after the contract expires, purchasing an oil futures contract helps the company to hedge its risk. Assume that by December 19th, 2021, oil will cost $80 per barrel. If Company A decides it no longer needs the oil, it can sell the futures contract before it expires and keep the money. Alternatively, it can accept delivery of the oil from the seller of the contract.


An options contract is a two-party agreement to buy or sell an asset at a defined future date for a certain price, much like a futures contract. The main distinction between options and futures is that with options, the buyer is not required to carry out their commitment to buy or sell. It is merely an opportunity, not a commitment like the future. Options can be used to speculate or hedge against changes in the price of the underlying asset.

Consider an investor who owns 100 shares of a stock with a $50 per share market value. They anticipate the stock will become more valuable in the future. But this investor decides to use an option to hedge their investment since they are worried about potential risks. The investor may decide to purchase a put option, which grants them the right to sell 100 shares of the underlying company for $50 each (known as the striking price) until a particular point in the future (known as the expiration date).

Other Types of Derivatives

Contracts with caps and floors are similar to options. They are made-to-order and negotiated between two parties. There are numerous settlement dates for caps and floors that are based on interest rates. The buyer will incur credit risk, like other options, they must pay a premium to buy the option. Caps are sometimes known as ceilings since they protect the buyer from rising interest rates over the striking rate. The difference between the market rate and the strike rate, multiplied by the notional, and divided by the number of settlements each year, is the amount paid to the option holder when rates climb over the strike rate.

A credit derivative is a contract whose value is based on the entity mentioned in the contract’s creditworthiness or a credit event. Credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, total return swaps, credit default swap options, and credit spread futures are examples of credit derivatives.

How does derivative valuation work?

Future cash flows, their current value, and the chosen valuation methodology all play a role in the valuation of derivatives. Counterparty credit risk is receiving a lot of attention at the moment. Companies have to make an effort to assess the possibility and consequences of a counterparty default. This has led to increased collateralization as a strategy to mitigate risk through the use of margins. Both central counterparty clearing and bilateral credit support annexes protect against counterparty default but can impact liquidity. Interbank credit without collateral is currently very limited, and what is still available has much higher costs.

Factors that affect the derivative valuation

Typically, the price of the underlying asset and its current market value serves as the basis for the derivative valuation. The value of the derivative might change significantly depending on market dynamics, changes in the price and volatility of the underlying asset, and other factors.

Factors that affect the derivative valuation

  • Underlying Asset – The asset or commodity that will be purchased or sold at a future date is referred to as the underlying asset (also known as Commodity) of the derivative contract. The stock itself is the underlying asset when stock options are involved.
  • Time to Expiration – The expiration time is the specific day and time when derivatives contracts cease to trade and any obligations or rights become due or expire. The precise expiration time and date will be stated in derivative contracts.
  • Volatility – Volatility gauges a security’s risk. It serves as a gauge for the variations in the returns of the underlying assets in the option pricing calculation. It describes the security’s pricing behavior and aids in estimating potential short-term swings. A security is considered to have high volatility if its prices change significantly over a short period. And it is said to have low volatility if its price changes gradually over time.
  • Interest Rates – One or more interest rates, the prices of products that track interest rates, or interest rate indices determine the value of an interest rate derivative or IRD.
  • Market Conditions – The situation of an industry or economy is referred to as market conditions. The stocks are frequently characterized as volatile or steady, which are two markets to which the phrase is frequently applied. Many people utilize these circumstances as an indicator to guide their judgments.

Derivative valuation methods

Investors employ derivative pricing models to try to discover an objective assessment of a derivative’s true value. This is then contrasted with the real market price to determine whether the investment is worthwhile. Every model considers certain well-known elements that have an impact on the derivative.

  • Black-Scholes Model – The Black-Scholes model is a differential equation that is frequently used to price option contracts. This model requires five input variables. They are the option strike price, current stock price, time to expiration, risk-free rate, and volatility.
  • Binomial Model – The binomial option pricing model employs an iterative process that enables the specification of nodes, or points in time, during the interval between the valuation date and the option’s expiration date.
  • Monte Carlo Simulation – The range of potential outcomes for an uncertain event is simulated mathematically using a Monte Carlo simulation. These forecasts evolve randomly and are based on an estimated range of values rather than a predetermined set of numbers.
  • Interest Rate Parity – According to the interest rate parity (IRP) theory, the difference in interest rates between two nations is equal to the difference between the forward and spot exchange rates.
  • Credit Valuation Adjustment – By comparing the value differences between a credit risk-free portfolio and an identical portfolio that accounts for a future change in creditworthiness, it is possible to quantify the relationship between market risk and credit risk as indicated. This difference in value is referred to as the credit valuation adjustment (CVA).

Example of derivative valuation

If the price has risen to $10, the other two possibilities are $12 and $8.A call option’s strike price is also $10. One month could be the duration. For each of these prices, there are two possible outcomes. The outcomes of $12 might be $10 and $8. $8 might result in $10 and $6. Each node might determine the option value. Take the first month, when the stock price was $10 and the option’s strike price was $10. If the cost increases to $12, the option is worth $2. If the price drops to $8, it loses.

Risks and Rewards of Derivatives Trading

Counterparty risk emerges when one of the parties engaged in a derivatives exchange, such as the buyer, seller, or dealer, defaults on the contract. Derivatives enable market players to allocate, manage, or exchange exposure without exchanging an underlying in the cash market. Furthermore, derivatives are more efficient in terms of operations and the market than cash markets and give customers access to exposures that are not possible there.

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