What Is a Forward Contract and How Do They Work?

In a forward contract, a buyer and seller agree to acquire or sell an item at a predetermined price on a future occasion. Because of its increased complexity, this investment approach may not be appropriate for the average person’s portfolio. Futures contracts and forward contracts are two very different things. Neither one should be confused with the other. The following provides an explanation of what they are, as well as some advantages and disadvantages to think about.

What Is a Forward Contract?

Forward contracts are a subset of derivatives. The value of a contractual obligation that is a derivative is determined by its correlation to the underlying stock or collection of assets. A derivative might include two or more parties. Commodities, international currency, stock market indices, and securities, for example, may all serve as the basis for derivatives.

Buyer and seller enter into an agreement known as a forward contract in which they commit to transacting the purchase or sale of an underlying security at a price that is mutually agreed upon by both parties at a time and date in the future. The term “forward pricing” refers to this particular price. This price is arrived at by combining the current spot price with the risk-free interest rate.

The buyer of a forward contract assumes the long position, while the seller assumes the short position in the transaction. The parties participating in a forward contract are able to utilise it as a tool to minimise unpredictability by fixing the price for the underlying funds. This is the core tenet of the forward contract. A forward contract is a kind of financial instrument that may be used in this manner to protect oneself from the risks associated with an extremely competitive environment.

Forward Contract Example

Using an example to illustrate the concept of Forward Contract is the method that provides the clearest and most straightforward explanation. Let’s imagine the proprietor of a banana plantation has 400,000 tons of bananas that would be available commercially in three months. However, it is impossible to predict precisely how the pricing of bananas in the marketplace will fluctuate.When it comes to trading the harvest, the banana producer may ensure that they will get a predetermined price per tonne by engaging in a forward agreement with a buyer. The price of bananas at the time of the transaction is what decides the outcome for both parties. The agreement is satisfied if the rate per tonne at the moment of sale matches the rate indicated in the contract.

It’s possible that when the contract expires, spot prices will be higher than what was agreed upon, in which case the seller will be responsible for the difference. If the forward price is higher than the spot price, the buyer is responsible for compensating the seller for the difference in price. At the conclusion of the contract, all outstanding issues must be resolved in accordance with the conditions.

Every forward contract has the potential to have its own unique stipulations. Derivatives like this are not traded like stocks on an exchange. Rather, they are considered over-the-counter transactions. In a forward contract, the payout might take place in one of two ways, either on a delivery basis or a cash basis. If the contract calls for delivery, the seller is obligated to hand over whatever item or assets are at the heart of the transaction to the purchaser. When the deal is done, both parties exchange money. When a contract is resolved using cash as the method of payment, the buyer is still responsible for making the payout on the settlement date, but no physical assets are exchanged.

Why Implement Forward Contracts?

When entering into a forward contract, it is possible for the seller to “lock in” the price of a certain item. This has a number of advantages. This enables you to mitigate risk by guaranteeing that you will be free to sell the commodity at the price that you have specified as your goal.

Signing a forward contract may also serve as a method for the buyer to lock in a price. For instance, if you run a pineapple juice firm, a forward contract may make it possible for you to acquire the pineapple supplies you want at a predetermined price, which would allow you to keep producing pineapple juice. The management of expenses and the forecasting of future income may both benefit from this information.

The objective, from both the buyer’s and seller’s points of view, is to provide protection against price fluctuation and to achieve some degree of pricing stability. Because of this, forward contracts are considered to be extremely speculative investments because it is impossible to anticipate with complete precision the direction in which prices for an item or collection of assets will change over the course of the length of the contract.

As a result, the usage of forward contracts is most common in conjunction with volatile commodities like wheat, gold, cattle, and foreign currencies.

Features of Forward Contract

  1. Customisable agreement: Forwards are private contracts drawn between two parties, which makes them customisable. The terms of the contract, including the asset, price, quantity, and maturity date, can be tailored to suit the needs of the parties involved. 
  2. Risk management: Forwards are contracts between two parties to buy and sell assets at a predetermined price on a specific future date. Hence, these can be used for risk management to hedge against price fluctuation. Businesses can investors use forward contracts to lock in prices for assets they intend to buy in the future. 
  3. No initial payment: There are no initial payments or margins involved in forward contracts. Settlement happens on the contract’s maturity date. The agreed-upon price is compared with the prevailing price and usually, the party that owes the difference pays the other party. 
  4. Non-standard: Forwards are non-standard contracts. The terms of the forward contracts vary based on the agreement between the parties.   
  5. Counterparty risk: Since forwards are private contracts, there is an inherent counterparty risk. If one party defaults, the other party may suffer financial losses. This can be mitigated through due diligence, collateral agreements, and using intermediaries.  
  6. Liquidity: Forward contracts are not traded on the stock exchanges like options or futures. Hence, it can be challenging to exit a contract or make adjustments before the contract’s maturity.  
  7. Settlement: Settlement happens on the date of the contract’s maturity. The difference between the agreed-upon forward price and the prevailing market price is settled in cash or by physically delivering the asset, depending on the terms of the contract. 

Advantages of a Forward Contract

  • Hedging: Forwards are used for hedging against underlying price changes in the future. Parties can customise the terms of the forward contract to manage risk and protect themselves against market fluctuations. 
  • Customisation: Parties can make adjustments to the terms of the contract, including the expiration date, lot size, and pricing, to suit their requirements.
  • Simplicity: Forwards are simplified contracts with fewer regulations. 

Risks of a Forward Contract

Forwards are used to hedge against risks, but they also come with their own set of risks. Here are some of the key risks associated with forward contracts: 

  • Counterparty risks: If one of the parties defaults in meeting the contract’s terms, the other party may face difficulties in realising the terms of the contract.
  • Price risks: Forward contracts expose both parties to price risk. If the asset price moves against the contracted price, one of the parties can face a significant financial loss.
  • Liquidity risks: Forward contracts are private contracts that lack the secondary market liquidity that exchange-traded instruments like futures contracts offer. Exiting forward contracts before maturity could be challenging. 

Futures vs Forward Contracts

Futures contracts are another sort of derivative, however, they differ from forward contracts. They also make it possible for two parties to come to an agreement on the purchase or sale of an asset at a predetermined price at some point in the future. They are distinguished from forward contracts primarily by three distinguishing characteristics.

  • Instead of being settled all at once at the conclusion of the contract, this process happens every day.
  • Exchange is used for trading futures contracts.
  • Futures contracts are not subject to customisation since they are standardised.

Another significant distinction is the clearing house’s approach to risk management. A clearing house acts as a go-between in an investment transaction, bringing together the buyer and seller. It is accountable for ensuring that the contract is resolved in a manner that is suitable. Unlike forward contracts, futures contracts must be cleared by a clearing house. To put it another way, both parties participating in a forward contract assume a greater extent of creditworthiness.


When it comes to mitigating the risk of price fluctuations connected with commodity markets and other investment options, forward contracts may be beneficial for both sellers and buyers. Due to the fact that they are over-the-counter investments, they often carry a higher level of risk for both of the parties involved. Although they are comparable, you shouldn’t get them mixed up with futures contracts.


Who buys forward contracts?

Farmers, investors, and companies enter into forward contracts to safeguard themselves against market volatility.

What are the types of forward contracts?

Forward contracts are primarily of two types: Fixed Date Forward Contracts and Option Forward Contracts.

What is the value date of a forward contract?

The value date is the date when the forward contract ends. The maximum contract period is 12 months.

How is the forward contract executed?

On the maturity date, two parties settle the terms either in cash or by transferring the asset. At the time of execution, one party will gain while the other party will lose.

Can you cancel the forward contract?

Yes, it is possible to cancel a forward contract on the maturity date or 3 days after the maturity date.