What is Equity Derivatives

Equity derivatives are financial contracts offering facilities like leverage, risk management and hedging. But for the effective use of derivatives, you need a deep understanding.

What Are Equity Derivatives?

Equity derivatives are derivatives with stocks and equity indexes as underlying assets. Equity derivatives serve various purposes for investors and traders, including risk management, speculation, and portfolio optimisation. Derivatives allow traders to bid on the direction of the underlying asset’s price change without owning them. 

Equity Derivative Types 

There are four common types of equity derivatives.

  1. Futures Contracts: These obligate the buyer to purchase and the seller to sell an underlying equity asset at a predetermined price and future date. Equity index futures, like the BSE S&P and Nifty IT, are popular examples.
  2. Options: Equity options give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call option) or sell (put option) an underlying stock or index at a specified price before or on a specific expiration date.
  3. Swaps: Equity swaps involve exchanging cash flows based on the return of an underlying equity asset. These can be used for hedging or investment purposes.
  4. Forwards: Forwards are the same as futures, where the parties are obligated to perform the contract. But forwards are non-standardised, over-the-counter contracts that don’t trade on the stock exchanges.

Advantages of Equity Derivatives

Trading with equity derivatives offers several advantages:

  1. Risk Management: Equity derivatives provide effective tools for hedging against price fluctuations in the equity markets. Investors can use options and futures contracts to protect their portfolios from adverse market movements.
  2. Leverage: Equity derivatives typically require a smaller upfront investment compared to buying the underlying assets directly. This leverage allows traders to control a larger position with a smaller capital outlay, potentially magnifying profits (but also losses).
  3. Diversification: Derivatives allow investors to gain exposure to a wide range of equities or equity indices without having to buy individual stocks. This diversification can help spread risk across various assets.
  4. Liquidity: Many equity derivatives markets are highly liquid, allowing for easy entry and exit positions. This liquidity ensures that traders can typically find a counterparty to trade with, reducing the risk of illiquidity.
  5. Speculation: Traders use equity derivatives to speculate on price movements. They can profit from both rising (by buying call options) and falling (by buying put options) markets, offering opportunities in various market conditions.
  6. Cost-efficiency: Derivatives can be a cost-effective way to gain exposure to equity markets, as they often involve lower transaction costs than buying and selling individual stocks.
  7. Portfolio optimisation: Equity derivatives enable portfolio managers to adjust their asset allocation, manage risk, and enhance returns by using options and futures strategies.
  8. Arbitrage opportunities: Traders can take advantage of arbitrage opportunities by exploiting price discrepancies between the derivative and the underlying asset, helping to keep markets efficient.
  9. Flexibility: There is a wide variety of equity derivatives available, catering to different risk profiles and investment strategies. This flexibility allows investors to tailor their positions to meet specific objectives.
  10. Income generation: Options sellers can generate income through premium collection, which can enhance overall portfolio returns.

Disadvantages of Equity Derivatives

Equity derivatives provide various benefits, but they also come with several disadvantages and risks that investors, traders, and institutions should be aware of:

  1. Leverage risk: One of the most significant drawbacks of equity derivatives is the potential for magnified losses due to leverage. Leverage can amplify both gains and losses, leading to substantial financial risks.
  2. Complexity: Derivative instruments can be complex, with intricate pricing models and strategies. This complexity can make them challenging for inexperienced investors to understand and utilise effectively.
  3. Risk of loss: Equity derivatives can lead to significant financial losses if market movements go against the investor’s position. This risk is particularly high when using options, as the entire premium paid can be lost if the option expires worthless.
  4. Time decay: Options contracts have a finite lifespan, and their value erodes over time, a phenomenon known as time decay. This can lead to losses for option buyers if the market doesn’t move in the desired direction quickly enough.
  5. Counterparty risk: In over-the-counter (OTC) derivative markets, there is a counterparty risk. If the counterparty defaults on their obligations, it can result in substantial losses for the other party.
  6. Market risk: Equity derivatives are subject to market risk, including changes in stock prices, volatility, and overall market conditions. These factors can impact the value of derivative positions.
  7. Illiquidity: While many equity derivatives markets are highly liquid, some specific contracts or assets may lack liquidity. This can make it challenging to execute trades at desired prices.
  8. Margin calls: When using leverage, investors may be required to meet margin calls if their positions move against them. Failure to meet margin requirements can lead to forced liquidation of positions.
  9. Regulatory changes: Government regulations related to derivatives can change, affecting how these instruments are traded, taxed, or regulated. Investors must stay informed about these changes.
  10. Psychological stress: Trading in equity derivatives can be emotionally taxing, as market volatility and the potential for rapid losses can lead to stress and anxiety for traders and investors.
  11. Limited ownership rights: Equity derivatives do not provide ownership rights in the underlying assets. Unlike owning actual stocks, derivative holders do not receive dividends or voting privileges.
  12. Costs: Transaction costs, including commissions and fees, can erode profits, especially for frequent traders.
  13. Overtrading: The ease of trading derivatives can lead some investors to overtrade, which can result in higher transaction costs and increased exposure to risk.

Risks Associated With Equity Derivatives

  1. Leverage risk: Equity derivatives often involve the use of leverage, which means that a small price movement in the underlying asset can result in substantial gains or losses. While leverage can amplify profits, it can also magnify losses, potentially exceeding the initial investment.
  2. Market risk: Equity derivatives are highly sensitive to changes in the underlying asset’s price. Market risk includes the risk of adverse price movements, volatility, and unexpected market events that can impact the value of derivative positions.
  3. Counterparty risk: In over-the-counter (OTC) derivative markets, there’s counterparty risk. If the other party involved in the trade defaults on their obligations, the investor could suffer significant losses. This risk can be mitigated by trading on regulated exchanges.
  4. Liquidity risk: While major equity derivatives markets are liquid, certain contracts or less popular assets may lack liquidity. Illiquidity can make it difficult to execute trades at desired prices, potentially leading to losses.
  5. Time decay: Options contracts have finite lifespans, and their value erodes over time, primarily due to time decay. This poses a risk for option buyers, who may see their positions decline in value even if the underlying asset’s price remains unchanged.
  6. Regulatory risk: Government regulations and tax laws regarding derivatives can change, impacting how these instruments are traded, taxed, or reported. Investors must stay informed about regulatory changes that could affect their positions.
  7. Psychological stress: Trading in equity derivatives can be emotionally taxing due to the potential for rapid losses and market volatility. Emotional reactions can lead to impulsive decisions and poor risk management.
  8. Complexity risk: Derivative instruments can be complex, requiring a deep understanding of pricing models and strategies. Investors who do not fully comprehend these complexities are at risk of making costly mistakes.
  9. Margin calls: When using leverage, investors may be required to meet margin calls if their positions move against them. Failure to meet margin requirements can result in the forced liquidation of positions.

Who Should Invest in Equity Derivatives?

Equity derivatives trading is suitable for investors who understand the derivatives market and the risks associated with equity market volatility. Traders in the derivatives market should have a clear investment strategy and risk management plan. Traders, institutional investors, and those seeking portfolio diversification or hedging against market volatility can benefit from equity derivatives. Novice investors should consider gaining experience in traditional equity investments before venturing into derivatives or seeking professional advice to minimise risks. 

Differences Between Equity and Index Derivatives

The following table shows the differences between equity and index derivatives. Index derivatives are primarily futures contracts with indexes as underlying assets.

Areas of Comparison Equity Derivatives Index Derivatives
Underlying assets Stocks of listed companies  Indexes such as NIFTY50, Bank Nifty, etc.
Expiry  Monthly expiring contracts  Monthly and weekly expiring contracts
Cash settlement Takes t+1 days Cash settlement takes t+1 days
Physical settlements  Physical settlement is possible, but you must inform the broker before the expiration of the contract. Not available

Final Words

Equity derivatives are types of financial contracts with equity as the underlying asset. If you want to trade in equity derivatives, open a trading account with Angel One for free. 



Are equity options derivatives?

Equity options are types of derivatives with equity stocks as underlying assets. These derivatives allow traders to hedge, speculate, and diversify without owning the physical asset. 

How is derivative trading done in India?

To trade derivatives, the trader must open a trading account with a reputed and registered broker. If you have a trading account, you can start trading by logging into your account and placing an order.

Who regulates derivatives?

SEBI, or the Securities and Exchange Board of India, is responsible for regulating derivatives trading in India.

Who issues derivatives in India?

In India, both NSE and BSE offer derivative trading facilities on their platforms.

Is physical settlement available for equity derivatives?

Yes, physical settlement of the equity is available for equity derivatives. The derivatives allow traders to square off their positions on or before the expiration date of the contract. If the trader fails to do so, then the trader has to take physical delivery of the item.

What are the risks associated with equity derivative trading?

Equity derivative trading is subject to multiple risks, such as market, liquidity and counterparty risks.