Some form of risk taking is inherent to any business activity. Some risks are considered to be "natural" to specific businesses, such as the risk of oil prices increasing or decreasing is natural to oil drilling and refining firms. Other forms of risk are not wanted, but cannot be avoided without hedging. Someone who has a shop, for example, expects to face natural risks such as the risk of competition, of poor or unpopular products, and so on. The risk of the shopkeeper's inventory being destroyed by fire is unwanted, however, and can be hedged via a fire insurance contract. Not all hedges are financial instruments: a producer that exports to another country, for example, may hedge its currency risk when selling by linking its expenses to the desired currency. Banks and other financial institutions use hedging to control their asset-liability mismatches, such as the maturity matches between long, fixed-rate loans and short-term (implicitly variable-rate) deposits.
The term gradually moved into common usage within English-speaking cultures and today covers a broad range of risk-reduction activities or conditions.
In the finance lending industry, the term "hedge loan" has come to mean a specific type of financial product based on the melioration of price fluctuation risk in a stock portfolio serving as collateral for a nonrecourse debt structured stock loan.
A stock trader believes that the stock price of Company A will rise over the next month, due to the company's new and efficient method of producing widgets. He wants to buy Company A shares to profit from their expected price increase. But Company A is part of the highly volatile widget industry. If the trader simply bought the shares based on his belief that the Company A shares were underpriced, the trade would be a speculation.
Since the trader is interested in the company, rather than the industry, he wants to hedge out the industry risk by short selling an equal value (number of shares × price) of the shares of Company A's direct competitor, Company B. If the trader was able to short sell an asset whose price had a mathematically defined relation with Company A's stock price (for example a call option on Company A shares) the trade might be essentially riskless and be called an arbitrage. But since some risk remains in the trade, it is said to be "hedged."
The first day the trader's portfolio is:
(Notice that the trader has sold short the same value of shares.)
On the second day, a favorable news story about the widgets industry is published and the value of all widgets stock goes up. Company A, however, because it is a stronger company, goes up by 10%, while Company B goes up by just 5%:
(In a short position, the investor loses money when the price goes up.)
The trader might regret the hedge on day two, since it reduced the profits on the Company A position. But on the third day, an unfavorable news story is published about the health effects of widgets, and all widgets stocks crash 50% is wiped off the value of the widgets industry in the course of a few hours. Nevertheless, since Company A is the better company, it suffers less than Company B:
Value of long position (Company A):
Value of short position (Company B):
Without the hedge, the trader would have lost $450. But the hedge - the short sale of Company B - gives a profit of $475, for a net profit of $25 during a dramatic market collapse.
The example above is a "classic" sort of hedge, known in the industry as a "pairs trade" due to the trading on a pair of related securities. As investors became more sophisticated, along with the mathematical tools used to calculate values, known as models, the types of hedges have increased greatly.
Many hedges do not involve exotic financial instruments or derivatives. A natural hedge is an investment that reduces the undesired risk by matching cash flows, i.e. revenues and expenses. For example, an exporter to the United States faces a risk of changes in the value of the U.S. dollar and chooses to open a production facility in that market to match its expected sales revenue to its cost structure. Another example is a company that opens a subsidiary in another country and borrows in the local currency to finance its operations, even though the local interest rate may be more expensive than in its home country: by matching the debt payments to expected revenues in the local currency, the parent company has reduced its foreign currency exposure.
Similarly, an oil producer may expect to receive its revenues in U.S. dollars, but faces costs in a different currency; it would be applying a natural hedge if it agreed to, for example, pay bonuses to employees in U.S. dollars.
One of the oldest means of hedging against risk is the purchase of insurance to protect against financial loss due to accidental property damage or loss, personal injury, or loss of life.
Futures contracts and forward contracts are a means of hedging against the risk of adverse market movements. These originally developed out of commodity markets in the nineteenth century, but over the last fifty years a huge global market developed in products to hedge financial market risk.
Credit risk is the risk that money owing will not be paid by an obligor. Since credit risk is the natural business of banks, but an unwanted risk for commercial traders, naturally an early market developed between banks and traders: that involving selling obligations at a discounted rate. See for example forfeiting, bill of lading, or discounted bill.
For example, labour costs are such that much of the simple commoditized manufacturing in the global economy today goes on in China and South-East Asia (Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.). The cost benefit of moving manufacturing to outsource providers outweighs the uncertainties of doing business in foreign countries, so many businesses are moving manufacturing operations overseas. But the benefits of doing this have to be weighted also against currency risk.
If the price of manufacturing goods in another country is fixed in a currency other than the one that the finished goods will be sold for, there is the risk that changes in the values of each currency will reduce profit or produce a loss. Currency hedging is akin to insurance that limits the impact of foreign exchange risk.
Currency hedging is not always available, but is readily found at least in the major currencies of the world economy, the growing list of which qualify as major liquid markets beginning with the "Major Eight" (USD, GBP, EUR, JPY, CHF, HKD, AUD, CAD), which are also called the "Benchmark Currencies", and expands to include several others by virtue of liquidity.
Currency hedging, like many other forms of financial hedging, can be done in two primary ways: with standardized contracts, or with customized contracts (also known as over-the-counter or OTC).
The financial investor may be a hedge fund that decides to invest in a company in, for example, Brazil, but does not want to necessarily invest in the Brazilian currency. The hedge fund can separate out the credit risk (i.e. the risk of the company defaulting), from the currency risk of the Brazilian Real by "hedging" out the currency risk. In effect, this means that the investment is effectively a USD investment, in Brazil. Hedging allows the investor to transfer the currency risk to someone else, who wants to take up a position in the currency. The hedge fund has to pay this other investor to take on the currency exposure, similar to insuring against other types of events.
As with other types of financial products, hedging may allow economic activity to take place that would otherwise not have been possible (as a loan, for example, may allow an individual to purchase a home that would be "too expensive" if the individual had to pay cash). The increased investment is assumed in this way to raise economic efficiency.
There are many ways to hedge, and one is the market neutral approach. In this approach, an equivalent dollar amount in the stock trade is taken in futures. Buy 10000 GBP worth of Vodafone and short 10000 worth of FTSE futures.
Another method to hedge is the beta neutral. Beta is the historical correlation between a stock and an index. If the beta of a Vodafone is 2, then for a 10000 GBP long position in Vodafone you will hedge with a 20000 GBP equivalent short position in the FTSE futures (the Index that Vodafone trades in).
In effect, the pool volatility is nullified and the parties pay and receive $50 per MWh. However, the party who pays the difference is "out of the money" because without the hedge they would have received the benefit of the pool price.