Uses of Currency Futures

1. Hedging:

Presume Entity A is expecting a remittance for USD 1000 on 27 August 08. Wants to lock in the foreign exchange rate today so that the value of inflow in Indian rupee terms is safeguarded. The entity can do so by selling one contract of USD­INR futures since one contract is for USD 1000.

Presume that the current spot rate is Rs.43 and USDINR 27 Aug 08’ contract is trading at Rs.44.2500. Entity A shall do the following:

Sell one August contract today. The value of the contract is Rs.44,250.

Let us assume the RBI reference rate on August 27, 2008 is Rs.44.0000. The entity shall sell on August 27, 2008, USD 1000 in the spot market and get Rs. 44,000. The futures contract will settle at Rs.44.0000 (final settlement price = RBI reference rate).

The return from the futures transaction would be Rs. 250, i.e. (Rs. 44,250 – Rs. 44,000). As may be observed, the effective rate for the remittance received by the entity A is Rs.44. 2500 (Rs.44,000 + Rs.250)/1000, while spot rate on that date was Rs.44.0000. The entity was able to hedge its exposure.

2. Speculation: Bullish, buy futures

Take the case of a speculator who has a view on the direction of the market. He would like to trade based on this view. He expects that the USD-INR rate presently at Rs.42, is to go up in the next two-three months. How can he trade based on this belief? In case he can buy dollars and hold it, by investing the necessary capital, he can profit if say the Rupee depreciates to Rs.42.50. Assuming he buys USD 10000, it would require an investment of Rs.4,20,000. If the exchange rate moves as he expected in the next three months, then he shall make a profit of around Rs.10000. This works out to an annual return of around 4.76%. It may please be noted that the cost of funds invested is not considered in computing this return.

A speculator can take exactly the same position on the exchange rate by using futures contracts. Let us see how this works. If the INR- USD is Rs.42 and the three month futures trade at Rs.42.40. The minimum contract size is USD 1000. Therefore the speculator may buy 10 contracts. The exposure shall be the same as above USD 10000. Presumably, the margin may be around Rs.21, 000. Three months later if the Rupee depreciates to Rs. 42.50 against USD, (on the day of expiration of the contract), the futures price shall converge to the spot price (Rs. 42.50) and he makes a profit of Rs.1000 on an investment of Rs.21, 000. This works out to an annual return of 19 percent. Because of the leverage they provide, futures form an attractive option for speculators.

3. Speculation: Bearish, sell futures

Futures can be used by a speculator who believes that an underlying is over-valued and is likely to see a fall in price. How can he trade based on his opinion? In the absence of a deferral product, there wasnt much he could do to profit from his opinion. Today all he needs to do is sell the futures.

Let us understand how this works. Typically futures move correspondingly with the underlying, as long as there is sufficient liquidity in the market. If the underlying price rises, so will the futures price. If the underlying price falls, so will the futures price. Now take the case of the trader who expects to see a fall in the price of USD-INR. He sells one two-month contract of futures on USD say at Rs. 42.20 (each contact for USD 1000). He pays a small margin on the same. Two months later, when the futures contract expires, USD-INR rate let us say is Rs.42. On the day of expiration, the spot and the futures price converges. He has made a clean profit of 20 paise per dollar. For the one contract that he sold, this works out to be Rs.2000.

4. Arbitrage:

Arbitrage is the strategy of taking advantage of difference in price of the same or similar product between two or more markets. That is, arbitrage is striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices. If the same or similar product is traded in say two different markets, any entity which has access to both the markets will be able to identify price differentials, if any. If in one of the markets the product is trading at higher price, then the entity shall buy the product in the cheaper market and sell in the costlier market and thus benefit from the price differential without any additional risk.

One of the methods of arbitrage with regard to USD-INR could be a trading strategy between forwards and futures market. As we discussed earlier, the futures price and forward prices are arrived at using the principle of cost of carry. Such of those entities who can trade both forwards and futures shall be able to identify any mis-pricing between forwards and futures. If one of them is priced higher, the same shall be sold while simultaneously buying the other which is priced lower. If the tenor of both the contracts is same, since both forwards and futures shall be settled at the same RBI reference rate, the transaction shall result in a risk less profit.

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