Cash Settlement vs Physical Settlement

Differences Between Cash Settlement and Physical Settlement

Cash settlement is an arrangement under which the seller in a contract chooses to transfer the net cash position instead of delivering the underlying assets whereas physical settlement can be defined as a method, under which the seller opts to go for the actual delivery of an underlying asset and that too on a pre-determined date and at the same time rejects the idea of cash settlement for the transaction.

In the world of finance, settlement of securities, including derivatives, is a business process whereby the contract is executed on pre-decided settlement date.

In the case of derivative contracts of Futures or Options, on the settlement date, the seller of the contract will either deliver the actual underlying asset, which is called the Physical Derivative of the underlying asset for which the derivative contract has been undertaken.

The second method is the Cash settlement methodCash Settlement MethodCash settlement is a settlement option frequently used in trading futures and options contracts, where the underlying assets are not physically delivered at the expiration date. At the same time, only the difference is paid by either of the parties, depending on the market rate.read more, in which case the cash position is transferred from the buyer to the seller on the settlement date.

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What is a Cash Settlement?

This method of settlement involves the seller of the financial instrument, not delivering the underlying asset but transfers the Net Cash position. For instance, the purchaser of a Sugarcane Futures contract, who wants to settle the contract in cash, will have to pay the difference between the Spot price of the contract as of the settlement date and the Futures price pre-decided. The purchaser is not required to take physical ownership of the sugarcane bundles.

In derivatives, cash settlement is used in the case of a Futures contract since it is monitored by an exchange, ensuring smooth execution of the contract.

cash-settlement-example

source: cmegroup.com

Extending the previous example of sugarcane in the commodities futures market, assuming an investor goes long (buy) on 100 bushels of sugarcane with a current market price of $50 per bushel. Assuming the settlement date is after three months post which if the price per bushel increase to $60 per bushel, then the investor gains:

$60 (Exit Price) – $50 (Entry Price) = $10 per bushel

Thus, Profit = $10*100 bushels = $1000

In this case, the next profit = $1000, which will be credited into the trading account of the investor.

On the contrary, if the price falls to $45, then the investor will face a loss of:

$45 (Exit Price) – $50 (Entry Price) = $5 per bushel

Thus, Loss = $5*100 = $500, which will be debited from the account of the investor.

With the advent of technology and continuous operating of all the markets, it is relatively easy to fund an account and commence trading without any knowledge of the markets around the club.

The same principle is also applicable in the case of Options contracts. To illustrate a cash settlement for a Put Options ContractPut Options ContractPut Option is a financial instrument that gives the buyer the right to sell the option anytime before the date of contract expiration at a pre-specified price called strike price. It protects the underlying asset from any downfall of the underlying asset anticipated.read more, let us assume a Contract of Microsoft expires on the last Thursday of the month, and the spot price in the market is $100. The price specified in the contract is $75. This simply means the put contract was undertaken with the hope that the share price will fall below $75. However, now that the price is $100, the holder must make the purchase at $100 instead of $75. Hence if there were five lots of options to be purchased, then the net loss for the holder will be:

$100 – $75 = $25 per lot and Thus, Total Loss = $25*5 = $125.

What is a Physical Settlement/Delivery?

This refers to a derivatives contractA Derivatives ContractDerivative Contracts are formal contracts entered into between two parties, one Buyer and the other Seller, who act as Counterparties for each other, and involve either a physical transaction of an underlying asset in the future or a financial payment by one party to the other based on specific future events of the underlying asset. In other words, the value of a Derivative Contract is derived from the underlying asset on which the Contract is based.read more requiring the actual underlying asset to be delivered on the specified delivery date, rather than being traded out net cash position or offsetting of contracts. The majority of the derivative transactions are not necessarily exercised but are traded prior to the delivery dates. However, physical delivery of the underlying asset does occur with some trades (largely with commodities) but can occur with other financial instruments.

physical-settlement-example

Settlement by physical delivery is carried out by Clearing brokers or their agents. Immediately, after the last day of trading, the regulated exchange’s clearing organization shall report a sale and a purchase of the underlying asset at the prior day’s settlement price (normally the closing price). Traders who hold a short positionShort PositionA short position is a practice where the investors sell stocks that they don't own at the time of selling; the investors do so by borrowing the shares from some other investors to promise that the former will return the stocks to the latter on a later date.read more in the physical settlement of futures contract to expiration are required to deliver the underlying asset. Traders not owning them are obligated to buy them at the current price, and those who already own the assets have to hand it over to the requisite clearing organization.

  • The role of the exchanges is very critical since they ensure the conditions for the contracts which they cover to ensure the contract is executed smoothly.
  • Exchanges also regulate the locations for delivery, especially in the cases of commodities.
  • The Quality, Grade, or Nature of the underlying asset to be delivered is also regulated by the exchange.

Let us take an instance of a Commodity Futures contract, which is settled by Physical delivery upon expiration. For instance, a trader named Max has taken a long position of a Futures contract (the buyer of futures), and upon expiration, he is obliged to receive the delivery of the underlying commodity, which in this case can be assumed to be Corn. In return, Max is required to pay the agreed-upon price of the Futures contract was made for. Additionally, Max is also responsible for any Transaction cost, which may include Transportation, Storage, Insurance, and inspections.

On the other hand, there is a corm farmer named Gary who is looking to hedge his crop due to anticipation of possible fluctuation in the market prices in the commodities market. He calculates that he can grow around 150 bushels of CornCorn per acre (average estimate) and assume he has 70 acres of land.

In this way, Total Bushels = 150*70 = 10,500 bushels of corn.

As per the exchange rules, every single corn futures contract calls for 5,000 bushels. Gary will probably sell 2 Futures contracts to hedge his crop every year. This guarantees to hedge a substantial portion of his total growth.

The exchange will also state the standard/grade of the Corn, which the farmer has to meet. The quantity of CornCorn in the contract will be thoroughly inspected to make sure it meets or exceeds the specifications which have been stated by the exchange. Post-inspection, the recipient of the Corn is assured of good quality once it has been successfully transported to the decided location. A similar process is also applicable to Financials, Metals, and Energy products as well.

This trade of Corn can be broken down in the following steps for granular understanding:

  1. One would have to be holding a Future contract with a long position­ for a Commodity Futures contract with a physical delivery post the First Notice Day.
  2. First Notice Day is notification has to be given to the exchange that the holder desires to deliver or take receive delivery of the underlying commodity of the contract (Corn)
  3. Once the exchange is communicated with the intent, a delivery intention is initiated, and a delivery notice is issued to confirm the commencement of the transaction.
  4. The holder will be responsible for all the transaction costs until the possession of the commodity.

This is generally the process if one wants the physical delivery of the commodity. Mostly, one will just offset the position by purchasing it back if sold first or vice-versa. The broker has all the positions of the investor being monitored on a risk server, which is dynamic and will intimate the broker whenever the contract is coming closer to a delivery situation. As time draws near to a First Day Notice (delivery situation) and the open position still exists, the broker will notify the same to know of possible intentions. If the holder does not have the full value of the contract, the broker will advise exiting the trade.

Brokers are responsible for any losses or fees towards the clearing exchange, and such expenses and losses are to be borne by the broker and not the brokerage house. This will motivate the broker to act in the best interest of the entire trade.

Cash Settlement vs. Physical Settlement Infographics

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Key Differences

  • As the name implies, the Cash settlement method is a mechanism where the parties to a transaction choose to settle the gains or losses through payment in cash after the contract expires, while the physical settlement is a method is a mechanism where the parties to a transaction settle the payment by either paying in cash for securing long position or delivering shares for obtaining the long position.
  • The cash settlement method carries a minimal or negligible amount of risk, whereas a physical settlement method carries a higher amount of risk.
  • The cash settlement method offers greater liquidity in the derivatives market, whereas the physical settlement method offers an almost negligible amount of liquidity in the derivatives market.
  • The cash settlement method is quick since the transactions are supposedly done in cash, and it even takes a minimal amount of time until expiration, whereas physical settlement takes more time.
  • Contract sellers find the cash settlement method really quick, simple, easy, and very convenient, and this is why the method is extremely popular in the current time. Sellers to a contract will not need to pay extra costs or fees or commission for availing cash settlement transactions.
  • On the other hand, the physical settlement method is not that easy, and it is time-consuming too. The parties to a transaction will need to pay extra costs for availing physical delivery or physical settlement method. The parties will necessarily need to pay extra costs pertaining to delivery costs, transportation costs, brokerage fees, and so on.

Comparative Table

Basis of comparisonCash settlement Physical settlement
DefinitionCash settlement can be defined as a method or an arrangement in which the seller of a contract prefers to settle the transaction in cash instead of delivering an underlying assetUnderlying AssetUnderlying assets are the actual financial assets on which the financial derivatives rely. Thus, any change in the value of a derivative reflects the price fluctuation of its underlying asset. Such assets comprise stocks, commodities, market indices, bonds, currencies and interest rates.read more.Physical settlement can be defined as a method or an arrangement in which the actual delivery of an asset is chosen, which is supposed to be delivered on a particular date, and the idea of cash settlement is discouraged.
Level of liquidityCash settlement offers a higher rate of liquidity in the derivatives marketDerivatives MarketThe derivatives market is that financial market which facilitates hedgers, margin traders, arbitrageurs and speculators in trading the futures and options that track the performance of their underlying assets.read more.Physical settlement offers minimal or negligible liquidity in the derivatives market.
Time-takenCash settlement can be instantly done. This method takes lesser time until expiration as compared to physical settlement.A physical settlement contract takes more time until expiration as compared to a cash settlement contract.
Costs involved Cash settlement contracts involve lower or zero costs until expiration. This method of settlement may not result in additional expense or any sort of commission or fees.Physical Settlement contracts can comparatively be a little expensive since it involves a series of additional contacts such as transportation costs, delivery costs, brokerage fees, etc.
Level of risksThe cash settlement method involves a lower level of risk.The physical settlement method involves a higher level of risk since documents like transfer certificates, paper instruments, etc. are subject to be lost, forged, etc.
ConvenienceCash settlement is simple, easy, instant, and hence really convenient for the sellers of a contract. It does not involve any extra costs or fees, and it is also one of the main reasons why the method is so popular and why the sellers always find it more convenient amongst all other settlement options.It is not that simple and instant as compared to the cash settlement method.
SimplicityThe cash settlement method is a very simple method, and it involves only a net cash amount, which is actually the total cost.As compared to the cash settlement method, a physical settlement is not that simple.
Popularity The cash settlement method is used for the settlement of commodities as it can be instantly done. We are thus making it highly convenient for the sellers of a contract.The physical Settlement method is used for the settlement of contracts pertaining to equity options.
PracticalityThe cash settlement method turns out to be more practical since it is not that expensive.The physical settlement method is less practical as compared to the cash settlement method, and as a result of this, it is mostly avoided by the contract sellers.
Mode of payment In a cash settlement method, the parties to a transaction settle by receiving or paying the gains or losses related to a contract in cash and that too during the time the contract has crossed its date of expiry.In a physical settlement method, the parties to a transaction settle by paying either in cash or delivering equity shares for securing a long position.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Cash and Physical Settlement

#1 – Cash Settlement

  • The single largest advantage of cash settlement is that it represents a way of trading Futures & Options based on assets and securities, which would practically very difficult with the physical settlement.
  • Cash settlements have enabled the traders to buy and sell contracts on indices and certain commodities that are either impossible or impractical to physically transfer.
  • It is a preferred method since it helps in reducing the transaction costs, which otherwise would be an expenditure in case of physical delivery. For e.g., a futures contract on a basket of stocks such as the S&P 500 will always have to be settled in cash due to inconvenience, impracticality, and high transaction costs attached to the physical delivery of shares of the 500 listed companies getting traded on a daily basis.
  • It also acts as a hedge against credit risks in case of future contracts. When a party enters into a Future contract, to ensure their intentions are clear, each party has to deposit a minimum amount of money in their Margin account. This account is essential for the regular operations of such derivative contracts. It is used for settling the net gains or losses. Since these accounts are regularized and monitored daily, it eliminates the possibility of a party being unable to pay the monetary amount. The broker is also responsible for ensuring that the margin account does not fall below the minimum balance.

The primary Disadvantage of cash settlement in the case of Options is that it is available only on European style options, which are not as flexible as American options and can only be exercised at its maturity. A similar feature is also applicable for the Futures contract as well.

Most Futures and Forward contractsForward ContractsA forward contract is a customized agreement between two parties to buy or sell an underlying asset in the future at a price agreed upon today (known as the forward price).read more on various financial assets are settled in cash. For instance, Forward rateForward RateThe forward rate formula deciphers the yield curve, a graphical representation of yields on different bonds with different maturity periods. Forward rate = [(1 + S1)n1 / (1 + S2)n2]1/(n1-n2) – 1read more agreements, which are generally forward contracts on the Interest rate, indicate the underlying is an interest rate, and thus such contracts have to be settled in cash. Such contracts cannot be delivered physically. Commodities, generally physically settled, also have the possibility of settlement in cash long as an undisputed spot priceSpot PriceA spot price is the current market price of a commodity, financial product, or derivative product, and it is the price at which an investor or trader can buy or sell an asset or security for immediate delivery.read more is available and mutually agreed upon. Cash settlement also reduces the companies cost of hedging.

#2 – Physical Settlement

The primary benefit of Physical settlement is that it is not subject to manipulation by either of the parties since the entire activity is being monitored by the broker and the clearing exchange. The possibility of the counterparty riskCounterparty RiskCounterparty risk refers to the risk of potential expected losses for one counterparty as a result of another counterparty defaulting on or before the maturity of the derivative contract.read more will be monitored, and consequences are known for the same.

  • A major drawback of physical settlement is that in comparison to a cash settlement, it is a very expensive method since the physical delivery will incur additional costs to maintain the same for a long period of time till it reaches the doorstep of the buyer.
  • Additionally, the physical settlement does not factor in futuristic change or market fluctuations.

Though some do argue that physical settlement can be beneficial to the overall ecosystem in the future as it can aid in achieving at equilibrium price due to the physical visibility of the underlying asset, which otherwise can be manipulated with.

Conclusion

Whether a contract is to be settled physically or with cash can have an impact on the way the derivatives market can predict its future course. On the last day of trading, physically settled contracts will typically experience thin liquidity. This is because those traders who are not willing to convert their futures contracts to physical goods or are not going to execute their options contract have already exited the market by either rolling out their position to the following month’s delivery date or allowing the trade to expire. Accomplished traders with large positions can have a large impact on the price movements, and hence volatility increases as one head towards the expiry of the trade. This is often termed as “Time Value of Money,” which is also factored in a while arriving at the strike price of a tradeStrike Price Of A TradeExercise price or strike price refers to the price at which the underlying stock is purchased or sold by the persons trading in the options of calls & puts available in the derivative trading. Thus, the exercise price is a term used in the derivative market.read more. Large commercial traders who have the capacity to hold the delivery may even possess storehouses of the physical commodity. The exchange has to be vigilant so that such large traders with large positions do not have an impact on the overall price movement.

Since the cash-settled contracts settle before the physically settled contracts, they have less exposure to large traders pushing the contract around as it nears closer to the settlement dateSettlement DateThe settlement date is the date on which the cash and assets that have been exchanged or traded are settled by netting out a process that happened a few days ago. Commonly for shares, it is two business days after the trade.read more. Additionally, since the financially settled contracts are frequently settled against indexes, they are widely believed to be less prone to price manipulation than physically settled futures contracts.

With the overall derivatives market becoming more institutionalized through electronic trading, the contracts themselves evolve, creating more efficiency of funds and for the traders. For the traders, it is not the method of settlement that matters, but the liquidity and transportation costs associated since the broker will also have an extended liability towards the same.

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Comments

  1. Chase Andrews says

    Hi…. Thanks for this article. Very useful. You can say I am the biggest fan of your work. I almost read all your blogs as specially Finance related blogs. I have a question for you. How commodity trading works and How to invest in commodities?

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Thanks Chase! Well commodities play an important part in everyday life; commodity trading starts when you buy futures contract of any of the commodity being traded on the exchange. Futures contract is a most popular way to invest in commodities which are known as an agreement to buy or sell. Hope this helps you.

  2. Hayden WALTON says

    Insightful!! Explained well with detail… thanks for sharing this article. If you can state some types of derivatives contracts?

  3. devendra sharma says

    Thank you sir,
    Very knowledgeable article

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