Crypto Derivatives

Updated on April 9, 2024
Article byKumar Rahul
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Are Crypto Derivatives?

Crypto derivatives are financial instruments whose value is derived from underlying cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, or other digital assets. One of the primary aims of crypto derivatives is to help market participants manage risk. Traders and investors can use derivatives to hedge against price fluctuations in cryptocurrencies.

Crypto Derivatives

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Derivatives provide a mechanism for price discovery in the cryptocurrency market. Supply and demand dynamics determine the prices of futures and options contracts, reflecting market sentiment and expectations. This price information can be valuable for investors and traders in making informed decisions.

Key Takeaways

  • Crypto derivatives are financial contracts whose value derives from an underlying cryptocurrency or digital asset, allowing traders to speculate on price movements without owning the assets.
  • There are various types of crypto derivatives, including futures contracts, options contracts, perpetual contracts, swaps, binary options, and CFDs, each with unique characteristics and use cases.
  • Trading in it involves risks, including price volatility and potential losses. Many derivatives offer leverage, amplifying gains and losses, making risk management essential.
  • These are used to hedge against price fluctuations, speculate on price movements, manage risk, and diversify portfolios.

Crypto Derivatives Explained

Crypto Derivatives are complex financial contracts whose value depends on the price of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, or others. These contracts derive their value from the underlying assets, enabling traders and investors to speculate on price movements without owning cryptocurrencies. They have gained popularity in the crypto market for various reasons.

The concept of derivatives is not unique to cryptocurrencies; it has existed in traditional financial markets for centuries. However, these derivatives emerged as a response to the need for risk management and price hedging within the highly volatile and nascent cryptocurrency market. The first crypto derivatives were introduced in the early 2010s, with Bitcoin futures being one of the pioneering products. These financial instruments were created to provide market participants with tools to mitigate risk and enhance market efficiency.

Crypto derivatives are innovative financial instruments that have evolved within the cryptocurrency ecosystem to provide risk management, speculation, and price discovery mechanisms. They offer traders and investors various ways to participate in the crypto market, but their use requires a solid understanding of their complexities and associated risks.

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Some of the primary types of crypto derivatives:

  1. Futures Contracts: Crypto futures contracts are agreements to buy or sell a specified amount of cryptocurrency at a predetermined price on a future date. They allow traders to speculate on both rising and falling markets. For example, a futures contract might allow buying Bitcoin at a specific price in three months. Futures contracts are commonly used for hedging and can offer leverage, amplifying profits and losses.
  2. Options Contracts: Crypto options provide the holder with the right (but not the obligation) to buy (call option) or sell (put option) a cryptocurrency at a predetermined price (strike price) before or on a specific expiration date. Options allow for more strategic trading. Traders can use call options to profit from price increases or put options to profit from price declines while limiting their potential losses to the premium paid for the options.
  3. Perpetual Contracts: Perpetual contracts, also known as perpetual swaps, are similar to futures contracts but without an expiration date. They allow traders to hold positions indefinitely. The contract’s price closely tracks the spot market, and traders can use leverage.
  4. Swaps: Crypto swaps are financial agreements where two parties exchange the returns (interest rates or price differences) of two assets. They are often used for managing interest rate risk or as part of arbitrage strategies. For example, a trader might enter a Bitcoin-US Dollar swap to speculate on Bitcoin’s price movement without actually buying or selling Bitcoin.
  5. Binary Options: Binary options have a fixed pat if the underlying cryptocurrency reaches a specific price or condition before expiration. They are straightforward and have predefined risks and rewards. Traders bet on whether the cryptocurrency’s price will match or exceed a certain level by a set time, making them popular for short-term speculation.

How To Trade?

Here’s a simplified guide on how to trade:

  1. Educate oneself: Before trading, learn about the financial markets and the assets one intends to trade. Understand the factors influencing their prices, market dynamics, and trading strategies.
  2. Choose Market: Decide which financial market is suitable to trade in. Common options include stocks, forex, cryptocurrencies, commodities, and more. The choice should align with one’s knowledge, risk tolerance, and trading goals.
  3. Select a Trading Style: Determine the trading style. Day traders make short-term trades within a day, while swing traders hold positions for days or weeks. Long-term investors buy and have assets for months or years.
  4. Set Up a Trading Account: Open a brokerage or trading account with a reputable platform that offers access to a chosen market. Ensure the platform provides the tools and features needed for analysis and execution.
  5. Develop a Trading Plan: Create a trading plan that outlines one’s goals, risk management strategy, entry and exit points, and position sizing. The plan should be well-defined and adaptable to changing market conditions.
  6. Perform Technical and Fundamental Analysis: Analyze the assets plan to trade. Technical analysis involves studying price charts and patterns, while fundamental analysis looks at factors like financial reports, economic indicators, and news events.
  7. Risk Management: Implement risk management techniques to protect the capital. This includes setting stop-loss orders to limit potential losses, determining the percentage of the capital to risk per trade and portfolio diversification.
  8. Execute Trades: Use the trading platform to place orders. Depending on the strategy, it can execute market, limit, or stop orders. Monitor the positions and be prepared to adjust or exit as planned.


Let us understand it better with the help of examples:

Example #1

Suppose Joseph is a cryptocurrency trader. He has been closely following a new, innovative blockchain project called “FuturCoin” (fictional name) that aims to revolutionize the gaming industry. After conducting thorough research and analyzing market sentiment, FuturCoin has significant potential for future growth. He buys 1,000 FuturCoin tokens at $1 each, investing $1,000.

Over the next few months, he closely monitors the project’s progress and the broader cryptocurrency market. As FuturCoin gains attention and adoption within the gaming industry, its price rises steadily. He notices that the cost of FuturCoin has reached $5 per token, and he decides to sell his 1,000 tokens, realizing a profit of $4,000.

Example #2

In a significant development for the cryptocurrency industry in 2023, the US-based crypto enthusiasts now have access to a regulated platform for trading crypto derivatives. According to Forbes India, the recently launched platform aims to provide US traders with a secure and compliant environment for trading derivatives based on cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

This move marks a notable step towards legitimizing crypto derivatives trading in the United States, where regulatory oversight and compliance have been crucial concerns. The new platform is expected to offer various derivative products, including futures and options contracts while adhering to US regulatory guidelines.

Crypto Derivatives Trading vs Crypto Spot Trading

Here’s a comparison of crypto derivatives trading and crypto spot trading in tabular form:

AspectCrypto Derivatives TradingCrypto Spot Trading
DefinitionInvolves trading financial contracts (e.g., futures, options) derived from the price of cryptocurrencies, without owning the underlying assets.Involves buying or selling actual cryptocurrencies in the market, with ownership and direct access to the digital assets.
Ownership of AssetsTraders do not own the underlying cryptocurrencies; they trade contracts representing the assets.Traders directly own the cryptocurrencies they buy and can store them in wallets.
Risk and LeverageTypically involves higher risk due to leverage options. Traders can amplify both gains and losses.Lower risk compared to derivatives trading, as it does not involve leverage (unless margin trading is used).
PurposeUsed for various purposes, including hedging, speculation, and portfolio diversification.Primarily used for investing, spending, or holding cryptocurrencies.
Market AccessProvides access to a wide range of cryptocurrencies and trading pairs.Limited to the cryptocurrencies listed on the exchange.
Costs and FeesMay involve additional costs like funding fees, spreads, and trading fees, depending on the platform.Typically, trading fees are straightforward and based on the trading volume.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What types of crypto derivatives are available?

Common crypto derivatives include futures contracts, options contracts, perpetual contracts, swaps, binary options, and contracts for difference (CFDs). Each type has its unique characteristics and use cases.

2. What is leverage in crypto derivatives trading?

Leverage allows traders to control a more prominent position size with less capital. For example, with 10x leverage, a trader can control $10,000 worth of cryptocurrency with just $1,000 in their account. While leverage magnifies potential profits, it also increases the risk of significant losses.

3. Are crypto derivatives regulated?

· Regulation of it varies by jurisdiction. Some countries have established rules for derivatives trading, while others have a more lenient approach. Traders need to understand the regulatory environment in their region and choose platforms that comply with local laws.

This has been a guide to what are Crypto Derivatives. Here, we explain their examples, how to trade them, types, and comparison with crypto spot trading. You can learn more about it from the following articles –

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