Updated on April 4, 2024
Article bySusmita Pathak
Edited bySusmita Pathak
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Fungibility Meaning

Fungibility, in finance, refers to any goods, assets, and commodities capable of being substituted with anything identical in type, nature, form, value, or function. Items that exhibit such property are gold and silver, sweet crude oil, bonds, shares, futures contracts, fiat money, digital currencies, etc.

The procedure makes it feasible to trade, exchange, or use goods and commodities in question. The only condition is that interchangeable products must be indistinguishable from each other in terms of value, quality, and utility. In other words, one unit of an item should be equal or uniform to another quantity of the same asset, regardless of its origin and ownership, for a substitution to occur. Fungibility is different from liquidity, where the exchange of a commodityCommodityA commodity refers to a good convertible into another product or service of more value through trade and commerce activities. It serves as an input or raw material for the manufacturing and production units.read more occurs with anything of value.

Fungibility Properties

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Key Takeaways

  • Fungibility is a property exhibited by any goods, assets, or commodities, making them eligible for interchange or substitution with anything identical in form, quality, value, or function.
  • The criteria for something to be fungible differ based on the quality of the product and its noticeable impact on the worth and utility.
  • Fungible assets are interchangeable, such as precious metals, sweet crude oil, bonds, shares, futures contracts, fiat and digital money, packaged products, etc. Automobiles, precious stones, gems, trading cards, and real estate are not interchangeable and considered non-fungible.
  • Gold bars stored by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York are not fungible. It is because of purity markings and the need for the bank to return exact bars to the depositor when required.

Understanding Fungibility 

People more often confuse the concept of fungibility with exchanging a particular item with any other product. Instead, it applies to the interchange of equal units of goods or commodities. Some considerations, however, come into play when deciding whether or not a fungible commodity is suitable for substitution.

In ancient times, people used to follow the barter system wherein one person would exchange their harvests for the products of others. For example, farmer A could exchange a unit of wheat for the required quantity of turmeric from farmer B. But in fungibility, a unit of wheat is interchangeable with the same amount of the same product of the same quality.

Sometimes, the term liquidityLiquidityLiquidity is the ease of converting assets or securities into cash.read more seems to be a fungibility synonym. But the two are different concepts. Liquidity defines the exchange of goods, assets, and commodities for fiat or digital currenciesDigital CurrenciesDigital currency is a currency found only in an electronic form as it is used for trading over the internet. They are famous for allowing transparent and secured digital payments. Although their popularity is constantly growing, their adoption as a reliable alternative to physical money is nowhere close. Some of the popular digital currencies are Ethereum, Bitcoin, and Litecoin.read more or anything of value. Whereas in fungibility, the substitution can occur with anything identical in worth, quality, form, or function.

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Fungibility Of Money

Fiat money trade is one of the best examples of fungibility as the value of a currency remains the same everywhere. Also, it does not matter what denomination it is, which series it belongs to, or where it comes from as long as the value is equivalent to the other. It means a $10 bill will have the same value in every bank or every transaction made, irrespective of the series.

Another thing is that a banknoteBanknoteA banknote refers to a country’s currency in the form of paper.read more can be interchanged with multiple units as far as their values are equal. For example, it is possible to substituteSubstituteAny alternative, replacement, or backup of a primary product in the market is referred to as a substitute product. It refers to any commodity or combination of goods that might be used in place of a more popular item in normal circumstances without affecting the composition, appearance, or utility.read more a $10 bill with three $2 bills and four $1 bills. However, no two regional currencies can be fungible due to differences in their values.

Fungible Goods

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Fungibility Of Precious Metals

Precious metals are considered fungible, but there are exceptions. For example, an ounce of gold is equivalent to another ounce of gold as both are indistinguishable in form and value. Anything that makes them unique, such as being assigned serial numbers or identification marks, ends the possibility of these being fungible.

It is impossible to find two identical gems and precious stones. The substitution of a unit of a diamond for the same quantity of another diamond cannot occur. Why? It is because diamonds differ in their sizes, shapes, colors, quality, and grades. Hence, their forms are not identical in any manner. Therefore, a diamond cannot be considered fungible.

Fungibility Of Stocks

Financial instrumentsFinancial InstrumentsFinancial instruments are certain contracts or documents that act as financial assets such as debentures and bonds, receivables, cash deposits, bank balances, swaps, cap, futures, shares, bills of exchange, forwards, FRA or forward rate agreement, etc. to one organization and as a liability to another organization and are solely taken into use for trading purposes.read more like bondsBondsBonds refer to the debt instruments issued by governments or corporations to acquire investors’ funds for a certain period.read more, stocks, and futures contracts are fungible as they can be traded or substituted with equal units of each other between two marketplaces or stock exchangesStock ExchangesStock exchange refers to a market that facilitates the buying and selling of listed securities such as public company stocks, exchange-traded funds, debt instruments, options, etc., as per the standard regulations and guidelines—for instance, NYSE and NASDAQ.read more. It is because shareholdersShareholdersA shareholder is an individual or an institution that owns one or more shares of stock in a public or a private corporation and, therefore, are the legal owners of the company. The ownership percentage depends on the number of shares they hold against the company's total shares.read more get equivalent ownership interest in the company. Also, specifications in the contract remain the same, and one clearinghouse manages the options tradingOptions TradingOptions trading refers to a contract between the buyer and the seller, where the option holder bets on the future price of an underlying security or index.read more.

Not every tradable instrument is fungible in the stock market. However, stocks that are eligible for substitution with their identical counterparts are cross-listed. These are securities trading on multiple marketplaces, including the domestic and foreign exchanges.

Fungibility Of Cryptocurrency

Much like fiat currency, cryptocurrencyCryptocurrencyCryptocurrency refers to a technology that acts as a medium for facilitating the conduct of different financial transactions which are safe and secure. It is one of the tradable digital forms of money, allowing the person to send or receive the money from the other party without any help of the third party service.read more is fungible as its value remains the same anywhere in the world. However, incidents like hacking can alter their units or values and make them non-fungible.

Fungiblity Examples

Here are a few examples that will make understanding the fungibility definition easier:

Example #1

Millionaire Williams has an ample amount of gold. He thought of exchanging them for 400-oz of gold bars from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York because the value of gold bars is always more in the market. The best part is that he knew gold was fungible.

Unfortunately, his financial advisor Mark told him that gold bars under the bank custody are not considered fungible. The reason is that bars have purity marking that assessors inspect to ensure they are per the depositor’s instructions. Also, the bank must return exact bars to the depositor upon withdrawal. That is why gold bars are non-fungible.

Example #2

Non-fungible tokens or NFTsNon-fungible Tokens Or NFTsAn NFT (non-fungible token) is a disparate crypto-asset utilizing blockchain to record the exclusive ownership of unique artworks. This facilitates an unmediated art representation to gain more revenue and connect with a global audience.read more are digital assets representing ownership of a virtual creation. Recently, the sale of these collectibles dropped drastically. This fall in prices is a complete reversal from the first quarter of 2021.

One of the main reasons that have affected the popularity and sale of NFTs is the legal leniency. Many artists and content creators have complained about online theft of their work. It gives rise to copyright issues against the art and original content. However, finding a solution to the problem can once again boost NFT sales.

Fungibility vs Non Fungibility

Whether goods, assets, or commodities are fungible depends on the possibility of their interchange with different units of the same item without any effect. In other words, any noticeable difference in the quality of products of the same units affecting their value and utility will make them non-fungible.

Fungibility vs Non Fungibility

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Some examples of fungible assets that are interchangeable include common stock, packaged products, dollar bills, gold, etc. Automobiles, precious stones, gems, trading cards, and real estate are not interchangeable and considered non-fungible.

Let us consider the following scenarios to understand the difference between the two properties:

Scenario 1

Ralph lends Thomas $500 for a month. At the end of the tenure, the latter repays the former, but he divides the amount into multiple denominations. Thomas gives five $100 bills to Ralph to settle the payment. It did not make any difference to Ralph, as the repayment equaled $500 in value.

Scenario 2

Mary planned a long drive with friends, but she did not have her sedan. Therefore, she asked Wendy, her neighbor, for her car for the trip. After returning from the trip, Mary requested Wendy to exchange the vehicle for the same model owned by one of her friends. But Wendy disagreed because the product was not identical in any manner.

In scenario 1, the value of the money does not change no matter how fragmented the denominations were. Hence, money is fungible. In scenario 2, it was an automobile, which would not be the same given the number of times it was repaired or used, even if it belonged to the same model. Hence, the deal was unidentical and non-equivalent in all respect. Thus, the car is a non-fungible asset.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does Fungibility mean?

Fungibility is a property that makes goods, assets, and commodities capable of being substituted or interchanged with anything identical in type, nature, form, value, or function. It makes it possible to trade, exchange, or use the said items.

Why is Cash Fungible?

Cash of fiat money is fungible as it does not matter which denominations or series of banknotes one uses for repayment as long as the value remains the same. So, for example, to pay a $10 bill, a person does not necessarily need a different $10 banknote. Instead, two units of $5 can work, which will not change the bill amount in any manner.

Is Diamond Fungible?

Diamond is non-fungible because of its uniqueness in size, shape, color, quality, and grade. So, it is impossible to substitute a unit of a diamond for the same quantity of another diamond.

This has been a guide to fungibility and its definition. Here we discuss stocks, precious metals, money, and examples of fungibility, along with scenarios. You may also have a look at the following articles –

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