Underlying Asset

Updated on April 24, 2024
Article byRishab Nigam
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Underlying Asset Meaning

The underlying asset is defined as the asset on which the financial instruments are based, and the value or changes in the value of which leads to the fluctuation in the value of these instruments. In short, the underlying asset’s value is indirectly or directly related to the contracts of the derivatives.

What is Underlying Asset

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An underlying asset in the derivatives market plays a vital role as the instruments trading there remain influenced by the value of these assets, which thereby determine their value. They are always traded on the cash markets.

Key Takeaways

  • The underlying asset is the foundation upon which financial instruments, such as derivatives, derive their value. 
  • Its worth is directly or indirectly tied to the terms of derivative contracts. While these assets are traded in cash markets, the resulting derivatives are exchanged within derivatives or futures markets.
  • Examples of underlying assets include financial claims like stocks, debt securities such as bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), market indexes, currencies, and commodities.
  • Underlying assets serve as the core elements of derivative contracts, with their performance potentially surpassing or falling short of a nation’s economic condition. 

Underlying Asset Explained

Underlying assets as the fundamental element when it comes to the derivatives market. Whenever an individual buys an instrument, whose value depends on another asset, it becomes the underlying asset of that instrument.

Underlying Assets are basic building blocks for derivatives contracts. Such instruments present both upside and downside risk wherein these instruments can either outperform or underperform the economic condition prevailing in the country. It could be highly speculative and result in immediate value erosion if the positions taken up in such assets are not monitored periodically.

The derivatives are the financial innovations whose values can be derived from the underlying assets.

The derivatives are employed to hedging on the positionsHedging On The PositionsHedging is a type of investment that works like insurance and protects you from any financial losses. Hedging is achieved by taking the opposing position in the market.read more taken upon the underlying assets.

It is always advised that an equivalent and opposite position in derivative contracts be maintained corresponding to the position of underlying assets.

Once the position is taken, any change in the underlying asset’s value can nullify hedging efforts, and simultaneously the overall position can be transformed into a risky position.

Under such situations, the investor or the hedger can lose money quickly instead of earning steady returns.

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Underlying assets exist in different forms. Some of the types of these assets include the following:

Types of Underlying Assets

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#1 – Financial Claims or Stocks

The stock is defined as the financial claim representing proportionate ownership of the investor or holder towards the earnings and overall assets of the issuing business. Stocks can be bifurcated into common and preferred stocks. Stocks are primarily issued to raise finance to fund business operationsBusiness OperationsBusiness operations refer to all those activities that the employees undertake within an organizational setup daily to produce goods and services for accomplishing the company's goals like profit generation.read more or high -growth projects.

#2 – Debt Securities or Bonds

A bond is a financial instrumentFinancial InstrumentFinancial 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 that gives fixed interest payments to the holder. Corporations and government institutions issue bonds to raise finance with the intent to fund business projects or government projects. The holder of such instruments is termed as creditors of debt.

#3 – Exchange Traded Funds

Exchange-traded fundsExchange-traded FundsAn exchange-traded fund (ETF) is a security that contains many types of securities such as bonds, stocks, commodities, and so on, and that trades on the exchange like a stock, with the price fluctuating many times throughout the day when the exchange-traded fund is bought and sold on the exchange.read more are the special variant of the mutual fundMutual FundA mutual fund is a professionally managed investment product in which a pool of money from a group of investors is invested across assets such as equities, bonds, etcread more whose benchmark is the underlying index. It is a group of securities encompassed as one unit.

#4 – Market Index

The market index is defined as the collection of securities. The collection could be focused on one specific area of the financial marketFinancial MarketThe term "financial market" refers to the marketplace where activities such as the creation and trading of various financial assets such as bonds, stocks, commodities, currencies, and derivatives take place. It provides a platform for sellers and buyers to interact and trade at a price determined by market forces.read more. These are designed to assess the performance of the financial markets. The index is employed to develop passive investmentPassive InvestmentPassive investing is a strategy used by investors to maximize their returns by avoiding frequent portfolio churning by buying and selling securities and instead buying and holding a diverse range of securities.read more strategies.

#5 – Currency

Currency is defined as the instrument of monetary exchange replacing the traditional barter system wherein such medium is broadly acceptable in the specific country. Different countries may have different currencies. The most common and popular acceptable currency globally is the United States dollar; many countries have performed dollarizationDollarizationDollarization is the colloquial term for currency substitution, in which a country, either officially or unofficially, either fully or partially accepts a foreign currency as its legal tender for the purpose of enhancing currency stability and reducing the costs of maintaining its own currency. read more to meet their currency requirement equivalent to global standards.

#6 – Commodities

The commodity is defined as the instrument that is employed in business and commerce-related activities. These items are input for general commerce and the production of business activities. Gold and silver are the most popular commodities traded in the commodities market.


Underlying assets can be expressed in generalized terms of basic mathematical expression as displayed below: –

d(yn)/dx = n yn-1


  • It is expressed as yn.
  • The derivative function would result in a derived value when applied to the underlying asset.
  • The derived value is expressed as ny(n-1)

Underlying assets may hold different relationships with the derivatives; hence, their formula may vary.

The options present different methods to value itself; hence, that specific method can be utilized to determine the value of the underlying asset.

Similarly, the valuation of futures contracts may provide different methods to deduce the underlying asset’s value.


Let us consider the following examples to understand what is an underlying asset and how it works:

Example #1

Suppose an underlying asset such as stock A purchased at $50 displays adownside riskDownside RiskDownside Risk is a statistical measure to calculate the loss in a security’s value due to variations in the market conditions. Also, it refers to the uncertainty level of realized returns being much lesser than the anticipated ones. read more. The holder holds one share of stock A. The holder can take up a put option of stock A with a strike priceStrike PriceExercise 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 of $50 trading at $2 in the options markets.

A put option is a derivative contractPut Option Is A Derivative 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 that gives its holder the right to sell the underlying asset at a predefined strike price before the expiration.

The put option gives the right to sell but not the obligation to pursue the selling activity.

The underlying asset for the put option here is the stock A from which the put option is innovated and derived.

Example #2 – Practical Application

Gold is 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 that is a very popular instrument that can be used both for hedging purposes as well as for investment. The gold can curb the rising levels of inflations and hence curb any potential loss in the value of US dollars.

The dollar holds the title of being an acceptable global currency.

Gold is an underlying asset that never loses its value.

Whenever a dollar collapses in front of rising inflation, gold can be utilized as an alternative investmentAlternative InvestmentAlternative investments refer to investments made in assets classified as non-traditional investment vehicles.read more tool to curb inflation, stop the loss of value, and reduce the potential impacts of a dollar collapse.

Underlying Asset

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The underlying asset price determines the prices of the options and other instruments in the derivatives market. Some of the benefits of these underlying assets include the following:

  • Certain variants of underlying assets, such as stocks, are highly marketable.
  • They have an organized financial market that promotes liquidity and securities exchange between different parties.
  • Many investors use the underlying assets for investment and earn high returns after holding such securities for a considerable investment horizon.
  • Since these assets have an organized market, the transaction costs involved in trading such assets are relatively low.


Besides being beneficial to traders and investors, given the upliftment in the prices of the underlying assets, there are certain disadvantages as well, which the market players must be aware of.

Listed below are some of the demerits of underlying assets:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the difference between futures and underlying assets?

Futures are financial contracts that obligate parties to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price on a future date. The underlying asset, on the other hand, is the actual asset that the futures contract is based on. While futures provide a way to speculate or hedge on price movements, the underlying asset is the subject of the contract itself.

2. What are the underlying assets of futures?

Underlying assets of futures encompass a wide range, including commodities like oil, gold, agricultural products, financial instruments like stock market indices, interest rates, currencies, and even specific securities. These assets determine the terms and conditions of the futures contract.

3. What is the difference between underlying assets and underlying securities?

Underlying assets are the broader category of real assets or financial instruments that form the basis of derivatives like futures or options. Underlying securities refer to financial instruments like stocks, bonds, or other tradable instruments that serve as the foundation for derivatives. While all underlying securities are underlying assets, not all underlying assets are securities; commodities and indices are examples of non-securities underlying assets.

This has been a guide to an Underlying Asset and its Meaning. Here, we explain the concept with its examples, types, formula, advantages, and disadvantages. You may also learn more about the following articles on derivatives –