Hedging is often considered an advanced investing strategy, but the principles of hedging are fairly simple. With the popularity - and accompanying criticism - of hedge funds, the practice of hedging is becoming more widespread. Despite this, it is still not widely understood.

SEE: A Beginner's Guide To Hedging

Everyday Hedges
Most people have, whether they know it or not, engaged in hedging. For example, when you take out insurance to minimize the risk that an injury will erase your income, or you buy life insurance to support your family in the case of your death, this is a hedge.

You pay money in monthly sums for the coverage provided by an insurance company. Although the textbook definition of hedging is an investment taken out to limit the risk of another investment, insurance is an example of a real-world hedge.

Hedging by the Book
Hedging, in the Wall Street sense of the word, is best illustrated by example.

Imagine that you want to invest in the budding industry of bungee cord manufacturing. You know of a company called Plummet that is revolutionizing the materials and designs to make cords that are twice as good as its nearest competitor, Drop, so you think that Plummet's share value will rise over the next month.

Unfortunately, the bungee cord manufacturing industry is always susceptible to sudden changes in regulations and safety standards, meaning it is quite volatile. This is called industry risk. Despite this, you believe in this company and you just want to find a way to reduce the industry risk. In this case, you are going to hedge by going long on Plummet while shorting its competitor, Drop. The value of the shares involved will be $1,000 for each company.

If the industry as a whole goes up, you make a profit on Plummet, but lose on Drop - hopefully for a modest overall gain. If the industry takes a hit, for example if someone dies bungee jumping, you lose money on Plummet but make money on Drop.

Basically, your overall profit, the profit from going long on Plummet, is minimized in favor of less industry risk. This is sometimes called a pairs trade and it helps investors gain a foothold in volatile industries or find companies in sectors that have some kind of systematic risk.

SEE: Short Selling and When To Short A Stock

Expansion
Hedging has grown to encompass all areas of finance and business. For example, a corporation may choose to build a factory in another country that it exports its product to in order to hedge against currency risk. An investor can hedge his or her long position with put options or a short seller can hedge a position though call options. Futures contracts and other derivatives can be hedged with synthetic instruments.

Basically, every investment has some form of a hedge. Besides protecting an investor from various types of risk, it is believed that hedging makes the market run more efficiently.

One clear example of this is when an investor purchases put options on a stock to minimize downside risk. Suppose that an investor has 100 shares in a company and that the company's stock has made a strong move from $25 to $50 over the last year. The investor still likes the stock and its prospects looking forward, but is concerned about the correction that could accompany such a strong move.

Instead of selling the shares, the investor can buy a single put option, which gives him or her the right to sell 100 shares of the company at the exercise price before the expiry date. If the investor buys the put option with an exercise price of $50 and an expiry day three months in the future, he or she will be able to guarantee a sale price of $50 no matter what happens to the stock over the next three months. The investor simply pays the option premium, which essentially provides some insurance from downside risk.

SEE: Prices Plunging? Buy A Put!

The Bottom Line
Hedging is often unfairly confused with hedge funds. Hedging, whether in your portfolio, your business or anywhere else, is about decreasing or transferring risk. Hedging is a valid strategy that can help protect your portfolio, home and business from uncertainty.

As with any risk/reward tradeoff, hedging results in lower returns than if you "bet the farm" on a volatile investment, but it also lowers the risk of losing your shirt. Many hedge funds, by contrast, take on the risk that people want to transfer away. By taking on this additional risk, they hope to benefit from the accompanying rewards.

Related Articles
  1. Fundamental Analysis

    Will Health Care Continue to Drive IPOs in 2016?

    Learn why health care IPOs may be slowing in 2016, and how Obamacare, poor previous filings and economic factors are affecting the health care sector.
  2. Investing Basics

    Contingent Convertible Bonds: Bumpy Ride Ahead

    European banks' CoCos are in crisis. What investors who hold these high-reward but high-risk bonds should know.
  3. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The 3 Best T. Rowe Price Funds for Value Investors in 2016

    Read analyses of the top three T. Rowe Price value funds open to new investors, and learn about their investment objectives and historical performances.
  4. Active Trading Fundamentals

    4 Stocks With Bullish Head and Shoulders Patterns for 2016 (PG, ETR)

    Discover analyses of the top four stocks with bullish head and shoulders patterns forming in 2016, and learn the prices at which they should be considered.
  5. Investing News

    Today's Sell-off: Are We in a Margin Liquidation?

    If we're in market liquidation, is it good news or bad news? That party depends on your timeframe.
  6. Investing Basics

    How liquid are Fidelity mutual funds?

    Review the liquidity features of mutual fund shares and an overview of Fidelity mutual funds. Most investors look for convenient access to their investments.
  7. Fundamental Analysis

    3 Reasons To Not Sell After a Market Downturn

    Find out the reasons that it is not a good idea to sell after a market downturn. There are lessons to be learned from the last major market downturn.
  8. Fundamental Analysis

    HF Performance Report: Did Hedge Funds Earn Their Fee in 2015?

    Find out whether hedge funds, which have come under tremendous pressure to improve their performance, managed to earn their fee in 2015.
  9. Sectors

    2016's Most Promising Asset Classes

    Find out which asset classes are considered to be the most promising for generating portfolio returns and reducing volatility in 2016.
  10. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    3 Morgan Stanley Funds Rated 5 Stars by Morningstar

    Discover the three best mutual funds administered and managed by Morgan Stanley that received five-star overall ratings from Morningstar.
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is a derivative?

    A derivative is a contract between two or more parties whose value is based on an agreed-upon underlying financial asset, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is finance?

    "Finance" is a broad term that describes two related activities: the study of how money is managed and the actual process ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is after-hours trading? Am I able to trade at this time?

    After-hours trading (AHT) refers to the buying and selling of securities on major exchanges outside of specified regular ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What is the 'Rule of 72'?

    The 'Rule of 72' is a simplified way to determine how long an investment will take to double, given a fixed annual rate of ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is securitization?

    Securitization is the process of taking an illiquid asset, or group of assets, and through financial engineering, transforming ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is a stock split? Why do stocks split?

    All publicly-traded companies have a set number of shares that are outstanding on the stock market. A stock split is a decision ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Liquidation Margin

    Liquidation margin refers to the value of all of the equity positions in a margin account. If an investor or trader holds ...
  2. Black Swan

    An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult ...
  3. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  4. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
  5. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
Trading Center