Derivatives Time Bomb


DEFINITION of 'Derivatives Time Bomb'

A possibile situation where the financial markets plunge into chaos if the massive derivatives positions owned by hedge funds and the large banks were to move against those parties.

Institutional investors have increasingly used derivatives to either hedge their existing positions, or to speculate on given markets or commodities. The growing popularity of these instruments is both good and bad because although derivatives can be used to mitigate portfolio risk. Institutions that are highly leveraged can suffer huge losses if their positions move against them.

BREAKING DOWN 'Derivatives Time Bomb'

A number of well-known hedge funds have imploded in recent years as their derivative positions declined dramatically in value, forcing them to sell their securities at markedly lower prices to meet margin calls and customer redemptions. One of the largest hedge funds to collapse in recent years as a result of adverse movements in its derivatives positions was Long Term Capital Management (LTCM).

Investors use the leverage afforded by derivatives as a means of increasing their investment returns. When used properly, this goal is met. However, when leverage becomes too large, or when the underlying securities decline substantially in value, the loss to the derivative holder is amplified. The term "derivatives time bomb" relates to the speculation that the large number of derivatives positions and increasing leverage taken on by hedge funds and investment banks could lead to an industry-wide meltdown.

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  1. What is the difference between hedging and speculation?

    Hedging involves taking an offsetting position in a derivative in order to balance any gains and losses to the underlying ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Can hedge funds trade penny stocks?

    Hedge funds can trade penny stocks. In fact, hedge funds can trade in just about any type of security, including medium- ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Are hedge funds regulated by FINRA?

    Alternative investment vehicles such as hedge funds offer investors a wider range of possibilities due to certain exceptions ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Should mutual funds be subject to more regulation?

    Mutual funds, when compared to other types of pooled investments such as hedge funds, have very strict regulations. In fact, ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Can hedge fund returns be replicated?

    You can replicate hedge fund returns to a degree but not perfectly. Most replication strategies underperform hedge funds ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Can foreign investors invest in US hedge funds?

    U.S. hedge funds are open to accredited investors. When they distribute profits to investors, those proceeds are taxed at ... Read Full Answer >>

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