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What are Crypto Derivatives & How do they Work?

2023-10-23 04:00:00

Derivatives are financial contracts whose value is derived from an underlying asset. In the realm of cryptocurrencies, these assets are often popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and others. "Crypto derivatives" refer to these financial contracts in the cryptocurrency space.

How Do Crypto Derivatives Work?

Crypto Futures

Crypto futures are standardized contracts where the buyer agrees to purchase, and the seller agrees to sell, a set amount of cryptocurrency at a predetermined price on a specified future date. They can be used both for hedging against price fluctuations and for speculating on price movements.

Let's say you expect the price of Bitcoin to rise in the next three months. Today, Bitcoin is priced at $40,000. You enter a futures contract agreeing to buy one Bitcoin at $42,000 in three months. If, at the end of those three months, Bitcoin is trading at $45,000, you would have made a profit of $3,000 ($45,000 - $42,000). However, if Bitcoin's price is $39,000, you would still be obligated to buy it at the agreed price of $42,000, incurring a loss.

Perpetual Contract

Unlike standard futures, a perpetual contract does not have an expiration date. It mimics a spot market mechanism but uses funding rates to ensure that its price stays close to the underlying reference price of the asset. Traders can hold their position as long as they have the necessary margin.

Alice believes that Ethereum's price will increase, so she enters a perpetual contract to buy Ethereum. She doesn't have to set an expiration date for this contract. As she holds her position, she periodically pays or receives "funding rates" based on the difference between the contract price and the spot price of Ethereum. If the contract price is higher than the spot price, long contract holders (like Alice) pay short holders. Conversely, if the spot price is higher than the contract price, short holders pay long holders.

Crypto Options

Crypto options give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a certain amount of cryptocurrency at a set price within a specific timeframe. There are two types: 'call' options (the right to buy) and 'put' options (the right to sell).

Bob believes that the price of Litecoin (LTC) will exceed $200 in the next month. He buys a call option with a strike price of $180 for a premium of $10. If, by the expiration date, Litecoin's price has surged to $220, Bob has the right (but not the obligation) to buy Litecoin at $180. After accounting for the $10 premium he paid, his profit would be $30 ($220 - $180 - $10). However, if Litecoin's price remains below $180, Bob can choose not to exercise his option. His loss, in this case, would be limited to the premium he paid ($10).

Centralized or Decentralized Crypto Derivatives?

Centralized crypto derivatives are traded on centralized platforms managed by a single entity. These platforms are similar to traditional stock exchanges and offer benefits like liquidity, speed, and advanced trading tools. However, they can be prone to hacks and may require users to give up control of their funds.

On the other hand, decentralized crypto derivatives are traded on platforms that operate without a central authority. These platforms use blockchain technology to automate processes, and they offer benefits such as increased security, privacy, and control over funds. They can, however, sometimes suffer from lower liquidity and slower transaction times.

Why Are Crypto Derivatives Important?

Crypto derivatives play a critical role in financial markets by providing tools for risk management, improving market efficiency, and enhancing liquidity. They allow traders to hedge against potential price swings and offer a way to profit from price changes without necessarily owning the underlying asset.

Benefits and Risks of Trading Crypto Derivatives


  • Leverage Risks: While leverage allows traders to amplify their returns, it can also magnify losses. Even small price movements can lead to significant losses when trading with high leverage.
  • Complexity: Crypto derivatives can be complex instruments. Understanding the nuances, such as the implications of funding rates in perpetual contracts or the intricacies of option greeks, is vital.
  • Liquidity Risks: Some derivative contracts may not be easily tradable, especially during volatile market conditions. A lack of liquidity can lead to slippage, where trades execute at less favorable prices than anticipated.
  • Regulatory Risks: The crypto market is still maturing, and regulatory frameworks are evolving. This can bring sudden changes, affecting the trading environment.
  • Counterparty Risks: Especially in centralized exchanges, there's a risk that the counterparty might default on their obligations.
  • Systemic Risks: Technical glitches or cyber-attacks on exchanges can hinder trading operations and even lead to loss of funds.


  • Hedging Capabilities: Crypto derivatives allow traders and investors to hedge against potential adverse price movements in the underlying asset.
  • Liquidity Enhancement: The introduction of derivatives can enhance liquidity in the market, leading to tighter spreads and better price discovery.
  • Leverage Opportunities: Traders can get larger market exposure with a smaller upfront capital, providing opportunities for amplified returns.
  • Diversification: Crypto derivatives offer a broader range of instruments to trade, enabling diversification of trading strategies.
  • Innovative Financial Structures: Crypto derivatives platforms often innovate and offer unique financial structures not found in traditional markets, such as move contracts that allow betting on price volatility.

Best Practices in Trading Crypto Derivatives

  • Educate Yourself: Understand the products and how they function before trading.
  • Risk Management: Always use stop-loss orders and only invest what you can afford to lose.
  • Stay Updated: Markets are influenced by global events. Keep abreast of the latest news.
  • Diversify: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify your investment across different assets.
  • Use Reputable Platforms: Ensure the exchange or platform you use is reputable and has good security measures
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