Hedging is a risk management strategy employed to offset potential losses that may be incurred by an individual or an organization.
Some common ways to hedge include futures and options contracts, contracts for difference (CFDs), and perpetual swap contracts.
Hedging strategies involve their own risks and costs. You need to consider the various risks including counterparty and regulatory risks before you implement a hedging strategy.
What Is Hedging?
Hedging is a risk management strategy employed by individuals and institutions to offset potential losses that may incur on an investment.
The concept is similar to taking out an insurance policy. If you own a home in a flood-prone area, you would want to protect that asset from the risk of flooding by taking out flood insurance. In financial and crypto markets, hedging works in a similar way. It involves making an investment designed to reduce the risk of adverse price movements in an asset.
How Does Hedging Work?
There are many different hedging methods, but it typically involves the following steps:
Step 1: Establish a primary position
Step 2: Identify the risks
The next step is to identify the risks associated with the primary position. For instance, the risk of owning bitcoin could be that the price might fall.
Step 3: Take a counterposition
You can hedge the risk by taking a position in a related instrument that is expected to move in the opposite direction of the risk identified.
The goal of hedging isn't to make money but to protect from losses. The gain on the hedging position should offset the losses from the main position. It's important to note that perfect hedges are rare. Also, hedging often involves costs, so one needs to consider the cost-effectiveness of the hedge.
How Does Hedging Work in Crypto?
Hedging in crypto follows the same principle as hedging in traditional financial markets. It involves taking a position in a related asset that is expected to move in the opposite direction of the primary position.
Here are seven ways that an investor can hedge in crypto markets. Some or all of these may not be available in certain jurisdictions, so you need to make sure that any hedging strategies you employ should be compliant with local regulations.
Each of these strategies comes with its own risks and costs, so it's important to understand these before proceeding.
Crypto futures allow investors to buy or sell a cryptocurrency at a predetermined price at a specific future date. This can be used to hedge against potential price changes. For example, if you own bitcoin and fear its price might drop, you can sell a bitcoin futures contract. If the price of bitcoin does drop, the profit from the futures contract would offset the loss in your bitcoin holdings.
Crypto options give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call option) or sell (put option) the underlying cryptocurrency at a set price within a specific time period. If you hold bitcoin and worry about a price drop, you can buy a put option. If the price of bitcoin drops, the increase in the put option's value would offset the loss in the bitcoin's value.
Contracts for Difference (CFDs)
CFDs can be used as a hedging tool for crypto exposure. A CFD is a derivative product that allows you to speculate on the price movements of an underlying asset without actually owning the asset. You usually enter into a contract with a broker to exchange the difference in the price of the asset from the time the contract is opened to when it’s closed.
For example, if you hold bitcoin and want to hedge against price decreases, you would open a short (sell) position on the bitcoin CFD. The profit you make on the CFD position should offset the loss incurred on your Bitcoin holdings if the price decreases.
Perpetual swap contracts
Perpetual swap contracts track the price of an underlying asset such as bitcoin and aim to provide a continuous trading opportunity without an expiration date. They usually utilize leverage, allowing traders to open larger positions with a smaller initial margin requirement.
For example, if you anticipate a potential price decline in bitcoin, you can open a short position on the Bitcoin perpetual swap contract. If the price of bitcoin falls, the gains on the perpetual swap contract should offset the losses in your bitcoin holdings.
Some platforms allow for short selling, where you can borrow a cryptocurrency, sell it, then buy it back later to return it. If the price drops as you anticipate, you would make a profit, which can offset losses in other investments.
Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies whose price is pegged to a reserve of assets, typically a fiat currency. If you fear a market downturn, you might convert some of your volatile crypto assets into stablecoins. While you wouldn't benefit from a market upswing, you would be protected from a downswing.
Holding a range of different cryptocurrencies or diversification can also act as a hedge. Different cryptos may respond differently to market changes. If one falls, another may rise and offset that loss.
An Example of Hedging Your Bitcoin Position
Let’s say you own $10,000 worth of BTC and you want to hedge against a possible decrease in its price. You can consider doing the following to hedge your position.
Suppose bitcoin is currently trading at $50,000. You could buy a put option that gives you the right to sell Bitcoin at $50,000 at a future date. Let's say you pay a premium of $500 for this option (actual prices would depend on market conditions).
If bitcoin's price falls to $40,000, you can exercise your option and sell your bitcoin for $50,000, significantly reducing your losses. The cost of this hedge would be the premium you paid for the option. In this example, you would need 0.2 BTC to cover your portfolio. The cost would be 0.01 BTC ($500/$50,000).
Alternatively, you might sell a futures contract for bitcoin. Let's say you sell a futures contract for 0.2 BTC, agreeing to sell Bitcoin at $50,000 in one month. If bitcoin's price falls to $40,000, you could buy 0.2 BTC at the lower price to fulfill your contract, thus effectively selling your bitcoin at $50,000 and offsetting the losses in your portfolio. However, if bitcoin's price increases, you would still be obligated to sell at $50,000, potentially missing out on any price gains.
Risks of Hedging in Crypto
Hedging strategies generally involve risks and costs. Option premiums can be expensive, futures can limit your potential gains, and stablecoins rely on the solvency of the issuer. Diversification can help spread risk but won't necessarily prevent losses.
Remember to consider the following risks before you implement hedging.
Hedging usually involves costs. For example, buying options requires the payment of a premium, which can be substantial depending on market conditions. Similarly, futures contracts may involve brokerage and other fees.
Hedging strategies often limit potential profits. For example, if you use futures contracts to hedge against a price drop and the price rises instead, your gains will be capped at the futures contract price.
Counterparty risk is especially significant with over-the-counter derivatives or when stablecoins are used as a hedging tool. If the counterparty fails to uphold its end of the agreement, it could result in losses. In the case of stablecoins, there's the risk that the issuer might not be able to maintain the peg to the underlying asset.
There’s a risk that your hedging strategy might not work as expected due to market conditions. For example, in highly volatile markets, options and futures may not provide the expected protection due to extreme price movements.
The regulatory environment for cryptocurrencies and related financial instruments is evolving and varies by jurisdiction. Changes in regulations can affect the value and availability of certain hedging instruments. You must fully understand the regulatory requirements in your local jurisdiction and stay compliant at all times.
Some hedging instruments may be illiquid, meaning they can't be easily bought or sold without causing a significant change in price. This can make it difficult to enter or exit positions.
Finally, hedging strategies can be complex and require a deep understanding of financial markets, especially those with leverage. Mistakes or misunderstandings can lead to significant losses.
Tips for Hedging in Crypto
Hedging is complicated and requires a deep knowledge of the financial markets. It’s certainly not for beginners and even experienced traders need to be cautious when hedging. Here are some tips when utilizing hedging strategies in crypto.
Understand the risks
Before implementing any hedging strategy, make sure you fully understand the associated risks and potential downsides. Every financial instrument and strategy has its pros and cons, and it's crucial to know what you're getting into before you commit.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Consider investing in a variety of cryptocurrencies and even spreading your investment across different asset classes. This can help protect against volatility in any one particular asset.
Don't overcomplicate the process
It can be tempting to use complex hedging strategies in an attempt to maximize profits or minimize losses. However, complexity often brings additional risk. If you're not a sophisticated investor, simpler strategies are usually better.
Hedging is effective in offsetting potential losses your portfolio may suffer when used effectively, but hedging requires deep knowledge and is not for everyone. You need to study carefully the terms and conditions, margin requirements, fees, and leverage options when using hedging strategies.
Ensure you have a solid understanding of the associated risks and potential costs. You need to continuously monitor market conditions and manage your risk exposure while adjusting your positions constantly.
You should also use risk management tools such as stop-loss orders to limit potential losses or secure profits. Lastly, consider seeking guidance from a financial advisor before engaging in these trading activities.