An over-the-counter financial derivative that allows the holder to speculate on the future volatility of a given underlying asset
Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets.
Variance swap refers to an over-the-counter financial derivative that allows the holder to speculate on the future volatility of a given underlying asset. Holders use variance swaps to hedge their exposure to the magnitude of possible price movements of underliers, such as exchange rates, interest rates, or an equity index. The major benefit of variance swaps is that it does not require the investor to take directional exposure to the underlying asset.
Variance swap refers to an over-the-counter financial derivative that allows the holder to speculate on the future volatility of a given underlying asset.
The major benefit of variance swaps is that it does not require the investor to take directional exposure to the underlying asset.
They function in a manner that resembles a plain vanilla swap.
What is Variance?
Variance is a measure of the degree of difference between the expected price and actual price of an asset over time. Volatility is another more commonly used measure that is used to perform the same function in financial markets and media.
Volatility is derived from an asset’s variance. Generally, in percentage terms, an asset with higher volatility can be expected to be transacted more frequently.
How Do Variance Swaps Work
Variance swaps function in a manner that resembles a plain vanilla swap.
In a two-party transaction, one party is supposed to pay an amount that is based on the variance of price movements of the underlying asset. The other party must pay a fixed amount, which is also called the strike price. The strike price is predetermined, i.e., it is specified at the beginning of the contract.
The strike price is usually set such that the net present value of the payoff becomes equal to zero. The net present value of an asset determined the current worth of an asset after considering the future cash inflow expected to be generated by that asset.
At the end of the contract, the payoff available to both parties is a given amount multiplied by the actual variance and a given amount of volatility. Thus, if expressed mathematically, the variance swap is the arithmetic average of the differences from the mean value after it is squared. The variance is the square of the standard deviation.
Advantages of Variance Swaps
Options contracts function in a similar manner to variance swaps, but they carry multiple directional risks. Thus, they may require delta hedging. The contracts’ prices are dependent on many external factors, such as implied volatility, time, and date of expiration. The additional risk is eliminated in variance swaps as the only external factor is the volatility of the underlying asset.
The payout of a variance swap is typically higher than that of a volatility swap. It is because, unlike a volatility swap, the basis of a variance swap is variance instead of standard deviation.
Variance swaps are a cheaper alternative to options because options equivalents involve the purchase of a strip of options.
In a situation where the actual volatility of the underlying asset is more significant than the strike price, the payoff to the long holder on the date of maturity is always positive.
Disadvantage of Variance Swaps
Any unexpected jumps in the price of the underlying asset can skew the variance of the underlying asset, which can produce unexpected results.
Potential Users of Variance Swaps
1. Market users
Directional traders may use such instruments to speculate on the level of volatility of an asset. It is because variance swaps allow them to gain access to potentially profitable trading exposures. Spread traders may also bet on the difference between the actual volatility and implied volatility of the underlying asset. Hedger traders may use swaps in order to cover short volatility positions.
2. Other users
Investors may use variance contracts as a hedging vehicle in order to hedge against decreasing liquidity conditions. Insurance companies and options trading firms may want to offset their exposures to volatility in the markets.
Higher volatility is correlated to an increase in trading activity, which is usually beneficial for options trading firms. Convertible bond funds may use the same in order to hedge against a potential fall in volatility.
CFI is the official provider of the global Commercial Banking & Credit Analyst (CBCA)™ certification program, designed to help anyone become a world-class financial analyst. To keep advancing your career, the additional CFI resources below will be useful:
Take your learning and productivity to the next level with our Premium Templates.
Upgrading to a paid membership gives you access to our extensive collection of plug-and-play Templates designed to power your performance—as well as CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs.
Already have a Self-Study or Full-Immersion membership? Log in
Access Exclusive Templates
Gain unlimited access to more than 250 productivity Templates, CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs, hundreds of resources, expert reviews and support, the chance to work with real-world finance and research tools, and more.