What Is a Forward Contract?


A forward contract is a type of financial contract between two parties, allowing them to buy or sell an asset in the future at an agreed-upon price. Forward contracts enable parties to take advantage of price movements in the underlying asset without taking ownership of it. These agreements are used to hedge against risk, secure better terms and sometimes speculate.


Forward contracts, also known as forwards, are cash-settled and are not exchange traded as other derivatives such as options and futures.


Due to the direct relationship between the buyer and the seller, forward contracts are not standardized and the risks and benefits of the agreement are negotiated directly between the parties. This means that the terms, such as delivery date and the quantity of the asset, need to be specified. The agreed-upon price is fixed and will be paid at the end of the contract or can be paid in installments throughout the life of the agreement.

  • The buying party is called the 'long', since it takes a long position in the trade.
  • The selling party is called the 'short', since it takes a short position in the trade.
  • A forward contract obligates both parties to the agreement and each party assumes an equal amount of risk.
  • Once the contract is signed, it cannot be changed without the agreement of both parties.

Trading Operations

A forward contract is an agreement between two parties to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price and date in the future. This agreement is legally binding and represents an obligation to complete the transaction on the set date.

Parties to an Agreement

In a forward contract, there are two parties to the agreement. The primary parties involve the buyer and the seller. The buyer and seller are speculative and are expecting to gain a profit from the trade. The other party to the transaction is the party that has agreed to the forward contract, such as a financial institution, which is the middleman in the transaction.

Terms of Agreement

The terms of the forward contract are determined by the buyer and seller. This includes the agreed upon asset to be traded, agreement price, and the termination date. The contract also includes other details such as the delivery of the asset, payment terms, and any restrictions that may apply. The parties also agree on other items such as commission details and options.

Settlement Terms

The settlement terms are an important factor of a forward contract. The settlement terms will determine the method of payment for the two parties in the agreement. The most common forms of payment for a forward contract are cash or a check. The payment terms are negotiated between the parties before the transaction is executed.

  • Cash payment
  • Check payment

Typical Applications

A forward contract is a risk-mitigating tool that is used by both the buyer and the seller of a commodity. These contracts are designed to provide both parties with a degree of protection against changes in conditions that may adversely affect the price of the commodity. By setting a fixed price and delivery date, both parties can be assured of maintaining a steady and reliable market. While forward contracts can be used with a variety of commodities, there are three main applications for these contracts:

Types of Commodities

Forward contracts can be used with commodities such as oil, grains, metals, currencies, or any other goods or services that have a fluctuating market price. They are most commonly used with commodities that face changes in supply and demand due to changes in market conditions. This can include items such as gold and oil, which are subject to wide fluctuations in price due to global and local economic conditions.


Forward contracts are also used by investors and companies to hedge their portfolios against losses that may arise due to price fluctuations of underlying commodities. By making a forward contract, the buyer and seller can agree to a fixed price for the delivery of the commodity. This allows the seller to reduce their exposure to the risk of a decline in market value of the commodity, while the buyer is protected from an increase in market value before delivery.

Fixed Price Payment

Forward contracts can also be used to ensure a steady flow of revenue for businesses that produce commodities. By agreeing to a fixed price for the deliver of a commodity, businesses are able to maintain a steady revenue stream even if market prices fluctuate. This allows businesses to budget and plan ahead, as well as allowing them to lock in the selling price of the commodity.

Overall, forward contracts provide a simple and effective way to protect buyers and sellers of commodities from potential losses due to volatile market conditions. By setting a fixed price and delivery date, both parties can be sure of a reliable and consistent market.

Understanding the Risks of Forward Contracts

Forward contracts can be an effective tool, but all investors need to understand the risks that can come with them. Before entering into a forward contract, investors should take time to evaluate several key risk factors. These include counterparty risk, early termination risk, and risks associated with applicable regulations.

Counterparty Risk

Counterparty risk is the risk associated with the parties of the forward contract. Both parties in the forward contract need to fulfill the terms of the contract to prevent any losses or adverse implications resulting from unmet requirements. Before agreeing to the terms, investors should review the creditworthiness and financial stability of the parties involved.

Early Termination Risk

Early termination risk is the risk of cancellation of the forward contract before the expiration of the term. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including legal matters and payment issues. Investors may be unable to recoup the full value of their original investment or suffer a substantial or total loss.

Regulatory Risk

Regulatory risk is the risk associated with the local and international laws and regulations relevant to forward contracts. Investors should fully understand the obligations each party has with respect to local and international laws before entering into a forward contract. Not understanding the applicable laws could lead to severe financial and legal consequences.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Forward Contracts

A forward contract is an agreement between two parties, known as counterparties, to buy or sell a specified asset at an agreed-upon price on an agreed date in the future. Forward contracts can be used to hedge against the risk of fluctuating prices, to acquire assets at a future date, or to lock in a price for an asset. Despite its potential benefits, however, forward contracts do come with certain risks and drawbacks that must be taken into consideration.


  • The primary advantage of forward contracts is that they allow counterparties to lock in a specific price for an asset well in advance, which can help to mitigate the risk of adverse price fluctuations.
  • Forward contracts can also provide a certain degree of flexibility when making business or investment decisions. By agreeing to a future transaction, parties can plan for the future without having to worry about the current market conditions.
  • Forward contracts can be a useful tool for businesses that trade commodities on a regular basis. As they offer a higher degree of certainty, they can allow businesses to hedge against price uncertainty and price volatility.
  • Another benefit of forward contracts is that they are typically much less expensive than traditional forms of hedging instruments, such as options or futures contracts.


  • One of the biggest drawbacks of forward contracts is that they are typically not tradable or transferable, which means that both parties are obligated to complete the transaction as agreed upon.
  • Counterparties must also exercise caution when entering into a forward contract, as there is no guarantee that the asset will be available at the agreed-upon price and date.
  • Additionally, forward contracts can involve significant credit risk, as the counterparty may become insolvent or unable to fulfill its obligations. In such cases, the non-defaulting party could suffer significant financial losses.
  • Finally, forward contracts can also be subject to various forms of regulation and may impose certain tax implications that must be considered.

The Role of a Broker

A forward contract is a highly specialized financial arrangement between two parties, and for that reason it is often beneficial to engage the assistance of an experienced broker. By doing so, the parties involved can benefit from increased transparency, leverage specialized expertise, and minimize their risk.

Increase Transparency

Brokers act as intermediaries who are responsible for liaising between two parties entering into a forward contract. By doing so, the broker helps improve transparency in order to make sure that all involved parties understand their obligations. Brokers can also help make sure that agreements are carried out in the most efficient way, ensuring a fair and open process.

Leverage Expertise

Forward contracts may have complex operations and intricate details, as well as highly specific legal requirements. As such, they should be overseen by a knowledgeable individual who can provide guidance with regard to any technicalities. Brokers are experts in the field, and thus can provide the necessary expertise for a successful completion of the contract.

Minimize Risk

As forward contracts involve the commitment of two parties to an agreement across a wide variety of circumstances, they often come with a certain level of risk. By engaging the services of a broker, parties can lower the perception of risk, since a broker’s experience and contacts can help identify potential issues and mitigate them. This can give all the parties involved greater peace of mind that the agreement will be binding and equitable.

  • Brokers improve transparency of the contract.
  • Brokers leverage their specialized expertise.
  • Brokers minimize the risk associated with forward contracts.


A forward contract is a financial instrument that allows two parties to agree on a predetermined price and then buy or sell the underlying asset at a later date. It allows two parties to hedge against the risk of market volatility and to gain exposure to a specific asset when they are unable to purchase it outright. The key benefits of forward contracts include protection against market volatility, ability to lock in prices in advance, and control over when the transaction happens.


To conclude, a forward contract provides an effective way for two parties to hedge against market volatility and to gain exposure to a specific asset in the future. The advantages include protection against price swings, ability to lock in the price of the asset in advance, and control over when the actual transaction takes place.

Review of Benefits

The major benefits of a forward contract are:

  • Protection against price swings.
  • Ability to lock in the price of the asset in advance.
  • Control over when the actual transaction takes place.

Last Thoughts

A forward contract is a valuable and versatile tool that can be used by traders, companies, and other institutions to manage their risks. Although it is a relatively complex and high-risk instrument, it can be extremely useful in the right circumstances.

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