What is market risk?

Trading comes with unavoidable, and sometimes unpredictable, risks. Here we explain market risk, discuss the different types, and show you how to measure and hedge against them.

Market risk explained

Market risk is the risk associated with losses due to unfavourable price movements that affect the market as a whole. These markets range from commodities to cryptocurrencies, any market carries risk. Because market risk affects the entire market, and not specific assets, it can’t be avoided through portfolio diversification.

Market risk is also called systematic risk; it is not specific to an industry, but linked to market activities such as economic turmoil, interest rates and natural disasters. One of the best ways to lessen the impact of a loss due to market risk is through hedging.

Types of market risk

  1. Interest rate risk
  2. Equity price risk
  3. Exchange rate risk
  4. Commodity price risk

Market risk depends on the type of security being traded, as well as the geographical boundaries of the trade.

Interest rate risk

If interest rates increase or decrease suddenly, market volatility is likely to increase. Interest rate changes affect asset prices because the level of spending and investment across an economy will increase or decrease, depending on the direction of the rate change. If the interest rate goes up, consumers generally spend less and save more, whereas if the interest rate goes down, they tend to spend a little more and save less. Interest rate risk can affect any market, including shares, commodities and bonds.

For example, if the Federal Reserve (Fed) Funds rate goes up, a US company may want to borrow less money from the banks, reducing its spending and investment. At the same time, the higher interest rate may attract more foreign capital to the US, causing the dollar to appreciate in value. This, in turn, would likely make the company’s exports less competitive internationally. Both effects could therefore negatively impact the company’s growth, profits and share price.

Equity price risk

Stock prices can be very volatile, more so than some other asset classes. The price of a security can change very quickly, often causing it to dip in value. This is known as equity price risk. While there are several factors that affect share prices, there are only two types of equity risk, namely systematic and unsystematic risk. The first is the risk related to the general industry, while unsystematic risk pertains to a certain company.

For example, you buy 500 ABC stocks for $20 per stock with the aim of selling the shares at a higher price. But then, the unexpected resignation of the CEO causes the share price to drop to $14. If you sell the shares then, you will make a $7000 loss. That is the equity price risk you must carry.

Exchange rate risk

Exchange rate risk, also known as currency risk or foreign exchange risk, is the risk associated with the fluctuation of currency prices. When currency prices change, it becomes less or more expensive to buy foreign assets, depending on the direction of the change. Exchange rate risk increases if the trader is exposed to international forex markets, though a trader can be exposed indirectly by owning shares in a company that does a lot of foreign trade, or by trading commodities priced in foreign currency. Further, a country with higher debt will have a high currency risk.

For example, assume the Brazilian real is trading at R$5 against the British pound. A British retailer enters into a business deal with a Brazilian coffee producer to buy 10,000 packets of roasted coffee at R$20 per packet – a total deal worth R$200,000 (£40,000). Before the British company receives the goods, a sudden political crisis causes the GBP to weaken, making it trade for R$4. The retailer would still have to pay the agreed amount per packet (R$20), which means the deal is now equal to £50,000.

Commodity price risk

Commodities, such as crude oil, gold and corn, can experience sudden price fluctuations if there are any sort of political, regulatory or seasonal changes. This risk is known as commodity price risk. Commodity price changes can affect traders, investors, consumers and producers.

For example, a drought can affect corn production and could therefore cause a price increase. If you have a position on corn, you are exposed to this commodity price risk.

However, commodity price risk extends beyond the risk of price changes to the commodities themselves. They are the building blocks of most goods, which is why changes to their prices can have far-reaching consequences for companies and consumers. Price changes put strain on the entire supply chain, which ultimately affects economic performance.

How to measure market risk

There are two main methods used to measure market risk: value-at-risk (VaR) and Beta:

  • Value-at-risk is a statistical method, applied over a specific time frame, that can measure the extent of the risk (potential loss), as well as the likelihood that the loss will occur (occurrence ratio)
  • Beta measures the volatility of stock, based on its previous performance, compared to the market as a whole. In other words, it determines if stocks move in the same direction as the market

However, there is no agreed-upon method for measuring market risk with either of these methods – some can be very simple, while others are quite complicated.

How to hedge market risk

Hedging is defined as holding two or more positions at the same time with the intent of offsetting any losses from one position with gains from another. Hedging market risk is one way to manage your trading risk. Many traders appreciate that certain risks are necessary – and could give them the long-term returns that they’re looking for – but hedging offers some risk protection while giving traders the exposure they want.

There are different financial instruments you can use for hedging. Your hedging strategy will depend on the market you’re trading.

Hedging shares

Having a shares portfolio exposes you to the risk of economic weakness, but the right hedging strategies can reduce your overall risk and loss. While there are many ways to protect your position, shorting equities or indices is a popular hedging choice.

Learn how to hedge shares in this guide

Hedging forex risk

If you’re trading forex, you may want to place additional trades to protect your position against unfavourable market movements and exchange rate fluctuations. You can either implement a simple forex hedging strategy or a more complex system, depending on your trading strategy and appetite for risk.

Learn how to hedge forex positions in this guide

Hedging currency risk

Any international investment or trade will expose you to currency risk, as exchange rates fluctuate, affecting asset values. While there are many variables to consider if you want to match your hedging strategy to your financial goals, there are ways to manage your currency risk.

Learn how to hedge currency risk in this guide

Hedging bitcoin risk

Cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, are considered risky due to general market volatility. However, you can minimise the risks with the right hedging strategy.

Learn how to hedge bitcoin risk in this guide

Market risk summed up

We’ve summarised a few key points to remember on market risk below.

  • Market risk affects the entire market – it can’t be avoided through portfolio diversification
  • There are four main types of market risk, namely interest rate risk, equity price risk, exchange rate risk and commodity price risk
  • There are several methods you can use to measure market risk, including value-at-risk and Beta
  • You can hedge against market risk via options trading or with futures contracts

This information has been prepared by IG, a trading name of IG Markets Limited. In addition to the disclaimer below, the material on this page does not contain a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. IG accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Consequently any person acting on it does so entirely at their own risk. Any research provided does not have regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any specific person who may receive it. It has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such is considered to be a marketing communication. Although we are not specifically constrained from dealing ahead of our recommendations we do not seek to take advantage of them before they are provided to our clients. See full non-independent research disclaimer and quarterly summary.

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