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A hedge is an investment position intended to offset potential losses/gains that may be incurred by a companion investment. In simple language, a hedge is used to reduce any substantial losses/gains suffered by an individual or an organization.
A hedge can be constructed from many types of financial instruments, including stocks, exchange-traded funds, insurance, forward contracts, swaps, options, many types of over-the-counter and derivative products, and futures contracts.
Public futures markets were established in the 19th century to allow transparent, standardized, and efficient hedging of agricultural commodity prices; they have since expanded to include futures contracts for hedging the values of energy, precious metals, foreign currency, and interest rate fluctuations.
Hedging is the practice of taking a position in one market to offset and balance against the risk adopted by assuming a position in a contrary or opposing market or investment. The word hedge is from Old English hecg, originally any fence, living or artificial. The use of the word as a verb in the sense of "dodge, evade" is first recorded in the 1590s; that of insure oneself against loss, as in a bet, is from the 1670s. 
A typical hedger might be a commercial farmer. The market values of wheat and other crops fluctuate constantly as supply and demand for them vary, with occasional large moves in either direction. Based on current prices and forecast levels at harvest time, the farmer might decide that planting wheat is a good idea one season, but the price of wheat might change over time. Once the farmer plants wheat, he is committed to it for an entire growing season. If the actual price of wheat rises greatly between planting and harvest, the farmer stands to make a lot of unexpected money, but if the actual price drops by harvest time, he is going to lose the invested money.
If at planting time the farmer sells a number of wheat futures contracts equivalent to his anticipated crop size, he effectively locks in the price of wheat at that time: the contract is an agreement to deliver a certain number of bushels of wheat to a specified place on a certain date in the future for a certain fixed price. The farmer has hedged his exposure to wheat prices; he no longer cares whether the current price rises or falls, because he is guaranteed a price by the contract. He no longer needs to worry about being ruined by a low wheat price at harvest time, but he also gives up the chance at making extra money from a high wheat price at harvest times. However, in the case of a farmer, it must be noted that the hedge introduces another kind of risk. If the farmer has contracted to sell all his expected crop but then has a "bad year" (i.e. a year with lower-than-expected yields) such that his farm is not able to produce the committed quantity, he may have to purchase replacement crop at a disadvantageous price to fulfill his futures contract. For the farmer, this can be especially problematic if the low yields are widespread such that the price of the commodity is substantially higher than anticipated when the crop was planted.
A stock trader believes that the stock price of Company A will rise over the next month, due to the company's new and efficient method of producing widgets. He wants to buy Company A shares to profit from their expected price increase, as he believes that shares are currently underpriced. But Company A is part of a highly volatile widget industry. So there is a risk of a future event that affects stock prices across the whole industry, including the stock of Company A along with all other companies.
Since the trader is interested in the specific company, rather than the entire industry, he wants to hedge out the industry-related risk by short selling an equal value of shares from Company A's direct, yet weaker competitor, Company B.
The first day the trader's portfolio is:
The trader has sold short the same value of shares (the value, number of shares × price, is $1000 in both cases).
If the trader was able to short sell an asset whose price had a mathematically defined relation with Company A's stock price (for example a put option on Company A shares), the trade might be essentially riskless. In this case, the risk would be limited to the put option's premium.
On the second day, a favorable news story about the widgets industry is published and the value of all widgets stock goes up. Company A, however, because it is a stronger company, increases by 10%, while Company B increases by just 5%:
The trader might regret the hedge on day two, since it reduced the profits on the Company A position. But on the third day, an unfavorable news story is published about the health effects of widgets, and all widgets stocks crash: 50% is wiped off the value of the widgets industry in the course of a few hours. Nevertheless, since Company A is the better company, it suffers less than Company B:
Value of long position (Company A):
Value of short position (Company B):
Without the hedge, the trader would have lost $450 (or $900 if the trader took the $1,000 he has used in short selling Company B's shares to buy Company A's shares as well). But the hedge – the short sale of Company B a net profit of $25 during a dramatic market collapse.
Employee stock options (ESOs) are securities issued by the company mainly to its own executives and employees. These securities are more volatile than stocks. An efficient way to lower the ESO risk is to sell exchange traded calls and, to a lesser degree,[clarification needed] to buy puts. Companies discourage hedging the ESOs but there is no prohibition against it.
Airlines use futures contracts and derivatives to hedge their exposure to the price of jet fuel. They know that they must purchase jet fuel for as long as they want to stay in business, and fuel prices are notoriously volatile. By using crude oil futures contracts to hedge their fuel requirements (and engaging in similar but more complex derivatives transactions), Southwest Airlines was able to save a large amount of money when buying fuel as compared to rival airlines when fuel prices in the U.S. rose dramatically after the 2003 Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina.
Hedging can be used in many different ways including foreign exchange trading. The stock example above is a "classic" sort of hedge, known in the industry as a pairs trade due to the trading on a pair of related securities. As investors became more sophisticated, along with the mathematical tools used to calculate values (known as models), the types of hedges have increased greatly.
Examples of hedging include:
This is a list of hedging strategies, grouped by category.
Many hedges do not involve exotic financial instruments or derivatives such as the married put. A natural hedge is an investment that reduces the undesired risk by matching cash flows (i.e. revenues and expenses). For example, an exporter to the United States faces a risk of changes in the value of the U.S. dollar and chooses to open a production facility in that market to match its expected sales revenue to its cost structure.
Another example is a company that opens a subsidiary in another country and borrows in the foreign currency to finance its operations, even though the foreign interest rate may be more expensive than in its home country: by matching the debt payments to expected revenues in the foreign currency, the parent company has reduced its foreign currency exposure. Similarly, an oil producer may expect to receive its revenues in U.S. dollars, but faces costs in a different currency; it would be applying a natural hedge if it agreed to, for example, pay bonuses to employees in U.S. dollars.
One common means of hedging against risk is the purchase of insurance to protect against financial loss due to accidental property damage or loss, personal injury, or loss of life.
There are varying types of risk that can be protected against with a hedge. Those types of risks include:
Equity in a portfolio can be hedged by taking an opposite position in futures. To protect your stock picking against systematic market risk, futures are shorted when equity is purchased, or long futures when stock is shorted.
One way to hedge is the market neutral approach. In this approach, an equivalent dollar amount in the stock trade is taken in futures – for example, by buying 10,000 GBP worth of Vodafone and shorting 10,000 worth of FTSE futures (the index in which Vodafone trades).
Another way to hedge is the beta neutral. Beta is the historical correlation between a stock and an index. If the beta of a Vodafone stock is 2, then for a 10,000 GBP long position in Vodafone an investor would hedge with a 20,000 GBP equivalent short position in the FTSE futures.
Futures contracts and forward contracts are means of hedging against the risk of adverse market movements. These originally developed out of commodity markets in the 19th century, but over the last fifty years a large global market developed in products to hedge financial market risk.
Investors who primarily trade in futures may hedge their futures against synthetic futures. A synthetic in this case is a synthetic future comprising a call and a put position. Long synthetic futures means long call and short put at the same expiry price. To hedge against a long futures trade a short position in synthetics can be established, and vice versa.
Stack hedging is a strategy which involves buying various futures contracts that are concentrated in nearby delivery months to increase the liquidity position. It is generally used by investors to ensure the surety of their earnings for a longer period of time.
A contract for difference (CFD) is a two-way hedge or swap contract that allows the seller and purchaser to fix the price of a volatile commodity. Consider a deal between an electricity producer and an electricity retailer, both of whom trade through an electricity market pool. If the producer and the retailer agree to a strike price of $50 per MWh, for 1 MWh in a trading period, and if the actual pool price is $70, then the producer gets $70 from the pool but has to rebate $20 (the "difference" between the strike price and the pool price) to the retailer.
Conversely, the retailer pays the difference to the producer if the pool price is lower than the agreed upon contractual strike price. In effect, the pool volatility is nullified and the parties pay and receive $50 per MWh. However, the party who pays the difference is "out of the money" because without the hedge they would have received the benefit of the pool price.