Monday, April 6, 2009

In Defense of Derivatives

From the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal, by Rene Stultz:

From the perspective of Main Street companies, derivatives are not just about high finance, quants and politics, but about investing in America's core industries, jobs and economic recovery. Companies find that over-the-counter derivatives are essential to their day-to-day operations. Derivatives help insulate them from risk, which allows them to borrow capital at better prices than they would otherwise. And derivatives are more useful than ever in these days of unusual volatility in financial markets.

For example, not being able to hedge currency risk through the use of a derivative can leave a company exposed to fluctuations in currency markets. Without derivatives companies could see movements in exchange rates turn a profitable export contract into a money-losing agreement.

In its current annual report, Caterpillar Inc. makes the case for why it relies on derivatives: "Our risk management policy . . . allows for the use of derivative financial instruments to prudently manage foreign currency exchange rate, interest rate, commodity price and Caterpillar stock price exposures...."

Our businesses need derivatives. Most of us choose to drive cars even though they sometimes crash. But we also insist that cars are made as safe as it makes economic sense for them to be, and that speed limits and other rules of the road are enforced. The same logic should apply to derivatives.

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