Derivative agreements are contracts between two parties, under which at least one of the parties faces a financial obligation to the other. Each counterparty to a contract can be subjected to credit risk, or the possibility that the other party fails to meet its obigation.
In a forward contract, commitments are made at the contract outset but settlement is due at expiration. Consider an agreement under which party A agrees to buy the S&P 500 index from party B for 1,500 in one year. IfÂ the S&P 500 is at 1,400, party A owes party B 100, and party B faces potential credit risk (prior to settlement) and actual credit risk (at the time of settlement.) When the S&P 500 is higher than 1,500 it is party A that is subject to credit risk.
Swap contracts are similar to a series of forward contracts, with interim payments occurring along the way. Each payment exposes one party to credit risk. As each payment is made, the total potential credit risk is reduced.
Option contracts have unilateral credit risk – only the seller is obligated to make a payment, so only the buyer is exposed to credit risk once the initial premium has been paid.