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Financial instruments are tradable assets of any kind. They can be cash, evidence of an ownership interest in an entity, or a contractual right to receive or deliver cash or another financial instrument.
International Accounting Standards IAS 32 and 39 define a financial instrument as "any contract that gives rise to a financial asset of one entity and a financial liability or equity instrument of another entity".
Financial instruments can be either cash instruments or derivative instruments:
- Cash instruments —instruments whose value is determined directly by the markets. They can be securities, which are readily transferable, and instruments such as loans and deposits, where both borrower and lender have to agree on a transfer.
- Derivative instruments —instruments which derive their value from the value and characteristics of one or more underlying entities such as an asset, index, or interest rate. They can be exchange-traded derivatives and over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives.
Alternatively, financial instruments may be categorized by "asset class" depending on whether they are equity based (reflecting ownership of the issuing entity) or debt based (reflecting a loan the investor has made to the issuing entity). If it is debt, it can be further categorised into short term (less than one year) or long term. Foreign exchange instruments and transactions are neither debt nor equity based and belong in their own category.
|Asset class||Instrument type|
|Securities||Other cash||Exchange-traded derivatives||OTC derivatives|
|Debt (long term)
> 1 year
Options on bond futures
|Interest rate swaps
Interest rate caps and floors
Interest rate options
|Debt (short term)
≤ 1 year
|Bills, e.g. T-bills
Certificates of deposit
|Short-term interest rate futures||Forward rate agreements|
|Foreign exchange||N/A||Spot foreign exchange||Currency futures||Foreign exchange options
Foreign exchange swaps
Some instruments defy categorization into the above matrix, for example repurchase agreements.
Measuring gain or loss
The gain or loss on a financial instrument is as follows:
|Categories||Measurement||Gains and losses|
|Assets||Loans and receivables||Amortized costs||Net income when asset is derecognized or impaired (foreign exchange and impairment recognized in net income immediately)|
|Assets||Available for sale financial assets||Deposit account – fair value||Other comprehensive income (impairment recognized in net income immediately)|
- Off-balance-sheet issues
- International Accounting Standard (IAS) 32.11
- IFRS List – The online community about IFRS/IAS and Auditing
- Understanding Derivatives: Markets and Infrastructure Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Financial Markets Group
- Financing Instruments