Equity Swap vs CFD

Derivative trading is a mechanism in which traders are required to enter into an agreement wherein they will observe the market to understand the future value of the underlying asset of the derivate and then trade at a specific price or a future date. As the Contracts for Difference (CFDs) gained popularity, derivatives trading also gained subsequent popularity. CFD is a tool that allows traders to speculate the price movement of fast-moving instruments or securities, like Forex, treasuries, stock indices, and other commodities. CFDs are more prevalent in the UK as these are exempted from stamp duty.

An equity swap is yet another popular derivative instrument. In this, the two parties agree to exchange future cash flows on a future date that they fix in the present while finalizing the contract. 

While CFDs and equity swaps are widely used derivative instruments, they differ vastly. Let’s examine how these two tools differ.

CFD trading

Equity Swap vs. CFD

Equity swaps and CFDs allow investors to gain exposure to an underlying asset’s price movement without owning it, but they differ in structure and purpose. CFDs can be used for various assets, including equities, commodities, and currencies, whereas equity swaps are primarily focused on equities and indices. Additionally, while equity swaps usually have a set expiration date, CFDs do not have a predefined expiration time.

The most crucial difference between CFD and swap is the option of tradable instruments. CFDs can be used for several assets like currencies, commodities, and stocks; equity swaps are also related to equity and indices. Another downside of an equity swap is that it comes with an expiry trader’s two parties pre-deciding the contract’s closing date. Such limitation does not apply to CFDs. Investors can renew CFDs indefinitely at the end of each trading day if they see any potential for further profits.

Both equity swaps and contracts for difference (CFDs) are financial derivatives that allow investors to gain exposure to the price movements of an underlying asset without owning that asset. However, there are several key differences between the two. Here’s a detailed comparison:

Equity Swap:

  1. Definition: An equity swap is a financial derivative contract in which two parties agree to exchange a set of future cash flows. Typically, one party pays a fixed or floating interest rate while the other pays the return on equity (like a stock or an equity index).
  2. Catrader’s: Inequity swaps, the usual cash flows, are the performance of a stock or an equity index versus a traditional interest rate, like LIBOR. For example, Party A might receive the total return of the S&P 500 index while paying Party B a fixed incompany’ste.
  3. Uses: They can change the asset class exposure without buying or selling the underlying assets. They are also used for tax efficiencies and to overcome regulatory or investment restrictions.
  4. Settlement: Typically settled in cash.
  5. Counterparty Risk: Since equity swaps are typically traded over the counter (OTC), there is counterparty risk, meaning one party may default on its obligations.

CFD (Contract for Difference):

  1. Definition: A CFD is a contract between two parties, typically described as the “buyer” and the “seller,” stipulating that the seller will pay the buyer the difference between the current value of an asset and its value at contract time. If the difference is negative, then the buyer pays the seller.
  2. Margin: CFDs are traded on margin, meaning the trader only needs to deposit a small percentage of the trade’s total value to open a position. This provides leverage, amplifying both gains and losses.
  3. Uses: CFDs can speculate on price movements without owning the underlying asset. They can be used for hedging or to gain exposure to markets or assets that might be difficult to access directly.
  4. Settlement: CFDs are also cash-settled.
  5. Counterparty Risk: CFDs are usually traded OTC, often directly with brokers. This means there’s a risk the broker might not honor the contract, leading to counterparty risk. However, in some jurisdictions, there are regulatory protections for retail clients.
  6. Costs and Fees: While CFDs typically don’t involve a commission, they have overnight financing costs or “swap rates,” especially if the position is leveraged. The cost of holding a position overnight is known as the holding cost or financing charge.
  7. Regulation: CFDs are prohibited in some countries (like the USA) due to their high risk and concerns over protecting retail investors.

Key Differences:

  1. Nature of Contract: While both are derivative contracts, equity swaps typically involve the exchange of cash flows based on an equity’s performance and a reference interest rate. CFDs involve the asset’s price difference between the entry and exit.
  2. Purpose: Equity swaps can be used for various purposes, like changing asset markets ‘ asset markets’ exposure or achieving tax efficiencies. CFDs are mainly used for speculation or hedging.
  3. Trading Venue: Both are primarily OTC instruments, but brokers often offer CFDs to retail clients, while equity swaps are more common among institutional investors.
  4. Regulatory Landscape: CFDs face stricter regulatory scrutiny in some countries and are banned in others due to concerns about their suitability for retail investors.

Equity swaps and CFDs are similar in that investors who trade with them can benefit from the movement of financial markets without directly purchasing assets.

What is CFD?

CFDs, contracts for difference, are derivatives products that allow traders to trade on live market prices without owning the trading instrument. Simply put, it is more like a contract than buying and selling physical shares, currency pairs, or other commodities. A trader will inspect the market and make certain price speculations. Based on these speculations regarding the future price movement of the financial instruments, they will make a trade. The trader will buy a certain number of CFD units and gain a point per movement in their favor. Similarly, they will also lose points if the price movement is against their speculations. All the gains and losses are registered in the trader’s account until the date set while buying the CFD units.

It would help if you keep several things in mind while trading CFDs. Such as:

  • Brokers offer leverages on CFDs. This means that you will need to invest a small amount to open a position with access to a more considerable operating capital that will be invested in the market.
  • Both profits and losses can get magnified as you will be trading on margin.
  • The difference between the buying and the selling price is known as a spread. Different brokers offer different spreads. Generally, tight spreads are preferred. You are required to pay for the spread to trade CFDs.
  • Holding costs are levied on traders at the end of a trading day. Whether these are positive or negative will depend on the direction of the trader’s position.
  • The best thing about CFDs is that they do not expire. You can carry forward or renew it at the end of a trading day.
  • Like in Forex, you can choose either a long or a short position. When you hold an open position before the company’s ex-dividend date, you receive a share of dividends, as this position comes with several credits and charges. However, when you open a short position, and the CFD ends before the company’s ex-dividend date, you will be asked to pay the dividend to the company. Additionally, if you choose a long position, you must pay interest on your position for any overnight holdings.

What is an Equity Swap?

An equity swap contract is a derivative contract between two parties that involves the exchange of one stream (leg) of equity-based cash flows linked to the performance of a stock or an equity index with another stream (leg) of fixed-income cash flows. One party will pay the floating leg (typically linked to LIBOR). Then, that party will receive the returns on a pre-agreed-upon index of stocks relative to the contract’s notional amount.

To understand the CFD equity swap difference, we need to explore what an equity swap stands for. In this derivative contract, there is a regular cash flow between two counterparts for a certain period. These cash flows are also known as the legs of the swap. One of the legs is pegged to a floating rate called the floating leg. The other leg depends on the performance of the stock(s) or the equity index. Therefore, it is called the equity leg. The investor can participate in the equity index performance in this financial derivative without directly investing or owning the stock. A confirmation document is used to formalize the swap. 

It would help to keep several things when you are interested in an equity swap. Such as:

  • There are various variations of equity, but in every case, the equity leg has to be based on the performance of the stock(s) or the equity index.
  • You can base the floating leg on a foreign equity denomination or a fixed or floating interest rate.
  • You can initiate the cash flow periodically or at the end of the contract. There is no set timeline for it.

In conclusion, while equity swaps and CFDs allow investors to gain exposure to an underlying asset without owning it, they are structured differently and cater to different purposes and audiences. Investors should understand the nuances and risks of each instrument before considering them as part of their investment strategy.



Igor has been a trader since 2007. Currently, Igor works for several prop trading companies. He is an expert in financial niche, long-term trading, and weekly technical levels. The primary field of Igor's research is the application of machine learning in algorithmic trading. Education: Computer Engineering and Ph.D. in machine learning. Igor regularly publishes trading-related videos on the Fxigor Youtube channel. To contact Igor write on: igor@forex.in.rs

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