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Source: The Norwegian Securities Dealers Association (VPFF), most recently amended 2 November 2020

Risks associated with investment in financial instruments

Anyone who wants to invest in transferable securities such as shares, derivatives, listed funds and more, should familiarise themselves well with the information below.

Frustrated man

Anyone who wants to invest in transferable securities such as shares, derivatives, listed funds and more, should familiarise themselves well with the information found below.

As a client, you must be aware that:

  • trading in financial instruments takes place at your own risk
  • before starting to trade in financial instruments, you must carefully study the firm's general business terms and conditions as well as any other relevant information on the financial instrument in question and its characteristics and risks
  • you must immediately scrutinise the contract note and submit any complaints regarding errors
  • you are responsible for monitoring changes in the value of the financial instruments in which you have invested
  • you must regularly assess your investments and make the necessary changes to adapt these to your investment strategy and risk profile
Read general business terms

1. Definitions

2. Trading in financial instruments

Trading in financial instruments, such as shares, equity certificates, bonds, certificates, derivatives or other rights and obligations intended for trading in the securities market, normally takes place in an organised form in a trading system.

Trading takes place through the investment firms that use the trading system. As a client, you must normally contact such an investment firm in order to buy or sell financial instruments. There are also investment firms that forward orders to another investment firm that then uses the trading system. Trading may also take place internally in an investment firm, for example by the investment firm becoming the counterparty to the trade or through a trade with another of the investment firm’s clients (internal trade).

In a regulated market, financial instruments can be listed. That means that the instruments are approved for trading and the marketplace monitors that the company which has issued the financial instruments meets the requirements linked to the listing. Shares, equity certificates, bonds, certificates, some fund units and derivatives linked to financial instruments are traded on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

Trading in listed financial instruments may take place in regulated markets, on an MTF or OTF, in a dark pool or through an SI.

Information on the prices of the financial instruments traded on a regulated market is published regularly on the marketplace's website, in newspapers and/or through other media.

2.1. Share trading

Shares in a limited company entitle the owner to a percentage of the company's share capital. The share entitles the owner to a percentage of the dividends or other amounts distributed by the company. Shares also provide a right to vote at the general meeting, which is the company's supreme decision-making body. The more shares an owner has, the larger the owner's percentage normally is of the capital, dividend and votes. The right to vote may vary depending on the share category. There are two types of limited company in Norway, a public limited company (ASA) and a private limited company (AS).

Only shares issued by a public limited company (ASA) or a corresponding foreign entity can be listed on a stock exchange in Norway. In addition, there are requirements as to the company's size, business history and ownership spread and the publication of the company's finances and other operations.

Less stringent rules often apply to listing on regulated markets that are not stock exchanges.

In Norway, there are currently two regulated markets for trading in shares: the Oslo Stock Exchange and Euronext Expand. Only Euronext Oslo Stock Exchange has a stock exchange licence (Link: Euronext Oslo Børs). Euronext Expand (earlier known as Oslo Axxess) is on the whole subject to the same rules as the Oslo Stock Exchange as regards follow-up, monitoring and the sanctioning of breaches of the regulations.

Shares may be listed on more regulated markets, so-called secondary listings. Several Norwegian companies have secondary listings on foreign regulated markets.

Trading in Norwegian shares also takes place on a number of MTFs.

Trading in shares that are not listed on a regulated market or traded on an MTF takes place in the so-called OTC market. Here, trading takes place to a large extent based on information about prices and interests that the brokerage firms disclose to each other. In Norway, the brokerage firms can enter interest in buying or selling shares in a trading support system run by NOTC AS, a company owned by Oslo Stock Exchange. The brokerage firms then enter into agreements to buy/sell over the phone. The companies registered on this list must publish price-relevant information in the NOTC's trading-support system. For more information on the NOTC List, refer to www.notc.no.

If a share is not listed on a regulated market or traded on an MTF and does not have buy and sell interests published in a trading support system, it will normally be sold by the brokerage firm trying to assist the client by contacting other clients who may be interested in becoming a counterparty. Investments in this type of shares entail a considerable liquidity risk and significant uncertainty regarding the determination of the price.

Trading in a regulated market or other trading system comprises the secondary market for shares and equity certificates that a company has already issued. In addition, the NOTC List functions as a secondary market for shares. If the secondary market functions well, i.e. if it is easy to find buyers and sellers and the offer prices from buyers and sellers and final prices of completed trades are continuously registered, companies benefit from the fact that it is easier to issue new shares and thus raise more capital for the company’s operations. The primary market is the market where new issues of shares, equity certificates and bonds are offered/subscribed for.

Shares registered on a regulated market or other trading system are normally divided into various groups depending on the company’s market value or liquidity. These groups, often called lists or segments, are usually published on the trading system’s website, in newspapers and via other media. The companies listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange are divided into three different segments depending on the company’s liquidity: OBX, OB Match and OB Standard. In addition, there is an OB New segment for recently listed shares.

The daily key prices at which the shares are traded, such as "highest", "lowest" and "latest", as well as information on the volume traded, are published in the financial press and on various websites run by marketplaces, investment firms and information vendors to the financial industry, among other places. The relevance of this price information may vary, depending on the way in which it is published.

There are various classes of shares, usually A and B shares, and these are normally important for the exercise of voting rights at the company’s general meeting. Class A shares normally entitle the holder to one vote, while class B shares usually entitle the holder to a restricted voting right or no voting rights at all. The differences in voting rights may, for example, be due to the fact that, in conjunction with a diversification of ownership, the company wants to protect the original founders' and owners' influence over the company by giving these parties stronger voting rights. For the time being, only a few Norwegian listed companies have different classes of shares.

A share's nominal value is the amount of the company's share capital that the share represents. The sum of all the shares in a company multiplied by the nominal value of each share constitutes the company's share capital. Occasionally, companies change the nominal value, for example because the market price of the share has risen significantly. By dividing each share into two or more shares, a so-called split, both the nominal value and price of the share are reduced. However, after a split the shareholder’s capital remains the same but is divided into a greater number of shares, each of which has a lower nominal value and price.

Conversely, a reverse share split may be carried out if, for example, the share price falls dramatically. In such a case, two or more shares are consolidated to form one share. Following a reverse share split, the shareholder’s capital remains unchanged but is divided into fewer shares, each of which has a higher nominal value and higher price.

A stock exchange introduction means that shares in a limited company are listed and admitted for trading on a regulated market. In connection with this, the general public may be invited to subscribe for (buy) shares in the company. The listing is normally motivated by the company wanting better access to the capital market and improved opportunities for trading in the company's shares.

An acquisition normally involves an investor or investors inviting the shareholders of a company to sell their shares on certain terms. A buyer that obtains 90% or more of the share capital and votes in the company can petition for the compulsory purchase of the remaining shares from those shareholders that have not accepted the acquisition offer.

A mandatory bid obligation arises when a shareholder becomes such a dominant owner that he can take control over a company. The Securities Trading Act states that this takes place when a shareholder becomes the owner of, or in some other way controls, more than one third of the shares in the company. A mandatory bid obligation arises once more if the dominant owner controls more than 40% and 50% of the shares. Anyone that exceeds such a limit and does not reduce his shareholding to below the limit again as quickly as possible, is obliged to make an unconditional offer to all the company's shareholders to buy their shares at the highest price that the bidder has paid in a given period.

Share issues raise new capital for a company. If a limited company wants to expand its operations, it often requires additional capital. It raises this by issuing new shares through a share issue. The main rule in the Norwegian Private Limited Companies Act is that existing shareholders have a pre-emptive right to subscribe for shares in the share issue. The number of shares that can be subscribed for is in such case determined by the number of shares already owned by the shareholder and the company issues subscription rights to existing shareholders. The subscriber must pay a price (the issue price) for the new shares. This price is normally lower than the market price. The subscription rights will therefore have a certain market value and the price of the shares normally drops correspondingly after the subscription rights have been detached from the shares. Shareholders who have subscription rights but do not subscribe for shares, may during the subscription period (which in a rights issue must be at least two weeks), sell their subscription rights on the marketplace where the shares are listed. After the expiry of the subscription period and allotment of the shares, the subscription rights expire and are thus useless and worthless.

A limited company can also carry out a so-called private placement, which is a share issue directed solely at a limited group of investors. In order to carry out a private placement, the shareholders must have decided to relinquish their pre-emptive rights to the new shares at a general meeting. Private placements often take place according to an authorisations given to the company's board by the general meeting. In the case of a private placement, the existing shareholders' percentages of the votes and share capital in the company are diluted.

2.2. Share-like instruments

Equity certificates, convertible bonds/debentures and depositary receipts may have similar properties to shares. These types of financial instruments are traded on regulated markets, but can also be traded on the OTC market.

Equity certificates are very similar to shares. The difference is primarily related to the ownership of the company’s assets and influence over the issuer’s corporate bodies. There are also some restrictions on the distribution of dividend. The listed equity certificates in Norway are issued by savings banks. More information on equity certificates is available at www.sparebankforeningen.no.

Convertible bonds/debentures are interest-bearing securities which may be exchanged for new issued shares, within a certain period of time and at an agreed price. A convertible bond/debenture is both an interest-rate instrument and a call option. When the conversion rate is much higher than the share's market price, a convertible bond/debenture is normally priced in the same way as any other interest-rate instrument. If the opposite is true, the price of the convertible bond/debenture will reflect both the option value and interest element. In both cases, the price is expressed as a percentage of the nominal value of the convertible bond/debenture.

Depositary receipts are a financial instrument that gives the holder all the rights of an owner to an underlying financial instrument that is registered with a custodian. A depositary receipt is normally traded in the same way as the underlying financial instrument.

2.3. Interest-bearing financial instruments

An interest-bearing financial instrument is a claim against the issuer of a loan that has not yet fallen due. The return is normally provided in the form of interest (coupon). There are different types of interest-bearing instruments, depending on who the issuer is, the security that the issuer has provided for the loan, the term to maturity and how interest is paid.

Instruments with a term to maturity of one year or less are often called certificates, while instruments with a longer term to maturity are called bonds.

Many interest-bearing instruments are assessed by independent analysis firms, so-called credit rating agencies. Such an assessment, called a rating, is intended to express the default risk on the issuing entity and the rated instrument.

The interest (coupon) is normally paid as either a fixed or floating interest rate. The interest on a fixed-interest loan applies to the entire term of the loan. The interest on a floating-interest loan is normally set (fixed) four times a year for three months at a time based on the NIBOR interest rate and an agreed interest-rate mark-up (interest spread). The interest spread is fixed for the entire term of the loan unless it has been agreed that certain events are to trigger a change. It is not unusual for it to be agreed that the interest spread for loans that are not rated is to change if the loan achieves a predetermined satisfactory rating.

On certain types of loans, no interest is payable and only the nominal amount is repaid on the loan’s maturity date (zero coupons). The purchase of zero-coupon bonds takes place at a considerable discount, which means that the effective interest rate is the same as for bonds on which a regular coupon rate is paid. For example, all the debts that the Norwegian state issues in Treasury bills (government certificates) are zero-coupon instruments.

The interest that a borrower has to pay is linked to the market's assessment of the risk of the debt being defaulted on. It is normal to classify loans in two main groups: High Yield and Investment Grade. Interest-bearing securities that credit rating agencies classify as being lower than bbb or the equivalent are considered to be more likely to be defaulted on and are therefore classified as high yield securities.

A number of bonds are listed on a stock exchange. The reporting of trades in these financial instruments takes place, like listed shares, on a regulated market. In addition, the Oslo Stock Exchange offers an alternative marketplace for trading in bonds and certificates that are not listed on a stock exchange – the Alternative Bond Market (ABM). The ABM is a separate marketplace that is not regulated by, or subject to a licence, pursuant to the Norwegian Stock Exchange Act but is administered and organised by the Oslo Stock Exchange.

Bonds are normally traded in a different way to shares. In practice, the interest and currency market is regarded as a quoting or price-driven market, unlike the stock market which is an order-driven market.

2.4. Derivative instruments

Share options give the Holder the right to buy or sell a share. Acquired (bought) purchase options (call options) give the owner the right to buy, within a certain period, already issued shares at a predetermined price (strike price). Acquired (bought) sales options (put options) give the owner the right to sell shares within a certain period at a predetermined price (strike price). There is an issued/written (sold) option corresponding to each acquired option.

Index options provide a gain or loss linked to in the value of the underlying index and are settled by a cash payment of the difference between the strike price and market price when this difference is in the buyer's favour.

The price of options (premium/price) normally follows changes in the price of the option's underlying shares or index.

Call options with a longer term to maturity than standardised call options are called warrants. Warrants may be used to buy underlying shares or to provide a cash settlement if a gain has been achieved as a result of the price of the underlying share being higher than the agreed future purchase price/selling price. Many exchange-traded warrants are issued by investment firms or banks as part of their derivative operations. Warrants can also be issued by the company itself. Such warrants are exercised by the company issuing new shares or selling shares it owns itself.

Derivative instruments are contracts that can be traded on the capital market for financial instruments. The derivative instrument is linked to an underlying financial instrument or an underlying index value.

Derivatives can also have other types of underlying value, such as a currency or commodity, or indices for these. Such derivatives are called currency derivatives or commodity derivatives and are by nature similar to derivatives based on financial instruments. Below, the main focus will be on derivatives based on financial instruments.

Derivative instruments may be used for many different purposes:

  • to protect against negative developments in the price of owned financial instruments.
  • to achieve a gain on changed market prices without having to own or short sell the underlying financial instrument.
  • to achieve a gain or return with a smaller capital investment than that required to carry out a corresponding direct trade in the underlying financial instrument.
  • to agree on the sale of securities with settlement in the future.

The price of a call option or a forward/future will usually fluctuate in the same direction as the underlying financial instrument. Investments in derivatives will therefore to a large extent be based on the same assessments as investments in the underlying financial instruments, but an investment in a derivative will produce a risk profile that is different to that of a direct investment.

Investors in the derivatives market can also speculate in changes to secondary parameters that affect the price of the derivative, such as interest-rate changes and the volatility in the market.

In Norway, standardised derivatives are traded on the Oslo Stock Exchange. Derivatives with Norwegian shares and indices as underlying values are also traded on other marketplaces, including the NASDAQ OMX.

Trading in unlisted derivatives takes place on the so-called OTC market. Trading on this market takes place to a large extent on the basis of information regarding prices and interests that the brokerage firms notify each other of. It is also common for the brokerage firms to carry out own-trading in OTC derivatives and to offer prices and act as counterparties to their clients.

3. Risks relating to trading in financial instruments

3.1. General about risk

Financial instruments normally provide a return in the form of a dividend (shares and fund units) or interest (interest-bearing instruments). In addition, the investor may make a gain or loss due to the price of the instrument rising or falling. The total return is the sum of the dividend/interest and change in the price of the instrument.

Naturally, the investor is seeking a total return that is positive, i.e. that produces a gain. However, there is also a risk that the total return will be negative, i.e. that the investor will make a loss on the investment. The risk of loss varies between different instruments. In an investment context, the word risk is often used to express both the risk of loss and the opportunity for a gain. In the description below, however, the word risk is used solely to designate the risk of loss.

There are various ways of investing in financial instruments in order to reduce the risk involved. It is normally better from a risk point of view to invest in several different financial instruments rather than a single one or only a few financial instruments. These instruments should have characteristics so the risk is spread and they should not gather risks that may be triggered simultaneously. Investors can also invest in negative positions in instruments (short positions). Such investments will increase in value when the share price falls.

The client personally bears the risk of an investment falling in value and must therefore become acquainted with the terms and conditions, prospectuses, etc., governing trading in such instruments, and with the instruments’ individual risks and characteristics. The client must also regularly monitor his/her investments in such instruments. This is the case even if the client has received personal advice in conjunction with the investment. Information for use in monitoring prices and thus changes in the value of the client’s own investments may be obtained from price lists published in the media, e.g. newspapers and the internet and, in certain cases, by the investment firm itself.

The client must continuously assess the risk entailed by his investments. Many different factors may affect the value of financial instruments. The client should therefore become familiar with the factors that affect different instruments and be aware of the elements that may affect his own investments. The client should continuously assess his investment portfolio and, if necessary, make changes to adapt it to his investment strategy and risk profile.

3.2. Shares and share-related instruments

The price of a share is affected to a great extent by the company's prospects. A share price may rise or fall depending on investor analyses and assessments of the company's opportunities to make future profits. Future external developments in economic cycles, technology, legislation, competition, etc., may determine the demand for the company's products or services and, consequently, are also of fundamental importance to changes in the price of the company's shares.

The price may also be affected by the general market risk – the risk of a fall in prices in the market in general or in certain parts of the market where the client has invested. The price developments for financial instruments listed in foreign regulated markets may also affect price developments in Norway.

The price may also be influenced by developments in the sector to which the company belongs – sector-specific risks – the risk of a specific sector doing worse than expected or being altered by a negative event so that the financial instruments linked to companies in the sector in question may decline in value. The share price of a company is often affected by changes in the share price of other companies in the same industry/sector irrespective of the country to which the companies belong.

Other factors directly related to the company, such as changes in the company's management and organisation, disruptions to production, etc., may also affect the company's future ability to create profits in both the long- and short-term. This is called the company-specific risk – the risk of a company doing worse than expected or being affected by a negative event so that the financial instruments linked to the company may fall in value.

The framework conditions for industry, both national and international, may also affect share prices. Changes in tax and duty levels nationally and in other countries, affect the companies’ cost levels and thus their competitive situation. International agreements between countries regarding customs charges and duties on the import and export of goods and services affect the competition situation that exists between companies and thus also share prices. Major events such as disasters, terrorist acts and wars may have huge effects on share prices on stock exchanges worldwide.

The general interest rate level (market interest rate) also plays a crucial role in share-price developments. If the market interest rate increases, investing in interest-bearing financial instruments may become more attractive so that the players transfer some of their investments from the stock market to the interest-rate market and the demand for shares falls. Normally, share prices fall when demand declines. In addition, share prices are negatively affected by an increase in the interest payable on the company's debts, since this worsens the company’s future financial results.

Changes in foreign-exchange rates may also affect share prices. Companies whose revenues and costs are in different currencies will be especially vulnerable to such fluctuations. This applies to several Norwegian export companies. When investing in foreign markets, fluctuations in foreign-exchange rates will also affect the result after the purchase or sales amount has been converted into Norwegian krone (NOK).

In the worst case, a company may perform so poorly that it must be declared bankrupt (in liquidation). The shareholders have last priority for receiving any money from the entity in bankruptcy. The company’s other debts must first be repaid in their entirety. This results in there only in exceptional cases being any assets left in the company after its debts have been paid, so that the shares in a bankrupt company are normally worthless.

Players in the financial market have different opinions on how share prices will develop, often because they place emphasis on different factors that affect share-price developments or expect the factors that influence the share price to develop in different ways. This means there are both buyers and sellers. If many investors share the same opinion regarding price trends, they will either buy, thereby creating pressure to buy, or sell, thereby creating pressure to sell. Prices increase when there is pressure to buy and fall when there is pressure to sell.

The turnover, i.e. the quantity of a particular share that is traded, affects the share price. In the event of a high turnover, the difference, also called the spread, between the price the buyers are prepared to pay (bid price) and the price demanded by the sellers (ask price) is reduced. A share with a high turnover, where large amounts can be traded without any major effect on the price, enjoys good liquidity and is thus easy to buy or sell. Shares in companies listed in a generally used benchmark index in a regulated market are normally very liquid.

It's important to be aware that the risk relating to shares can vary considerably from company to company, completely independent of the listing site (stock exchange or MTF) or list of unquoted shares. There is a great difference between the risk attached to shares in a company that has demonstrated good earnings over time and the risk linked to shares in a company that has no earnings worth mentioning, or has made a loss, and whose share price is, for example, based on it succeeding in the future launch of a new product that will produce high earnings.

The company may fail, the goods may be less profitable to produce than estimated, new competitors may appear, etc. It is important for investors to assess how likely it is that a company will go bankrupt, in the same way as they assess the likelihood of success. Companies that have been listed on a stock exchange for a long time will also normally have more information available than start-ups with a short history, and this means that investors should exercise even more care.

3.3. Interest-bearing instruments

The risk associated with an interest-bearing instrument consists in part of the price changes that may occur during the term to maturity due to changes in market interest rates, and in part of the market's assessment of the risk that the issuer will be unable to repay the loan. Loans for which satisfactory security for repayment have been provided are thus less risky than loans without security.

For loans where the credit risk is considered especially high the issuer has to pay a particularly high interest rate. Such interest-bearing securities are often called high-yield bonds.

In the case of bankruptcy or debt settlement proceedings, the owner of an interest-bearing instrument may lose all or some of his investment. In the case of a bankruptcy, all debt must be repaid before the shareholders can receive anything, so in general it can be said that the risk of loss is less in relation to interest-bearing instruments than it is in relation to shares.

The market interest rate is quoted every day for both instruments with short terms to maturity (less than one year), e.g., certificates, and instruments with longer terms to maturity, such as bonds. This takes place in the money market and bond market. Market interest rates are affected by analyses and assessments conducted by Norges Bank (the central bank of Norway) and other major institutional market players with regard to short-term and long-term trends in a number of economic factors, such as inflation, the state of the economy and interest rate changes in other countries.

If the market interest rate increases, the price of interest-bearing financial instruments will fall since the return on the instrument compared to the market interest rate has become less favourable. Conversely, the price of already issued instruments increases when the market interest rate declines.

Loans issued by the Norwegian state, county councils or municipalities (or guaranteed by such organisations) are deemed to be more or less risk-free with respect to redemption at the predetermined value on the due date.

3.4. Risk related to trading in derivative instruments

Trading in derivative instruments is linked to special risks in addition to the risks linked to the underlying financial instrument. The client bears this risk and must find out all about the derivatives' properties as well as about the terms and conditions in the form of the general terms and conditions, prospectuses or suchlike that apply to trading in such instruments. The client must also constantly monitor his investments (positions) in such instruments. Monitoring information may be obtained from price lists on the internet, the mass media and the client's investment firm.

Trading in derivative instruments can be described as trading in, or a transfer of, risk. For example, a party that expects prices in the market to fall can buy put options that increase in value if the market drops. To reduce or avoid the risk of a fall in share prices, the buyer pays a premium, i.e. what the option costs. Trading in derivatives is in many cases not advisable for clients with little or limited experience of trading in financial instruments, since trading in derivatives often requires specialist knowledge. The structure of a derivative instrument means that developments in the price of the underlying asset affect the price of the derivative instrument. This price effect is often stronger in relation to the investment than the change in the value of the underlying asset. The price effect is therefore called the gearing effect and may lead to a greater gain on invested capital than if the investment had been made directly in the underlying asset. On the other hand, the gearing effect may lead to the loss on the derivative instrument being greater than the relative change in the value of the underlying asset. Changes in the price of the derivative instrument and of the underlying asset must therefore be closely monitored. The client should, for his own sake, be prepared to act quickly, often that same day, if the investment in the derivative instrument starts to develop negatively.

A party that incurs an obligation by issuing/writing an option or entering into a forward/futures contract must provide collateral for his position right from the start. The requirement for collateral changes as the price of the underlying asset rises or falls so that the value of the derivative instrument rises or falls. Additional collateral may therefore be required. The gearing effect thus also influences the collateral requirement, which may change rapidly and radically. If the client does not provide sufficient collateral, the clearing organisation or investment firm is entitled to terminate the investment (close the position) without the client's consent in order to reduce its risk. A client should thus closely monitor price developments and the collateral requirement in order to avoid the involuntary closure of the position.

The term to maturity of derivative instruments may vary from a very short time to several years. The relative change in price is often largest for instruments with a short (remaining) term to maturity. The price of a held option generally falls towards the end of the term to maturity as the time value is reduced. The client should therefore also carefully monitor the term to maturity of the derivative instruments.

Some derivative trades require that the client has to provide collateral (margin requirement), for example in the case of sales of options, purchases and sales of futures and forwards and swap contracts. The margin requirement will vary depending on, among other things, the underlying securities, type of instrument and the instrument's term to maturity and volatility. The margin requirement may also vary considerably from day to day. For his own sake, the client should be ready to act immediately to provide additional collateral (to meet any higher margin requirement) or to terminate his investments in derivative contracts (close his positions) by buying or selling (opposite) contracts.

3.5. The risk involved in various types of derivative instruments

The main types of derivative instruments are options, forward/futures contracts and swap contracts.

3.5.1. Options

An option is a contract which involves one party (the issuer (writer) of the option contract) undertaking to buy (Put Option) or sell (Call Option) the underlying financial instrument to the other party (the holder of the contract), at a predetermined price (the strike price), if the holder so demands. The date when the holder can exercise this right depends on the type of option in question. An American option may be exercised at any time during the life of the option. A European option may only be exercised on the expiration date. The holder pays a premium to the writer for the right stated in the contract. The price of the option normally follows the price of the underlying financial instrument. The main elements in the price of an option are the difference between the market value of the underlying financial instrument and the agreed strike price as well as a time value, which is an expression of possible future fluctuations in the value of the underlying financial instrument. The time value declines as the remaining life of the option is reduced, so that the price of a call option may fall even if the value of the underlying financial instrument has risen.

An investor must take all such price elements into account when considering whether to close a derivative position or maintain it.

3.5.2. Call options

By buying a call option, an investor obtains a right to buy the underlying financial instrument on a future date at a predetermined price. When an investor buys a call option, he pays an option premium plus the costs relating to selling and administering the option contract.

The maximum amount that the holder of a call option can lose is the option premium plus the costs paid. The maximum loss arises if the price of the underlying financial instrument remains lower than or equal to the agreed strike price.

The potential gain is in theory unlimited. When exercising the option, the gain is the value of the underlying financial instrument minus the strike price and option premium including costs.

By writing/selling a call option, the writer incurs a duty to sell (if the option holder demands to buy) the underlying financial instruments on a future date and at a predetermined price. The seller of a call option receives an option premium minus the costs of selling and administering the option contract.

The potential gain on issuing/writing a call option is limited to the net option premium. If the strike price remains higher than or equal to the market price of the underlying financial instrument until the expiration date, the holder will not normally demand to buy the securities and the writer can take the entire net option premium as profit.

The writer of a call option has an unlimited loss potential if the price rises. If the holder demands to exercise the option, the writer must buy the financial instruments in the market at the market price. The loss is calculated as the market value of the underlying financial instruments minus the strike price and option premium.

If the writer has hedged his interests by owning the underlying financial instruments (a covered call), no loss is payable if the price rises but the writer misses out on the increase in value in excess of the strike price plus net option premium. By tying up the underlying financial instruments, the writer is exposed to the risk of loss due to a fall in price and a loss arises if the fall in value is greater than the option premium. If the underlying assets are sold, the writer is subject to a risk if the price rises again. Writers of covered calls often try to manage the risk of a price fall by selling some of the underlying assets.

3.5.3. Put options

The buyer of a sell (put) option obtains a right to sell the underlying financial instrument at a future date at a predetermined price. The buyer of a put option pays an option premium as well as costs related to selling and administering the option contract.

The maximum amount that the holder of a put option can lose is limited to the option premium and the costs paid. The maximum loss arises when the price of the underlying financial instrument remains higher than or equal to the strike price.

The potential for gain is limited to the strike price minus the option premium including costs. The gain is the strike price minus the value of the underlying financial instrument on the strike date and the option premium including costs.

The writer/seller of a put option incurs a duty to buy (if the holder demands to sell) the underlying financial instruments at a future date at a predetermined price. The seller of a put option receives an option premium minus costs related to selling and administering the option contract.

The potential gain on issuing/writing a put option is limited to the net option premium. If the value of the underlying financial instrument remains higher than or equal to the strike price, the holder will not normally demand to be allowed to sell the securities and the writer can take the entire net option premium as profit.

In the case of a fall in price, a loss arises when the value of the underlying financial instruments is lower than the strike price minus the net option premium. The loss is limited to the strike price minus the net option premium.

3.5.4. Forward/futures contracts

A forward/futures contract means that the parties enter into a mutually binding contract to purchase/sell the underlying financial instrument at a predetermined price, with delivery or other performance of the contract on a further agreed date.

No option premium is paid for forward/futures contracts but the agreed forward/futures price will normally be stipulated to be the spot price (the current market price) of the underlying financial instrument plus interest costs until the forward/futures settlement date. In addition, the costs of trading and administering the forward/futures contract must be paid.

Under a forward/futures contract, the buyer has assumed the entire price risk relating to the underlying financial instrument. If the price falls, a loss arises which is equal to the difference between the value of the underlying financial instrument and the forward/futures price. If the price increases, a corresponding gain arises, equal to the difference between the value of the underlying financial instrument and the forward/futures price. In addition to the price risk, the buyer runs a credit risk related to the seller delivering the agreed financial instruments on the settlement date.

A seller that owns the underlying financial instruments runs no risk of having to pay an amount relating to developments in the price of the underlying financial instrument but loses out on the increase in value in excess of the agreed forward/futures price. The seller runs a credit risk related to the buyer being able to settle the agreed amount on the settlement date.

If the seller does not own the underlying financial instruments, he has in principle an unlimited loss potential if the price rises. The loss is calculated as the value of the underlying financial instruments minus the agreed forward/futures price. Correspondingly, in the case of a fall in price, the seller has a potential for gain which is calculated as the forward/futures price minus the value of the underlying financial instruments. The seller also runs a credit risk related to the buyer being able to settle the agreed amount on the settlement date.

A forward/futures contract is a generic term for instruments with various calculation and settlement mechanisms but with the same risk profile. Forward/futures contracts that are to be settled by the physical delivery of the underlying financial instrument are often called forward contracts, while contracts that are to be settled by a monetary payment on the settlement date are called futures contracts.

The provision of collateral for forward/futures contracts is intended to safeguard against future fluctuations in price. Traditionally, the intermediary or settlement agent in a forward/futures contract has not provided collateral but has only demanded collateral from his clients, but the mutual provision of collateral is now increasingly being required.

In a futures contract, it is common to carry out a daily calculation based on the changes in the price since the previous stock market day in addition to providing collateral for future fluctuations.

3.5.5. Contracts For Difference (CFD)

Standardized futures with individual shares or indices as underlying instruments are currently often sold as CFDs. The sellers of a CFD often require a low security collateral margin so that investors can achieve a lot of market exposure at little expense.

A Contract for Difference is highly risky. It is possible to lose more than the original investment. Prices can move quickly in the opposite direction to that expected and losses can lead to a requirement of an additional margin contribution. Under certain market conditions, it can be difficult or impossible to close a position. This may occur, for example, when the price of an underlying instrument rises or falls so quickly that trading in the underlying instrument is restricted or closed.

The risk involved in such low margins is also that the issuer may immediately, including that same day, close the position if the value of the collateral falls below the margin requirement. The client is often given very short deadlines by which to provide more collateral and rapid fluctuations may lead to the issuer (in accordance with the contract) closing the position in contravention of the client's wishes.

The value of investments in CFDs with underlying instruments listed in foreign currencies may also vary due to changes in foreign-exchange rates.

A Contract for Difference is not suitable for all clients. The client must make sure that he fully understands the risk involved and seek independent advice if necessary.

3.5.6. Swap contract

A swap contract means that the parties agree to make payments to each other on a regular basis, for example calculated at a fixed or floating interest rate (interest swap), or to swap an asset with each other, for example different kinds of currencies (currency swap), at a certain point in time.

3.6. Standardised and non-standardised derivative instruments

Derivative instruments are traded in standardised and non-standardised forms.

Trading in standardised derivative instruments takes place in regulated markets and complies with contracts and conditions which have been standardised by a stock exchange or clearing organisation. The following regulated markets in Norway offer trading in standardised derivative instruments:

  • Oslo Børs ASA – trading in standardised options and forward/futures contracts. Trades on the Oslo Stock Exchange are cleared by SIX x-clear and the London Clearing House (LCH).
  • NASDAQ OMX OSLO ASA – carries out trading in and the clearing of commodity derivatives, including financial power contracts, as well as freight derivatives.
  • Fish Pool ASA – trading in salmon contract. Trades on Fish Pool ASA are cleared by NASDAQ OMX.

Trading in foreign standardised derivative instruments normally complies with the rules and conditions of the country in which the stock exchange trading and the clearing are organised. It is important to note that these foreign rules and conditions are not necessarily the same as those which apply in Norway.

Some investment firms offer different forms of derivative instruments which are not traded on regulated markets. These are called non-standardised derivative instruments (OTC derivatives). A party wishing to trade in this type of derivative instrument should examine the contracts and conditions which regulate trading in these extremely carefully.

3.7. Clearing

When clearing derivatives, the clearing institution becomes the counterparty between the investment firms that represent the buyer and the seller of the derivatives contracts, and guarantees that the investment firm will receive settlement for the contract. The clearing institution acts as the seller in relation to the buying investment firm and as the buyer in relation to the selling investment firm. In the standardised derivative market, derivative contracts are often cleared by a licensed central counterparty (CCP). In the OTC market, it is often the investment firm that has this role.

At present, CCPs provide no direct protection to end-investors. In both CCP-cleared trades and OTC trades, the investor runs the risk that his investment firm will not fulfil the contract.

Investors who do not want to run any risk relating to their investment firm can enter into an agreement to have a segregated account in the clearing company. Such a solution requires a separate body of agreement and leads to increased costs, and is most suitable for large institutional investors.

4. Mutual funds

A mutual (securities) fund is a "portfolio" of different financial instruments, such as shares and/or bonds. The fund is owned by all those who save in the fund, the unit holders, and is managed by a management company. There are various kinds of mutual funds with different investment strategies and risk profiles.

A unit holder receives the number of fund units that corresponds to the percentage of the fund’s assets under management that the unit holder has invested.

The units may be issued (bought from) and redeemed (sold to) by the management company. The unit's actual value is normally calculated daily by the management company and is based on changes in the prices of the financial instruments in which the fund has invested. Some fund units can also be traded in a regulated market (Exchange Traded Funds ("ETF")), see item 5 below.

One of the purposes of a mutual fund is to invest in several different shares and other financial instruments. This means that unit holders run less of a risk than shareholders who only invest in one e or a few shares. Unit holders do not have to select, buy, sell or monitor the shares or carry out other management work related to this.

Mutual funds are regulated by various laws and regulations.

UCITS funds are funds established in accordance with EU regulations and are therefore approved for marketing throughout the EEA. Most new funds that are established are UCITS funds.

Domestic funds are funds regulated by the Norwegian Securities Funds Act.

Alternative Investment Funds are fund-like investment entities that may be organised as limited companies or in other corporate forms that are not funds. These are regulated by a separate Norwegian Act relating to alternative investment funds.

For more information on mutual funds, see www.vff.no.

Mutual funds are also classified on the basis of the fund's investment mandate. Below is a brief description of the most common mutual funds.

Most common mutual funds

5. Exchange traded funds and fund-like products

ETP (Exchange Traded Products) is a generic term for ETF (Exchange Traded Funds) and ETN (Exchange Traded Notes). These products are traded in various trading systems, such as the Oslo Stock Exchange. They allow exposure to shares, indices, currencies, commodities and suchlike. Some of the products include a gearing element. The exposure can either be to a falling/bear market (short) or a rising/bull market (long). There may be huge variations in the way in which these products are structured, so investors must find out a lot about the product they choose.

An ETN is normally issued by a financial institution (bank/brokerage firm) and traded in the secondary market in the same way as a share. With this type of product, the investor normally incurs a credit risk in relation to the issuer. The credit risk is the risk that the issuer or a counterparty will be unable to pay. This means that if the issuer does not manage to fulfil its obligations, the securities may be worthless.

ETFs are fund units issued by a mutual/securities fund. This means that, through ownership of the fund units, the investor directly owns underlying assets and thus has no credit risk in relation to the issuer.

Several ETPs contain derivative elements and/or have inbuilt gearing which can lead to the product having a high market risk. This means that their prices may fluctuate more than those of the underlying assets, and that the products will normally include a greater risk of loss than a direct investment in underlying assets such as shares. In addition, the geared products are rebalanced daily. This means that the return over lengthy periods will deviate from market developments when the gearing factor is taken into account. The return may be negative even if the underlying assets have the same value on the purchase and sales dates. These properties make the geared products less suitable as long-term investment alternatives.

The fact that underlying assets are often sold in other markets and listed in currencies other than NOK also means that investors must be aware of the possible foreign-exchange risk. This may mean that even if the underlying developments indicate that the security should produce a positive return, the return may shrink, disappear or be negative as a result of exchange-rate developments.

ETPs normally have one or more liquidity guarantors (market makers) that have undertaken to provide bid and offer prices for the security. However, at times it may be difficult to execute trades in the ETP in question. This may be the case if, for example, there is little liquidity or if trading in the marketplace in question has been closed.

6. Short trading

"Short trading" means to sell financial instruments that one does not own. According to Norwegian law, uncovered short sales are illegal, so that anyone selling short has to borrow the financial instruments from the investment firm or in some other way ensure access to the instruments on the settlement date. At the same time, the borrower undertakes to return instruments of the same type to the lender on a predetermined later date.

Short trading is often used as an investment strategy when the financial instrument is expected to fall in value. The borrower expects to be able to buy the borrowed instruments on the later date when the instruments are to be returned, at a lower price than the price at which these instruments were sold. If the price rises instead, the borrower will incur a loss which, in the case of a sharp price rise, may be considerable.

Often, agreements to borrow financial instruments stipulate that the lender may at any time demand the return of the financial instruments by giving two-three days' notice. This increases the risk involved in a short sale.

7. Trading frequency and costs

The more frequent the trades, the higher the brokerage costs, since costs are normally incurred for each trade (purchase or sale). If the brokerage costs over time are larger than the return, this will result in a loss for the client. Please note that brokerage costs are also incurred in debt-financed trades.

Trading in securities incurs brokerage costs that normally increase in proportion to the size of the trade. If, for example, a client sells shares worth NOK 50,000 and the brokerage rate is 0.2%, the sale costs NOK 100. If, on the other hand, shares are sold for NOK 500,000, the brokerage cost will be NOK 1,000. In addition, minimum brokerage fees are used, so that the sale or purchase of securities for a small amount may be percentagewise more expensive than selling/buying for a larger amount.

8. Leveraged (debt-financed) trading

Financial instruments can in many cases be bought for partially borrowed capital. Since both the capital invested by the client and the borrowed capital affect the return, the client may make a larger gain through debt financing if the investment develops positively compared to an investment made using only the client’s own capital. The debt linked to the borrowed capital is not affected by any rise or fall in the prices of the purchased instruments, which is an advantage if prices rise. However, if the price of the purchased instruments falls, this results in a corresponding disadvantage since the debt remains the same. In the case of a price drop, therefore, the client’s own invested capital may be entirely or partly lost while the debt has to be repaid in whole or in part from the revenues from the sale of the financial instruments that have fallen in value. The debt must also be repaid even if the sales revenues do not cover the entire debt.

The risk entailed in a debt-financed share purchase increases with the level of debt financing. For example, a portfolio which is 80% debt-financed will lose all its equity if share prices fall by 20%. If the portfolio is 60% debt-financed, the equity will be lost if share prices fall by 40%.

The return on equity in a partially debt-financed portfolio will fluctuate more than in a corresponding equity-financed portfolio and the debt financing will only produce an additional return when the return on the investment is higher than the borrowing rate.

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