Futures And Options For Farmers, But Why Not For Homeowners?

One of the difficulties in explaining about futures and options is that they can seem detached from reality--just games that rich people play with money. However, the farm sector offers some extremely practical examples of how these tools are used. Daniel Prager, Christopher Burns, Sarah Tulman, and James MacDonald explain in "Farm Use of Futures, Options, and Marketing Contracts" (US Department of Agriculture, Economic Information Bulletin Number 219, October 2020). 

I'll walk through a few of their examples, but of course, most of us aren't farmers. Thus, I'll raise a question of greater relevance to many of us: Why can't homeowners (and banks and mortgage-lenders) use futures and options to hedge against the risk of large shifts in housing prices, like what occurred in the lead-up to the Great Recession of 2008? Frank J. Fabozzi, Robert J. Shiller, and Radu S. Tunaru tackle this question of why such financial instruments barely exist in "A 30-Year Perspective on Property Derivatives: What Can Be Done to Tame Property Price Risk?" (Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall 2020, 34: 4, pp. 121-45).

As the USDA economists point out, farmers face a problem that they can't know in advance what prices they will receive for their crop after it is harvested. What options do farmers have to protect themselves against a fall in crop prices? 

Farmers may use on-farm strategies, such as commodity diversification, to manage such risks, and they may also draw on Federal risk management support programs, including commodity support programs, Federal crop and livestock insurance, and disaster assistance. Market mechanisms are also available to farmers who can use agricultural derivatives—such as futures and options contracts—and marketing contracts to protect against price fluctuations. These tools can help guarantee producers an established price before harvest.

The USDA report goes into some detail on how farmers use these different approaches. For those who are a little rusty on just what the financial terms mean: 

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