A synthetic is a combination of financial instruments often two, sometimes more designed to mimic another single security.
For example, you can combine an investment in redeemable preference shares which carry a fixed dividend similar to a bond with warrants giving you the right to buy a company's ordinary shares. That creates a 'synthetic' with a similar return to that on convertible bonds from the same firm.
Why bother? Maybe because the investment you want isn't available, so you create a synthetic instead. Tax also matters different securities are treated differently. Finally, you may be able to get higher returns from the synthetic than the mimicked security without significant extra costs.
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