A futures contract is an obligation to buy or sell a commodity at or before a given date in the future, at a price agreed upon today. While the term “commodity” is usually used when referring to contracts like corn, or silver, it is also defined to include financial instruments and stock indexes. One of the benefits to the futures industry is that contracts are traded on an organized and regulated exchange to provide the facilities to buyers and sellers.

      Exchange-traded futures provide several important economic benefits, but one of the most important is the ability to transfer or manage the price risk of commodities and financial instruments. A simple example would be a baker who is concerned with a price increase in wheat, could hedge his risk by buying a futures contract in wheat.

      Not all futures contracts provide for physical delivery, some call for an eventual cash settlement. In most cases, the obligation to buy or sell is offset by liquidating the position. For example, if you buy 1 S&P500 e-mini contract, you would simply sell 1 S&P500 e-mini contract to offset the position. The profit or loss from the trade is the difference between the buy and sell price, less transaction costs. Gains and losses on futures contracts are calculated on a daily basis and reflected on the brokerage statement each night. This process is known as daily cash settlement.

      US futures trading is regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the National Futures Association (NFA). The CFTC is an independent federal agency based in Washington, DC that adopts and enforces regulations under the Commodity Exchange Act and monitors industry self-regulatory organizations. The NFA, whose principal office is in Chicago, is an industry-wide self-regulatory organization whose programs include registration of industry professionals, auditing of certain registrants, and arbitration.

      If you are new to futures trading, be sure to watch our FAQ video below. Get answers to common questions such as the role of commission in overall trading costs and learn how leverage can impact margin requirements.



      For a free educational guide to “Trading Futures and Options on Futures”, provided by the National Futures Association (NFA), please click here.

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      Futures, foreign currency and options trading contains substantial risk and is not for every investor. An investor could potentially lose all or more than the initial investment. Risk capital is money that can be lost without jeopardizing ones financial security or lifestyle. Only risk capital should be used for trading and only those with sufficient risk capital should consider trading. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. View Full Risk Disclosure.

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