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What are future contracts?

Introduction

Futures contracts are a cornerstone of the financial markets, allowing traders, investors, and companies to hedge against price volatility, speculate on future price movements, and secure physical delivery of commodities. So what exactly are futures contracts, and how is their value calculated? This blog post aims to shed light on these questions, offering a clear and concise explanation of futures contracts and the mechanics behind their pricing.

What Are Contracts?

A futures contract is a legal agreement to buy or sell a particular commodity or financial instrument at a predetermined price at a specified time in the future. So unlike spot trading, where assets are bought and sold for immediate delivery, futures contracts are standardized agreements traded on futures exchanges that specify the quantity of the underlying asset and are settled at a future date.

Key Characteristics of Futures Contracts

  • Standardization: Futures contracts are standardized in terms of contract sizes, expiration dates, and settlement procedures, facilitating liquidity and market efficiency.
  • Margin Requirements: Traders are required to post a margin, a fraction of the total contract value, offering leverage to participants but also introducing a higher risk level.
  • Mark-to-Market: Futures contracts are “marked to market” daily, meaning the contracts’ value is adjusted to reflect market prices at the end of each trading day.

How Are Futures Contracts Calculated?

The calculation of a contract’s value involves understanding its price, which is influenced by various factors including the underlying asset’s current spot price, interest rates, time to expiration, and in the case of commodities, storage costs, and yield benefits.

The Pricing Formula

Especially while the exact formula for pricing futures contracts can vary depending on the type of underlying asset, a basic formula to understand is the cost-of-carry model, which is particularly relevant for financial futures. The cost-of-carry model is represented as:

Futures Price=Spot Price×(1+ry)

where:

  • Spot Price is the current market price of the underlying asset.
  • r represents the risk-free interest rate.
  • y is the yield from the underlying asset, such as dividends for stock futures or storage costs for commodities.
What Are Futures Contracts?

Example Calculation

Let’s consider a simple example with a stock contract:

Assume the current spot price of the stock is $100, the annual risk-free interest rate is 5%, and the stock pays an annual dividend yield of 2%. For a contract expiring in one year, the calculation would be as follows:

Futures\ Price = 100 \times (1 + 0.05 – 0.02) = 100 \times 1.03 = $103

This simplified example illustrates how the futures price accounts for the cost of carrying the position, considering the time value of money and the underlying asset’s yield.

Conclusion

Futures contracts are a vital tool for managing financial risk, speculating on future price movements, and locking in prices for commodities and other assets. Understanding how futures are calculated is essential for anyone looking to participate in these markets. Whether for hedging or speculative purposes. Remember, while futures can offer significant opportunities, they also come with a high level of risk due to their leverage and market volatility.

FAQ What Are Futures Contracts?

Q: Can anyone trade futures contracts?
A: Yes, but it requires opening an account with a brokerage that offers futures trading. Traders should also have a solid understanding of the markets and the specific risks associated with futures trading.

Q: How does leverage in futures contracts work?
A: Leverage allows traders to control a large contract value with a relatively small amount of capital (the margin). While this can amplify profits, it also increases the potential for substantial losses.

Q: Are futures contracts only for commodities?
A: No, they cover a wide range of assets, including commodities, currencies, interest rates, and stock indices, among others.


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About Author
Kevin The Forex Scalper

Welcome to my author blog. With over 12 years of experience in the financial markets, Trading is more than a profession for me; it's a passion that has fueled my curiosity and determination. Over the years, I've explored various trading strategies, dabbled in different asset classes, and navigated through the ever-evolving landscape of technology and innovation. Through it all, I've witnessed firsthand the transformation of the financial industry. My mission is to share the wealth of knowledge I've gained over the years with you, my fellow traders and aspiring investors. Whether you're a seasoned pro looking for fresh perspectives or a newcomer eager to understand the basics, you'll find something valuable here.

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