A Futures Contract is a contract between two parties where both parties agree to buy and sell a particular asset of specific quantity and at a predetermined price, at a specified date in future.
The assets often traded in futures contracts include commodities, stocks, and bonds. Grain, precious metals, electricity, oil, beef, orange juice, and natural gas are traditional examples of commodities, but foreign currencies, emissions credits, bandwidth, and certain financial instruments are also part of today's commodity markets.
Because all the terms of a listed futures contract are structured by the exchange, you can offset your contract and get out of your obligation by buying or selling an opposing contract before the settlement date.
Futures contracts provide some investors, called hedgers, a measure of protection from price volatility on the open market. For example, wine manufacturers are protected when a bad crop pushes grape prices up on the spot market if they hold a futures contract to buy the grapes at a lower price. Grape growers are also protected if prices drop dramatically -- if, for example, there's a surplus caused by a bumper crop -- provided they have a contract to sell at a higher price.
Unlike hedgers, speculators use futures contracts to seek profits on price changes. For example, speculators can make (or lose) money, no matter what happens to the grapes, depending on what they paid for the futures contract and what they must pay to offset it.
Due to its highly competitive nature, the futures market has become an important economic tool to determine prices based on today's and tomorrow's estimated amount of supply and demand. Futures market prices depend on a continuous flow of information from around the world and thus require a high amount of transparency. Factors such as weather, war, debt default, refugee displacement, land reclamation and deforestation can all have a major effect on supply and demand and, as a result, the present and future price of a commodity. This kind of information and the way people absorb it constantly changes the price of a commodity. This process is known as price discovery.
Futures markets are also a place for people to reduce risk when making purchases. Risks are reduced because the price is pre-set, therefore letting participants know how much they will need to buy or sell. This helps reduce the ultimate cost to the retail buyer because with less risk there is less of a chance that manufacturers will jack up prices to make up for profit losses in the cash market.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, it's important to note that futures trading is not for everyone. You can invest in the futures market in a number of different ways, but before taking the plunge, you must be sure of the amount of risk you're willing to take. Avic Management offer Managed Futures Accounts which allows our clients access to alternative Futures investments.
Risk Warning: Trading in financial products always involves a risk. As a general rule, you should therefore only trade in financial products if you understand the products and the risks associated with them.