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Futures for beginners

Futures are easy to understand

Every future has the same parameters. Once you understand these parameters, you can trade every future. The values of the parameters are dictated by the futures exchange. They are different for every future, but the concept is always the same.

The 6 main parameters of a future contract

1. The underlying value

A future can be based on a market index (DAX, DOW, CAC...), a commodity (oil, gold...), a forex pair (EUR/USD...), a bond (Bund, T-Note...), a stock, the VIX volatility index, etc. This is the underlying value.

2. A point

The exchange defines the monetary value of a point. The Eurex, for example, defines the value of 1 mini-DAX point as € 5. An investor who buys a mini-DAX future at 9.600 makes € 5 profit if it goes up 1 point to 9.601.

3. A tick

A tick is the smallest price change possible. The exchange defines the smallest move possible. The smallest move can be 1 point or smaller. Euronext, for example, defines 0,5 as the smallest price move possible for their CAC 40 future. The price of the CAC 40 future can therefore evolve as follows 4.000,0 > 4.000,5 > 4.001,0 etc.

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4. The margin

The investor must have a minimum amount of money on his account when he has an open position. This is the intraday margin. The margin is a fraction of the total value of the future. If the investor wants to keep his position overnight, a higher margin is required. This is called the overnight margin. Futures offer the trader leverage.

5. The exchange fee

The exchange is your counter-party on every trade. They charge a small fee for processing, clearing and settling your order. The exchange fees vary widely. For example, € 0,25 on the mini-DAX future and $ 1,18 on the mini-DOW future. Your broker must debit the exchange fee from your account and pass it on to the exchange.

6. The expiry date

The expiry date is usually one or three months. Trading volume is always highest in the future with the closest expiry date. When a future expires, a new future is available and trading activity moves to the new future.

An example

The mini-DAX future

Exchange Eurex
Underlying DAX 30 index
1 point Value € 5
1 tick Value € 5
Margin day € 1.400
Margin night € 7.000
Exchange fee € 0,24 per future
Expiry Every 3 months

Note: 1 point = 1 tick for this future. The price goes up or down per 1 point. Decimal prices movements are not possible.

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Trader Michael Voigt trades futures.
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The futures order book

Each future is listed on 1 exchange only (CME, Eurex, Euronext...). Every order, no matter where it is placed in the world, is routed to the relevant exchange and shown in the order book. This makes futures very transparent.

The exchange shows the order book information in real-time and tick-by-tick. Traders can 'read' the intentions of all market participants.

The order book shows:
1. Bid (best price buyers want to pay)
2. Ask (lowest price sellers will accept)
3. The number of futures buyers want to buy
4. The number of futures sellers want to sell
5. Price and volume of the last executed order

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Orders in the chart

Traders can insert the order book in their chart.

Futures orders are visible in the chart.

In this example we see that the sellers outweigh the buyers. The buyers are only present in quantity at a price level below 2.792.

Executed orders

All the executed orders are shown in the T&S (time&sales) table published in real-time by the exchange.

In futures the executed orders and the execution price is published.

All executed orders are visible in the table. The execution price is official. Traders can check their executions against the official price.

The table shows:
1. Execution price
2. Order volume
3. Execution time
4. The first order executed at the Ask
5. The first order executed at the Bid

The colour allows investors to 'read' the market and understand if there are active buyers (paying the Ask) or active sellers (selling at the Bid).

Executed orders in the chart

Traders can insert the executed order in their charts.

The executed futures orders are shown in the chart.

Yellow are orders executed at the Bid. Orange are orders executed at the Ask. At the bottom of the histogram orange dominates. Buyers are willing to pay the more expensive ask price. The market will go up. At the top of the histogram yellow starts to dominate. Sellers are selling at the Bid price to close or to short sell. The market did not go up further.

The futures market is 100% transparent. All market action is visible in your trading platform.

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Offices WH SelfInvest.

WH SELFINVEST S.A., founded in 1998, has a broker license (nr. 42798), a commissionaire license (nr. 36399) and a portfolio manager license (nr. 1806) granted by the Luxemburg Ministry of Finance. The company is supervised by the "Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier". Based on its European passport, the company maintains: a branch office in France (nr. 18943 acpr) which is also subjected to the supervision of the "Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution" (ACPR) and the "Banque de France", and a branch office in Germany (nr. 122635) which is also subjected to the supervision of the "Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht" (BAFIN). In addition WH SelfInvest has a representative office in Switzerland, which is also subjected to the supervision of the "Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority" (FINMA), and, based on the European passport, representative offices in Belgium and the Netherlands, which were notified to the relevant competent authorities in these countries.