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What is Futures Trading? A Comprehensive Guide

January 15, 2024
Reading Time: 5 minutes

In financial markets, futures trading, be it algorithmic trading, on platforms like uTrade Algos, or manual, stands as a cornerstone of speculation and risk management. It is a complex yet vital component that drives global economies and provides opportunities for traders and investors alike. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the depths of futures trading, unravelling its intricacies, purposes, mechanics, and the role it plays in the financial world.

What are Futures?

Futures are financial contracts that obligate the parties involved to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price on a specified future date. These assets can encompass various commodities (such as gold, oil, or agricultural products), financial instruments (like stocks or bonds), or even market indices.

Characteristics

  • Standardisation: Futures contracts are standardised agreements specifying asset details for uniform trading.
  • Leverage: Margin trading allows control of larger positions with smaller capital.
  • Expiration Dates: Contracts have set expiry dates, requiring closure or settlement.
  • Marking to Market: Daily settlement based on current market prices for realised profits or losses.
  • High Liquidity: Futures markets often offer high liquidity, aiding ease of trading.
  • Two Parties: Long and Short – Involves a long (buyer) and a short (seller) position.
  • Margin Requirements: Initial and maintenance margins are needed to open and sustain positions.
  • Price Transparency: Publicly available prices ensure market transparency.
  • Risk Management Tool: Used for hedging against adverse price movements.
  • Regulated Exchanges: Traded on regulated platforms with standardised terms and oversight.

An Example

Suppose a trader expects an increase in crude oil prices from ₹4,000 per barrel to ₹4,300 per barrel. 

  • They purchase one crude oil futures contract at ₹4,000 per barrel (total contract value: ₹40,00,000) by depositing an initial margin of ₹3,20,000. 
  • If crude oil reaches ₹4,300 per barrel, the trader sells the contract at ₹43,00,000, resulting in a ₹3,00,000 profit. 
  • Conversely, if the price drops to ₹3,500 per barrel, the contract value decreases to ₹35,00,000, leading to a ₹5,00,000 loss, excluding fees and potential margin calls.

Remember, that while there’s no inherent cap on potential profits or losses, traders often implement risk management strategies to limit losses. They use techniques like stop-loss orders, setting predefined exit points to cut losses, and implementing hedging strategies to mitigate risks. Moreover, when trading futures, exchanges may have mechanisms in place, such as daily price limits or circuit breakers, that temporarily halt trading or impose restrictions on price movements to prevent extreme volatility.

Pros of Futures Trading

  • Leverage and Margin Efficiency: Futures contracts allow traders to control larger positions with a smaller capital outlay due to the leverage provided by initial margin requirements.
  • Diversification: Futures markets offer exposure to various asset classes, including commodities, currencies, stock indices, and interest rates, allowing diversification of investment portfolios.
  • Hedging Opportunities: For businesses exposed to price fluctuations (e.g., farmers, manufacturers), futures provide a means to hedge against adverse price movements, reducing risk exposure.
  • Liquidity: Many futures markets are highly liquid, enabling traders to enter and exit positions with relative ease, potentially minimising slippage costs.
  • Speculative Potential: Futures markets offer opportunities for speculative traders to profit from price movements without owning the underlying asset, capitalising on both rising and falling markets.
  • Price Transparency: Futures prices are publicly available, providing transparency and equal access to market information for all participants.

Cons of Futures Trading

  • High Risk and Volatility: Futures trading involves high leverage, which amplifies both gains and losses, potentially leading to substantial financial risks and volatility.
  • Margin Calls and Losses: Adverse price movements can lead to margin calls, requiring additional funds to cover losses or face liquidation of positions.
  • Complexity and Learning Curve: Understanding futures markets and their intricacies can be challenging, requiring a considerable amount of knowledge and experience.
  • Market Risk: External factors such as geopolitical events, economic changes, or unexpected market movements can swiftly impact futures prices, leading to unexpected losses.
  • Liquidity and Slippage: In less liquid markets, executing large orders may result in slippage, where the actual execution price differs significantly from the expected price.
  • Potential for Overtrading: The accessibility and leverage provided by futures markets might tempt traders to overtrade, leading to impulsive decisions and increased risk exposure.

Purpose and Participants

Hedging and Speculation

Futures serve dual purposes: hedging and speculation. 

  • Hedging involves minimising or mitigating risk by locking in prices in advance, thereby safeguarding against potential adverse price movements. 
  • On the other hand, speculation involves betting on future price movements to earn profits.

Participants

  • Hedgers: Entities like farmers, manufacturers, and businesses use futures contracts to secure prices and manage risks associated with fluctuating commodity prices or interest rates.
  • Speculators: Traders seeking profit capitalise on price volatility without intending to physically own the underlying asset.

Mechanics of Futures Trading

Standardisation

Futures contracts are standardised agreements traded on regulated exchanges. They specify the asset type, quantity, quality, expiration date, and price per unit.

Margin and Leverage

To trade futures, participants must deposit an initial margin—typically a small percentage of the contract’s value—to cover potential losses. Leverage amplifies both gains and losses, allowing traders to control larger positions with a smaller capital outlay.

Long and Short Positions

Long Position

  • Purchase: Buying a futures contract, anticipating the underlying asset’s price to increase in the future.
  • Profit Expectation: Intent to sell the contract later at a higher price, profiting from the price appreciation.
  • Risk: Potential losses if the asset’s price declines; losses can theoretically be unlimited if the price keeps dropping.
  • Closing: Exiting the long position involves selling the futures contract before its expiration to secure profits or limit losses.

Short Position

  • Sell: Selling a futures contract, expecting the underlying asset’s price to decrease in the future.
  • Profit Expectation: Planning to buy back the contract at a lower price, profiting from the price decline.
  • Risk: Potential losses if the asset’s price rises; losses can theoretically be unlimited if the price keeps rising.
  • Closing: Exiting the short position involves buying back the futures contract before its expiration to secure profits or limit losses.

Marking to Market

At the end of each trading day, gains or losses are settled by marking positions to market prices. Profits or losses are immediately realised.

Futures Trading Using Algo Trading

Futures trading utilising algorithmic trading, commonly known as algo trading, on platforms like uTrade Algos, involves executing automated strategies based on predefined criteria, rules, or algorithms. This approach employs computer programs to enter and manage trades, leveraging speed and efficiency to capitalise on market opportunities.

How Automated Algo Trading Works in Futures Trading

  • Algorithm Development: Traders or institutions develop algorithms based on various factors, such as price movements, technical indicators, market trends, or news sentiment, to automate trading decisions.
  • Execution Speed: Algorithms enable swift execution of trades, reacting to market conditions in milliseconds or microseconds, which is faster than manual human intervention.
  • Risk Management: Automated algo trading often includes risk management parameters within algorithms, allowing for automated stop-loss orders, position sizing, and trade diversification to control risk exposure.
  • Backtesting and Optimisation: Algorithms undergo rigorous backtesting using historical data to validate their effectiveness and optimise parameters before deployment in live markets.
  • Market Monitoring and Adaptation: Algorithms continuously monitor market conditions and adapt to changing scenarios, automatically adjusting trading strategies accordingly.

Advantages of Algo Trading in Futures

  • Speed and Efficiency: Algorithms execute trades at high speeds, reducing latency and capturing fleeting market opportunities.
  • Emotion-Free Trading: Eliminates emotional biases and irrational decision-making associated with human trading, ensuring disciplined execution based on predefined rules.
  • Backtesting and Optimisation: Allows for thorough testing and optimisation of strategies to enhance performance and mitigate risks.
  • Reduced Transaction Costs: Automated execution minimises slippage and reduces transaction costs due to precise order placements.

Challenges and Risks

  • Technical Failures: Connectivity issues, system outages, or data errors could lead to unexpected losses or missed opportunities.
  • Overfitting and Market Changes: Algorithms optimised for specific market conditions might underperform or fail when market dynamics change.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Adherence to regulations and compliance standards is crucial in algo trading, be it algo trading in India or elsewhere, to avoid legal and ethical implications.

Futures trading is an integral part of global finance, offering avenues for hedging, speculation, and risk management. Its intricate nature demands a deep understanding of market dynamics and risk mitigation strategies before engagement. Proficiency in comprehending its mechanics is pivotal for success, whether utilised for hedging against price fluctuations or speculative endeavours. Overall, futures trading remains a dynamic force shaping investments and risk management, requiring astute navigation and informed decision-making for effective participation in the market. If you are planning on getting into futures trading and have questions about the same, then feel free to reach out to us at uTrade Algos.

Frequently Asked Questions

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uTrade Algo’s proprietary features – Advanced Strategy form,  fastest back testing engine,  Pre-made strategies help you Level up your Derivatives Trading experience

The dashboard is a summarized view of how well your Portfolios are doing, with fields such as Total P&L, Margin Available, actively traded underlyings, Portfolio name and respective underlyings, etc. Use it to quickly gauge your strategy performance

You can sign up with uTrade Algos and get started instantly. Please make sure to connect your ShareIndia trading account with us as it’s essential for you to be able to trade in the live markets. Watch this video to get started – Getting Started with uTrade Algos

While algo trading is in use for decades now for a variety of purposes, its presence has been mainly limited to big institutions. With uTrade Algos you get institutional grade features, at a marginal cost so that everyone can experience the power of algos and trade like a pro.

On uTrade Algos, beginners can start by subscribing to pre-built algos by industry experts – called uTrade Originals. 
While more advanced traders can create their own algo-enabled portfolios, with our no-code easy-to-use order form, equipped with tons of features such as – Robust risk management, pre-made strategy templates, payoff graph, options chain, and a lot more.

From single leg strategies to complex portfolios with upto 5 strategies, each strategy having up to 6 legs – uTrade Algos gives you enough freedom to create almost any strategy you’d like. What’s more is, there are pre-built algos by industry experts for complete beginners and premade strategy templates for those who want to try their hand at strategy creation.

An interesting feature that uTrade Algos is bringing to the table is a set of pre-built algorithms curated by top-ranking industry experts who have seen the financial markets inside out. These algorithms, called uTrade Originals, will be available for subscribers on the platform. 

Algos have the capability to fire orders to the exchange in milliseconds – which is one-thousandth of a second. A speed which is impossible in Manual Trading. Experience the power of Algos for free with uTrade Algos – Signup now.

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Knowledge Centre & Stories of Success

In recent developments, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is reportedly taking significant steps to tighten the regulatory framework around algorithmic trading and the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) in the stock market. These measures aim to enhance transparency, security, and accountability in algo trading practices, which have seen a surge in popularity among retail and institutional investors alike. 

Intraday trading, also known as day trading, involves buying and selling financial instruments within the same trading day. It requires swift decision-making and a deep understanding of market dynamics. With the advent of technology, algorithmic trading has become increasingly popular among intraday traders. These automated systems execute trades based on pre-defined criteria, allowing traders to capitalise on opportunities with speed and precision. In this blog, we'll explore how to implement effective intraday trading strategies using algorithms.

In the fast-paced world of algorithmic trading, where automated systems execute pre-defined strategies in financial markets, success hinges on more than just sophisticated algorithms. To navigate this landscape effectively, traders must be aware of common pitfalls that can undermine their efforts and financial goals. In this article, we will find out how to avoid these stumbling blocks and enhance the chances of success in automated algo trading.

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