How Do You Set Up a Futures Trade?

by Jennifer

Futures trading is a sophisticated financial activity that allows investors to speculate on the price movements of various assets, ranging from commodities like oil and gold to financial instruments like stock indexes and interest rates. Setting up a futures trade involves several critical steps and requires a thorough understanding of the market, trading strategies, and risk management techniques. This article provides a comprehensive guide to setting up a futures trade, from understanding the basics to executing and managing trades.

Understanding Futures Trading

What Are Futures Contracts?

A futures contract is a standardized legal agreement to buy or sell an asset at a predetermined price at a specified future date. The buyer of a futures contract agrees to purchase the asset, while the seller agrees to deliver it. Futures contracts are traded on futures exchanges, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and Intercontinental Exchange (ICE).


Types of Futures Contracts

Futures contracts can be categorized into various types based on the underlying asset:


Commodity Futures: Contracts for physical commodities like oil, gold, natural gas, agricultural products (corn, wheat, soybeans), and metals.

Financial Futures: Contracts based on financial instruments, such as stock indexes (S&P 500, NASDAQ), interest rates, and currencies.

Energy Futures: Contracts for energy-related commodities like crude oil, natural gas, and electricity.

Agricultural Futures: Contracts for agricultural products like corn, wheat, soybeans, and livestock.

Setting Up a Futures Trading Account

Choosing a Brokerage

The first step in setting up a futures trade is to open an account with a brokerage firm that offers futures trading services. Factors to consider when choosing a brokerage include:

Reputation and Reliability: Choose a well-established and reputable brokerage with a solid track record in futures trading.

Commissions and Fees: Compare the commission rates and fees charged by different brokers to find a cost-effective option.

Trading Platform: Evaluate the trading platform’s features, usability, and tools for analysis and execution.

Customer Support: Ensure that the brokerage provides robust customer support, including technical assistance and educational resources.

Opening an Account

Once you have chosen a brokerage, you need to open a futures trading account. This process typically involves:

Application Form: Complete an application form with your personal and financial details.

Identity Verification: Provide identification documents, such as a passport or driver’s license, to verify your identity.

Financial Information: Submit financial information, including your income, net worth, and trading experience.

Account Funding: Deposit funds into your trading account to meet the minimum margin requirements for trading futures.

Understanding Margin Requirements

Initial and Maintenance Margin

Margin is a key concept in futures trading. It refers to the amount of money required to open and maintain a futures position. There are two types of margins:

Initial Margin: The upfront deposit required to open a futures position. This acts as a security deposit to cover potential losses.

Maintenance Margin: The minimum account balance that must be maintained to keep a futures position open. If the account balance falls below this level, a margin call is issued, requiring the trader to deposit additional funds.

Margin Calls

A margin call occurs when the account balance falls below the maintenance margin level. Traders must promptly deposit additional funds to bring the account balance back to the required level. Failure to meet a margin call can result in the broker liquidating the trader’s positions to cover the shortfall.

Selecting the Right Futures Contract

Analyzing Market Conditions

Before selecting a futures contract, it is essential to analyze the market conditions and identify potential trading opportunities. This involves:

Fundamental Analysis: Examining economic indicators, supply and demand factors, geopolitical events, and other fundamental factors that can influence the price of the underlying asset.

Technical Analysis: Using chart patterns, technical indicators, and historical price data to predict future price movements.

Choosing the Expiry Date

Futures contracts have specific expiry dates, known as contract months. It is crucial to choose the appropriate expiry date based on your trading strategy and time horizon. Contracts closer to expiration tend to have higher liquidity but may be more volatile, while longer-dated contracts may offer more stability.

See Also: How to trade futures like a pro?

Placing a Futures Trade

Types of Orders

When placing a futures trade, you can choose from several types of orders to execute your trade:

Market Order: An order to buy or sell a futures contract immediately at the current market price. This type of order guarantees execution but not the price.

Limit Order: An order to buy or sell a futures contract at a specific price or better. This type of order guarantees the price but not execution.

Stop Order: An order to buy or sell a futures contract once the price reaches a specified level, known as the stop price. This order becomes a market order once the stop price is reached.

Stop-Limit Order: A combination of a stop order and a limit order. Once the stop price is reached, the order becomes a limit order at a specified price.

Executing the Trade

To execute a futures trade, follow these steps:

1. Log into Your Trading Account: Access your brokerage account through the trading platform.

2. Select the Futures Contract: Choose the specific futures contract you wish to trade based on your analysis.

3. Enter Order Details: Specify the type of order, quantity, price (for limit orders), and other relevant details.

4. Review and Submit: Review the order details for accuracy and submit the order for execution.

Managing Your Futures Position

Monitoring the Trade

Once the trade is executed, it is essential to continuously monitor the position. This involves tracking price movements, market conditions, and any news or events that could impact the price of the underlying asset. Utilize the trading platform’s tools and features to stay updated on your position.

Adjusting the Position

Depending on market conditions and your trading strategy, you may need to adjust your position. This could involve:

Scaling In or Out: Gradually increasing or decreasing your position size based on market trends.

Rolling Over: Extending the position by closing the current contract and opening a new one with a later expiry date.

Exiting the Trade: Closing the position when your profit target or stop-loss level is reached.

Risk Management

Effective risk management is crucial for successful futures trading. Key risk management strategies include:

Setting Stop-Loss Orders: Establishing predetermined price levels to exit a trade and limit losses.

Position Sizing: Determining the appropriate position size based on your risk tolerance and account balance.

Diversification: Spreading risk by trading multiple contracts or different asset classes.

Continuous Learning: Staying informed about market developments, trading strategies, and risk management techniques.

Tax Implications of Futures Trading

Tax Treatment of Futures

Futures trading has specific tax implications that vary by country. In the United States, futures contracts are subject to a unique tax treatment known as the “60/40 rule,” where 60% of gains or losses are taxed as long-term capital gains and 40% as short-term capital gains, regardless of the holding period.

Record Keeping

Accurate record-keeping is essential for tax reporting and compliance. Maintain detailed records of all trades, including dates, contract details, prices, and transaction costs. This information is necessary for calculating gains and losses and preparing tax returns.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Lack of Research and Preparation

One of the most common mistakes in futures trading is entering the market without adequate research and preparation. Thoroughly analyze the market, understand the underlying asset, and develop a clear trading plan before executing any trades.


Futures trading involves leverage, which can amplify both gains and losses. Avoid overleveraging by carefully managing your margin and position sizes. Only use leverage that aligns with your risk tolerance and trading experience.

Ignoring Risk Management

Neglecting risk management can lead to significant losses. Always use stop-loss orders, diversify your trades, and adhere to a disciplined risk management strategy to protect your capital.

Advanced Futures Trading Strategies

Spread Trading

Spread trading involves simultaneously buying and selling two related futures contracts to profit from the price difference between them. Common spread strategies include:

Calendar Spreads: Buying and selling futures contracts with different expiry dates for the same underlying asset.

Intercommodity Spreads: Trading futures contracts of related but different commodities, such as crude oil and gasoline.

Intermarket Spreads: Trading futures contracts of the same commodity on different exchanges.


Hedging is a risk management strategy used to offset potential losses in one position by taking an opposite position in a related futures contract. Common hedging strategies include:

Short Hedge: Selling futures contracts to protect against a decline in the value of an asset you own.

Long Hedge: Buying futures contracts to protect against an increase in the price of an asset you need to purchase in the future.

Algorithmic Trading

Algorithmic trading involves using computer programs and algorithms to execute trades based on predefined criteria. This approach can help traders take advantage of market inefficiencies, execute trades at high speeds, and reduce the emotional impact of trading decisions. Algorithmic trading strategies include:

Trend Following: Identifying and following market trends using technical indicators.

Mean Reversion: Betting that the price of an asset will revert to its historical average.

Arbitrage: Exploiting price differences between related assets or markets.


Setting up a futures trade involves a comprehensive understanding of the market, meticulous planning, and disciplined execution. From choosing the right brokerage and understanding margin requirements to selecting appropriate futures contracts and managing positions, each step requires careful consideration and strategic thinking.

Investors must also stay informed about market developments, continuously educate themselves, and adapt to changing market conditions. Effective risk management, emotional control, and leveraging technology are critical components of successful futures trading.

By adhering to these principles and maintaining a proactive approach, traders can navigate the complexities of the futures market and enhance their potential for achieving profitable outcomes. Whether you are a novice trader or an experienced investor, a well-structured approach to setting up and managing futures trades can significantly contribute to your success in this dynamic and challenging market.

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