How Do Perpetual Futures Work in Crypto?

by Jennifer

The cryptocurrency market is known for its volatility and the innovative financial instruments it offers to traders and investors. Among these instruments, perpetual futures have gained significant popularity due to their unique characteristics and advantages over traditional futures contracts. Perpetual futures provide a way for traders to speculate on the price movements of cryptocurrencies without the constraints of an expiry date. This article delves into the intricacies of perpetual futures, explaining how they work, their benefits, and the key factors that traders need to consider when engaging in perpetual futures trading.

What Are Perpetual Futures?

1. Definition of Perpetual Futures

Perpetual futures are a type of derivative contract that allows traders to speculate on the price movements of an underlying asset, such as a cryptocurrency, without having to worry about contract expiration dates. Unlike traditional futures contracts, which have a set expiry date, perpetual futures can be held indefinitely. This feature makes them highly attractive to traders who wish to maintain a position for an extended period.


2. Origins and Popularity

Perpetual futures were first introduced in the cryptocurrency market by the exchange BitMEX in 2016. Since then, they have become one of the most widely traded products in the crypto derivatives market. Their popularity stems from their flexibility, leverage options, and the ability to profit from both rising and falling markets.


How Perpetual Futures Work

1. No Expiry Date

The defining characteristic of perpetual futures is the absence of an expiry date. Traders can hold their positions for as long as they desire, provided they meet the margin requirements set by the exchange. This flexibility allows traders to avoid the hassle of rolling over contracts as they would with traditional futures.

2. Leverage

Perpetual futures offer leverage, enabling traders to control a larger position with a relatively small amount of capital. Leverage magnifies both potential profits and losses, making it a powerful tool for experienced traders. Exchanges typically offer varying degrees of leverage, with some providing up to 100x leverage on certain cryptocurrency pairs.

3. Funding Rate Mechanism

To keep the price of perpetual futures in line with the spot market price of the underlying asset, exchanges implement a funding rate mechanism. The funding rate is a periodic payment exchanged between long and short positions, depending on the difference between the perpetual futures price and the spot price.

Positive Funding Rate: If the perpetual futures price is higher than the spot price, long positions pay the funding rate to short positions.

Negative Funding Rate: If the perpetual futures price is lower than the spot price, short positions pay the funding rate to long positions.

The funding rate ensures that the perpetual futures price remains close to the spot price, preventing significant price discrepancies.

4. Mark Price

Exchanges use a mark price to determine the fair value of a perpetual futures contract. The mark price is typically calculated using a combination of the spot price and an index price derived from multiple exchanges. This mechanism helps protect traders from unnecessary liquidations due to short-term price fluctuations.

5. Margin Requirements

To trade perpetual futures, traders must maintain a minimum margin balance in their accounts. Margin requirements vary depending on the exchange and the level of leverage used. There are two types of margins in perpetual futures trading:

Initial Margin: The amount of capital required to open a position.

Maintenance Margin: The minimum amount of capital that must be maintained to keep the position open. If the account balance falls below the maintenance margin, the position may be liquidated.

Benefits of Perpetual Futures

1. Continuous Trading Opportunities

The absence of an expiry date allows traders to maintain their positions for as long as they wish, providing continuous trading opportunities. This feature is particularly beneficial for traders who want to capitalize on long-term trends in the cryptocurrency market.

2. Leverage and Capital Efficiency

Leverage enables traders to control larger positions with a smaller amount of capital, enhancing capital efficiency. This allows traders to amplify their potential returns on investment. However, it is essential to manage leverage carefully to mitigate the risk of significant losses.

3. Hedging and Risk Management

Perpetual futures can be used for hedging purposes, allowing traders to manage their risk exposure to the underlying cryptocurrency. For instance, miners and investors can use perpetual futures to hedge against adverse price movements, protecting their portfolios from potential losses.

4. Profit from Both Bull and Bear Markets

Traders can profit from both rising and falling markets by taking long or short positions in perpetual futures. This flexibility makes perpetual futures an attractive option for traders looking to capitalize on market volatility and price fluctuations.

5. Price Discovery and Market Efficiency

Perpetual futures contribute to price discovery and market efficiency by providing continuous liquidity and trading activity. The funding rate mechanism helps align the perpetual futures price with the spot price, ensuring that the futures market reflects the underlying asset’s value accurately.

See Also: Where Can I Find Futures?

Key Considerations for Perpetual Futures Trading

1. Risk Management

Due to the leveraged nature of perpetual futures, effective risk management is crucial. Traders should use stop-loss orders, position sizing, and other risk management tools to protect their capital and minimize potential losses. Understanding the risks associated with leverage and margin trading is essential for successful perpetual futures trading.

2. Funding Rate Impact

The funding rate can impact the profitability of a perpetual futures position. Traders should monitor the funding rate and consider its implications when holding long or short positions. High funding rates can erode profits, especially for traders holding positions for an extended period.

3. Market Volatility

Cryptocurrency markets are known for their high volatility, which can lead to rapid price swings. Traders should be prepared for significant price fluctuations and have a strategy in place to manage volatility. Using technical analysis, market indicators, and staying informed about market developments can help traders make informed decisions.

4. Exchange Selection

Choosing a reputable and reliable exchange is vital for perpetual futures trading. Factors to consider include security, liquidity, trading fees, leverage options, and the range of available cryptocurrency pairs. Conducting thorough research and selecting a trustworthy exchange can enhance the trading experience and reduce risks.

5. Understanding Contract Specifications

Each exchange may have different contract specifications for perpetual futures, including margin requirements, leverage limits, funding rate calculations, and settlement processes. Traders should familiarize themselves with these specifications to ensure they understand the mechanics of the contracts they are trading.

Examples of Popular Exchanges Offering Perpetual Futures

1. BitMEX

BitMEX is one of the pioneers of perpetual futures trading in the cryptocurrency market. It offers high leverage, a wide range of cryptocurrency pairs, and a robust trading platform. BitMEX’s perpetual contracts are settled in Bitcoin, making it a popular choice for Bitcoin traders.

2. Binance Futures

Binance Futures is a leading cryptocurrency derivatives platform that provides a comprehensive range of perpetual futures contracts. It offers leverage options, competitive fees, and a user-friendly interface. Binance Futures also supports a variety of cryptocurrencies, making it accessible to a broad audience of traders.

3. Bybit

Bybit is a rapidly growing exchange known for its user-friendly interface, high liquidity, and advanced trading features. It offers perpetual futures contracts with leverage options and supports popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and XRP. Bybit’s focus on customer experience and security has made it a preferred choice for many traders.

4. FTX

FTX is a cryptocurrency exchange that offers a wide range of perpetual futures contracts, along with innovative features like tokenized stocks and prediction markets. FTX provides competitive leverage options, low fees, and a robust trading platform. Its diverse product offerings and commitment to user experience have contributed to its popularity.


Perpetual futures have become a cornerstone of the cryptocurrency derivatives market, offering traders a flexible and powerful tool to speculate on price movements, hedge risks, and enhance capital efficiency. Their unique characteristics, such as the absence of an expiry date and the use of leverage, provide continuous trading opportunities and the potential for significant profits.

As the cryptocurrency market continues to evolve, perpetual futures will likely remain a vital instrument for traders and investors seeking to navigate the dynamic and often unpredictable world of digital assets. By leveraging the benefits of perpetual futures and adhering to sound trading principles, market participants can capitalize on the opportunities presented by this innovative financial instrument.

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