What is Going Short in Futures?

by Jennifer

Futures trading offers investors a versatile tool for managing risk, speculating on price movements, and hedging against market volatility. Central to futures trading is the ability to take both long and short positions on various assets. This article delves into the concept of going short in futures, exploring what it means, how it works, strategies for going short, risks involved, and practical considerations for traders.

Understanding Futures Contracts

Basics of Futures Contracts

Futures contracts are standardized agreements to buy or sell an underlying asset at a predetermined price (known as the futures price) on a specified future date. They are traded on organized exchanges and serve multiple purposes for market participants, including hedging against price fluctuations, speculation, and portfolio diversification.


Key Elements of Futures Contracts

Underlying Asset: The asset that the futures contract is based on, such as commodities (e.g., oil, gold), financial instruments (e.g., stock indices, interest rates), or physical commodities (e.g., agricultural products).


Contract Size: The quantity of the underlying asset specified in the futures contract. It varies depending on the asset type (e.g., barrels of oil, ounces of gold, bushels of wheat).

Expiration Date: The date on which the futures contract expires and settlement occurs. Different contracts have varying expiration months.

Futures Price: The price at which the underlying asset will be bought or sold on the contract’s expiration date. It is determined through market supply and demand dynamics.

Going Short in Futures: Definition and Mechanism

What Does Going Short Mean?

Going short in futures involves selling a futures contract with the expectation that the price of the underlying asset will decline before the contract’s expiration. It allows traders to profit from falling prices or hedge against potential losses in their portfolios.

Mechanism of Going Short

When a trader decides to go short in futures:

1. Opening a Short Position: The trader sells a futures contract by entering into an agreement to deliver the underlying asset at a future date.

2. Obligation to Deliver: By going short, the trader commits to delivering the underlying asset if the contract is held until expiration and not offset (closed out) before then.

3. Profit from Price Decline: If the price of the underlying asset decreases after entering a short position, the trader can buy back the futures contract at a lower price, thereby realizing a profit from the price difference.

Example of Going Short

Suppose a trader believes that the price of crude oil (traded in futures contracts) will decline over the next few months due to anticipated oversupply. To profit from this expectation, the trader sells (goes short on) a crude oil futures contract at the current market price of $70 per barrel.

If the price of oil drops to $60 per barrel by the contract’s expiration date, the trader can buy back the contract at $60, realizing a profit of $10 per barrel (minus transaction costs and fees).

Conversely, if the price rises to $80 per barrel, the trader would incur a loss of $10 per barrel.

See Also: Which is Better for Beginners: Futures or Options?

Strategies for Going Short in Futures

1. Speculative Trading

Speculative traders go short in futures to capitalize on anticipated price declines in the underlying asset. They analyze market trends, technical indicators, and fundamental factors to identify potential opportunities for profit.

2. Hedging

Hedging involves using futures contracts to offset the risk of adverse price movements in existing investments or physical assets. For example, a wheat farmer may go short in wheat futures to protect against potential losses from falling wheat prices at harvest time.

3. Arbitrage

Arbitrageurs exploit price discrepancies between related futures contracts or between futures and cash markets. They go short in overpriced futures contracts and simultaneously buy underpriced contracts to profit from the price convergence.

4. Spread Trading

Spread traders simultaneously buy and sell related futures contracts (e.g., different expiration dates or related commodities) to profit from price differentials. They may initiate a short position in one contract while taking a long position in another to capitalize on spread movements.

Risks and Considerations

1. Unlimited Losses

Unlike going long (buying) a futures contract, where losses are limited to the initial investment, going short exposes traders to potentially unlimited losses if the price of the underlying asset rises significantly.

2. Margin Requirements

Futures exchanges require traders to maintain a margin deposit (initial margin) to cover potential losses. Additional margin calls may be issued if the market moves against the trader, requiring additional funds to maintain the position.

3. Market Volatility

Futures markets can experience rapid price movements and volatility, amplifying potential gains or losses for short positions. Traders should monitor market conditions closely and implement risk management strategies.

4. Delivery Obligations

If a trader holds a short futures position until expiration, they may be required to deliver the underlying asset. Understanding delivery procedures, contract specifications, and settlement options is crucial for managing futures positions effectively.

Practical Considerations for Traders

1. Research and Analysis

Conduct thorough research and analysis of the underlying asset, market trends, economic factors, and geopolitical events that could impact prices. Use technical analysis tools and fundamental data to inform trading decisions.

2. Risk Management

Implement risk management strategies, such as setting stop-loss orders and position limits, to protect capital and limit potential losses from adverse price movements.

3. Stay Informed

Stay updated on market news, economic releases, and central bank policies that could influence futures prices. Timely information allows traders to adjust their strategies and capitalize on emerging opportunities.

4. Practice on Demo Accounts

Before trading live, practice going short in futures on demo accounts offered by brokerage firms. Demo trading allows traders to familiarize themselves with the platform, test strategies, and gain confidence without risking real capital.


Going short in futures is a fundamental concept in futures trading, enabling traders to profit from declining prices or hedge against market risk. By selling futures contracts with the expectation of buying them back at a lower price, traders can capitalize on market downturns and diversify their trading strategies.

However, going short in futures involves inherent risks, including unlimited losses, margin requirements, and market volatility. Traders must conduct thorough research, implement robust risk management strategies, and stay informed about market developments to navigate the complexities of futures trading successfully.

Whether you are a speculative trader, hedger, or arbitrageur, understanding the mechanics of going short in futures is essential for making informed trading decisions and achieving your financial goals in the dynamic world of futures markets.

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