How to trade futures on tradestation?

by Jennifer

Futures trading has long been a favored avenue for experienced traders and investors seeking opportunities to profit from price fluctuations in various financial markets, including commodities, currencies, and stock indices. TradeStation, a renowned trading platform, offers a robust suite of tools and resources to facilitate futures trading.

Understanding Futures

Futures, often referred to as futures contracts or simply “futures,” are standardized financial agreements that obligate the buyer to purchase and the seller to sell a specific quantity of an underlying asset at a predetermined price and date in the future. These contracts are traded on organized exchanges and serve various purposes, from hedging against price volatility to speculating on market trends.


Before diving into futures trading on TradeStation, it’s imperative to understand the key components of a futures contract:


Underlying Asset: Every futures contract is based on an underlying asset, which could be a commodity (e.g., oil, gold), a financial instrument (e.g., stock index, currency pair), or even an interest rate.

Contract Size: Futures contracts specify the quantity of the underlying asset being traded. For example, a standard crude oil futures contract typically represents 1,000 barrels of oil.

Expiration Date: Futures contracts have a set expiration date, indicating when the contract must be settled. Some contracts expire monthly, quarterly, or even annually.

Contract Price: The price at which the buyer and seller agree to trade the underlying asset in the future is called the contract price or futures price.

Margins: Futures traders are required to deposit an initial margin, which is a fraction of the total contract value, to open a position. Maintenance margins must also be maintained to keep the position open.

Opening a TradeStation Account

The first step to start trading futures on TradeStation is to open an account with the platform. Visit the TradeStation website and click on the “Open an Account” button. You will be prompted to provide personal information, financial details, and documents to verify your identity. Once your account is approved, you can access the trading platform.

Navigating the TradeStation Platform

TradeStation offers a user-friendly platform that provides access to a wide range of financial markets, including futures. Here are some key features and tools to familiarize yourself with:

Charting Tools: TradeStation offers advanced charting tools that allow you to analyze price movements, apply technical indicators, and draw trendlines to make informed trading decisions.

Order Entry: You can easily place orders, such as market orders, limit orders, and stop orders, by using the platform’s order entry system.

Watchlists: Create customized watchlists to monitor the futures contracts you are interested in. You can view real-time prices and other relevant data.

Technical Analysis: TradeStation provides access to a wide range of technical analysis tools and indicators, helping you identify potential entry and exit points.

Strategy Trading: For advanced traders, TradeStation allows you to automate your trading strategies using its proprietary EasyLanguage programming language.

Choosing Your Futures Market

Once you have access to TradeStation, it’s time to choose the specific futures market you want to trade. There is a wide variety of futures contracts available, each representing a different underlying asset. Here are some of the most commonly traded futures markets:

Commodity Futures: These include contracts for commodities like crude oil, gold, silver, wheat, and soybeans. Commodity futures are popular for both hedging and speculation.

Financial Futures: Financial futures contracts are based on financial instruments such as stock indices (e.g., S&P 500, NASDAQ 100), interest rates (e.g., Treasury bonds), and foreign currencies (e.g., Euro/US Dollar).

Equity Index Futures: These futures allow traders to speculate on the direction of major stock indices, such as the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, and NASDAQ.

Currency Futures: Currency futures contracts represent a specific currency pair’s exchange rate, making them a popular choice for forex traders looking for futures exposure.

Interest Rate Futures: Interest rate futures are tied to fixed income securities, including Treasury bonds and Eurodollar deposits. These are commonly used for hedging against interest rate fluctuations.

Conducting Research and Analysis

Before initiating a trade in the futures market, it is essential to conduct thorough research and analysis. TradeStation provides a wealth of resources, including market news, economic calendars, and research reports, to help you make informed decisions. Here are some key steps to consider:

Market Analysis: Analyze the fundamentals and technical aspects of the chosen futures market. Consider factors like supply and demand, geopolitical events, and historical price trends.

Risk Management: Determine your risk tolerance and establish a risk management strategy. Set stop-loss orders to limit potential losses and use proper position sizing.

Trading Plan: Create a well-defined trading plan that outlines your trading goals, entry and exit strategies, and risk management rules.

Placing Orders on TradeStation

After conducting your research and formulating a trading plan, you can proceed to place orders on TradeStation. Here’s how to do it:

Log In: Access your TradeStation account and navigate to the trading platform.

Select a Futures Contract: Use the platform’s search or watchlist function to find the specific futures contract you want to trade.

Choose Order Type: Decide on the type of order you want to place. Common order types include market orders, limit orders, stop orders, and stop-limit orders.

Specify Quantity and Price: Enter the quantity of contracts you want to trade and the desired price level.

Review and Confirm: Carefully review your order details, including order type, quantity, and price. Confirm the order when you are ready.

Monitor Your Trade: After the order is executed, monitor the trade’s progress through the platform’s trading interface. You can adjust or close your position at any time.

Risk Management and Position Sizing

Managing risk is paramount in futures trading. Here are some key risk management principles to follow:

Set Stop-Loss Orders: Determine a stop-loss level based on your risk tolerance and the market’s volatility. This order type helps limit potential losses by automatically closing your position at a predetermined price.

Diversify Your Trades: Avoid putting all your capital into a single trade. Diversify your positions across different futures contracts to spread risk.

Use Proper Position Sizing: Calculate the appropriate position size based on your account size and the risk level you are comfortable with. Avoid overleveraging.

Stay Informed: Continuously monitor market conditions, news, and events that could impact your trades. Be prepared to adjust your positions accordingly.

Keep Emotions in Check: Emotional decisions can lead to impulsive trading and significant losses. Stick to your trading plan and avoid making emotional decisions.

Risk Disclosure and Margin Requirements

It’s crucial to understand that trading futures carries inherent risks, and you can lose more than your initial investment. To mitigate these risks, TradeStation enforces margin requirements. Margin is the amount of capital you must have in your account to initiate and maintain a futures position.

Initial margin is the minimum amount required to open a position, while maintenance margin is the minimum amount needed to keep the position open. If your account balance falls below the maintenance margin level, you may receive a margin call, requiring you to deposit additional funds to cover potential losses.

TradeStation provides margin calculators and real-time margin requirements to help you manage your positions and ensure you have sufficient funds to meet margin obligations.

Closing Positions and Managing Trades

Managing open positions and knowing when to close them is a critical aspect of futures trading. There are several reasons to consider closing a position:

Profit Targets: If the market moves in your favor, you can close the position to realize a profit. Set clear profit targets based on your trading plan.

Stop-Losses: If the market moves against you and reaches your stop-loss level, it’s essential to close the position to limit potential losses.

Change in Market Conditions: If market conditions or your initial analysis change significantly, consider closing the position to reassess your strategy.

Expiration: Futures contracts have expiration dates. If you hold a position until the contract expires, you may be required to take physical delivery of the underlying asset or roll over the contract to a future expiration date.

Margin Considerations: Keep an eye on your account’s margin requirements. If your account balance approaches the maintenance margin, consider closing or reducing positions to avoid margin calls.


Trading futures on TradeStation offers a wide array of opportunities for traders and investors to profit from price movements in various markets. However, it’s important to approach futures trading with a well-defined strategy, thorough research, and effective risk management practices.

By understanding the fundamentals of futures contracts, utilizing TradeStation’s powerful trading platform, and implementing sound risk management principles, you can embark on your futures trading journey with confidence. Remember that futures trading carries inherent risks, and it’s advisable to start with a demo account or paper trading to gain experience before trading with real capital. Continuous learning and disciplined execution are key to success in the world of futures trading on TradeStation.

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