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find What is a Futures Contract?


There are two types of futures contracts, those that provide for physical delivery of a particular commodity or item and those which call for a cash settlement. The month during which delivery or settlement is to occur is specified. Thus, a July futures contract is one providing for delivery or settlement in July.

It should be noted that even in the case of delivery-type futures contracts,very few actually result in delivery.* Not many speculators have the desire to take or make delivery of, say, 5,000 bushels of wheat, or 112,000 pounds of sugar, or a million dollars worth of U.S. Treasury bills for that matter. Rather, the vast majority of speculators in futures markets choose to realize their gains or losses by buying or selling offsetting futures contracts prior to the delivery date. Selling a contract that was previously purchased liquidates a futures position in exactly the same way, for example, that selling 100 shares of IBM stock liquidates an earlier purchase of 100 shares of IBM stock. Similarly, a futures contract that was initially sold can be liquidated by an offsetting purchase. In either case, gain or loss is the difference between the buying price and the selling price.

Even hedgers generally don't make or take delivery. Most, like the jewelry manufacturer illustrated earlier, find it more convenient to liquidate their futures positions and (if they realize a gain) use the money to offset whatever adverse price change has occurred in the cash market.

* When delivery does occur it is in the form of a negotiable instrument (such as a warehouse receipt) that evidences the holder's ownership of the commodity, at some designated location.

Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. The risk of loss exists in futures and options trading.


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