Getting Started in Stock Index Futures Trading

Calculating Profit and Loss in Stock Index FuturesCalculating profit, loss and risk in the stock index futures complex.

Before Putting Your Money on the Line…You Should Know the Basics. If you are like most people, you work hard for your money and the last thing you want to do is see it evaporate in your trading account. Throughout my journey in the markets, I have yet to find a fool proof way to guarantee profitable trading, but what I am certain of is that you owe it to yourself to fully understand the products and markets that you intend to trade before risking a single dollar. What you will learn from this article is merely a stepping stone to getting started in trading stock index futures, but without fully understanding the basic calculations of profit, loss and risk in the futures markets, you may never lay the foundation necessary to become a successful commodity trader.

When most people think of the commodity markets, they imagine fields of grain or bars of gold. However, a futures contract may be written on any commodity in which the underlying asset can be considered fungible. The term fungible purely means “interchangeable”, or having the ability to “comingle”, in trade. For example, you wouldn’t prefer to have one bushel of corn over another. According to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group, corn is corn as long as it meets the CME Group definition of a deliverable grade.

Financial products can be thought of in much of the same way. One unit of the S&P 500 index is just as valuable (or not) as the next. Therefore, financial products can also be considered commodities and trade similarly on futures exchanges around the world.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming because you are familiar with the equity markets, you can automatically apply that knowledge to trading in the future markets. Despite the underlying asset of stock index futures being based on indices which are household names, the manner in which they trade and the risk they pose to traders is dramatically different than their stock market counterparts.

Stock Index Futures Markets

In the U.S. there are four primarily traded futures contracts based on domestic stock indices; the Dow Jones Industrial Average (or simply the Dow), NASDAQ 100, Russell 2000, and the S&P 500. There are several other stock index futures available, but as a speculator you want to be where the liquidity is and many of them simply don’t offer that.

While stock index futures are all highly correlated in price, they have very distinct personalities. As a trader it is vital to be comfortable with the specifics of the futures contracts that you are trading and eventually the price characteristics of the underlying asset itself.

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