The futures market is a centralized marketplace for buyers and sellers from around the world who meet and enter into futures contracts. Pricing can be based on an open cry system, or bids and offers can be matched electronically. The futures contract will state the price that will be paid and the date of delivery. But in practice almost all futures contracts end without the actual physical delivery of the commodity.
What Exactly Is a Futures Contract? Explanation
Let's say, for example, that you decide to subscribe to cable TV. As the buyer, you enter into an agreement with the cable company to receive a specific number of cable channels at a certain price every month for the next year. This contract made with the cable company is similar to a futures contract, in that you have agreed to receive a product at a future date, with the price and terms for delivery already set. You have secured your price for now and the next year - even if the price of cable rises during that time. By entering into this agreement with the cable company, you have reduced your risk of higher prices.
That's how the futures market works. Except instead of a cable TV provider, a producer of wheat may be trying to secure a selling price for next season's crop, while a bread maker may be trying to secure a buying price to determine how much bread can be made and at what profit. So the farmer and the bread maker may enter into a futures contract requiring the delivery of 5,000 bushels of grain to the buyer in June at a price of $4 per bushel. By entering into this futures contract, the farmer and the bread maker secure a price that both parties believe will be a fair price in June. It is this contract - and not the grain per se - that can then be bought and sold in the futures market.
So, a futures contract is an agreement between two parties: a short position - the party who agrees to deliver a commodity - and a long position - the party who agrees to receive a commodity. In the above scenario, the farmer would be the holder of the short position (agreeing to sell) while the bread maker would be the holder of the long (agreeing to buy). We will talk more about the outlooks of the long and short positions in the section on strategies, but for now it's important to know that every contract involves both positions.
In every futures contract, everything is specified: the quantity and quality of the commodity, the specific price per unit, and the date and method of delivery. The “price” of a futures contract is represented by the agreed-upon price of the underlying commodity or financial instrument that will be delivered in the future. For example, in the above scenario, the price of the contract is 5,000 bushels of grain at a price of $4 per bushel.