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Before the North American futures market originated some 150 years ago, farmers would grow their crops and then bring them to market in the hope of selling their inventory. But without any indication of demand, supply often exceeded what was needed and unpurchased crops were left to rot in the streets! Conversely, when a given commodity - wheat, for instance - was out of season, the goods made from it became very expensive because the crop was no longer available.

In the mid-nineteenth century, central grain markets were established and a central marketplace was created for farmers to bring their commodities and sell them either for immediate delivery (spot trading) or for forward delivery. The latter contracts - forward contracts - were the forerunners to today's futures contracts. In fact, this concept saved many a farmer the loss of crops and profits and helped stabilize supply and prices in the off-season.

Today's futures market is a global marketplace for not only agricultural goods, but also for currencies and financial instruments such as Treasury bonds and securities (securities futures). It's a diverse meeting place of farmers, exporters, importers, manufacturers and speculators. Thanks to modern technology, commodities prices are seen throughout the world, so a Kansas farmer can match a bid from a buyer in Europe.

Next: Futures Fundamentals: How The Market Works »


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