What Is the Commitments of Traders (COT) Report?

The Commitment of Traders (COT) report is a weekly publication that shows the aggregate holdings of different participants in the U.S. futures market. Published every Friday by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) at 3:30 E.T., the COT report is a snapshot of the commitment of the classified trading groups as of Tuesday that same week. The report provides investors with up-to-date information on futures market operations and increases the transparency of these complex exchanges. It is used by many futures traders as a market signal on which to trade.

Key Takeaways

  • The Commitment of Traders report is a weekly publication that shows the aggregate holdings of different participants in the U.S. futures market.
  • Traders can use the report to help them determine whether they should take short or a long positions in their trades.
  • It contains four different kinds of reports: the Legacy, Supplemental, Disaggregated, and the Traders in Financial Futures reports.

How the Commitments of Traders (COT) Report Works

The COT report traces its history back to 1924 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Futures Administration issued an annual report outlining hedging and speculation activities in the futures market. In 1962, the report was published monthly. In the 1990s, the report moved to a bi-weekly publication before going weekly in 2000.

Information that is included in the report is compiled on Tuesday, verified on Wednesday before being released every Friday. The report provides the data is visualized in graphical form. The report is intended to help people understand the dynamics of the market. According to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, "each Tuesday’s open interest for futures and options on futures markets in which 20 or more traders hold positions equal to or above the reporting levels established by the CFTC."

Traders can use the report to help them determine which positions they should take in their trades, whether that's a short or a long position. One thing the report does not do is categorize individual traders' positions because of legal restraints. This is part of confidential business practices, according to the commission.

Special Considerations

The importance of the COT cannot be overstated. It is a core data source for traders and for most academic research on pricing trends in the futures market. That said, it does have its critics and their issues with the report are justified. The biggest weakness with the COT is that, for a document meant to promote transparency, the rules governing it are not transparent.

While it's meant to promote transparency, the rules governing it are not transparent.

For example, traders are classified as non-commercial or commercial, and that holds for every position they have within that particular commodity. This means that an oil company with a small hedge and a much larger speculative trade on crude will have both positions show up on the commercial category. Simply put, even the disaggregated data is too aggregated to be said to accurately represent the market. There have been recommendations to publish more detailed data on a delay as not to affect commercially sensitive positions, but that still looks unlikely. And, despite its limitations, most traders agree that even the questionable data of the COT is better than nothing.

Types of Reports

As mentioned above, the COT Report contains four different kinds of reports: the Legacy, Supplemental, Disaggregated, and the Traders in Financial Futures reports.

Legacy

The legacy COT is the one with which traders are most familiar. It breaks down the open-interest positions of all major contracts that have more than 20 traders. The legacy COT simply shows the market for a commodity broken into long, short, and spread positions for non-commercial traders, commercial traders, and non-reportable positions (small traders). The total open interest is given as well as changes in open interest. The COT provides an overview of what the key market participants think and helps determine the likelihood of a trend continuing or coming to an end. If commercial and non-commercial long positions are both growing, for example, that is a bullish signal for the price of the underlying commodity. 

Supplemental

The supplemental report is the one that outlines 13 specific agricultural commodity contracts. These are for both options and futures positions. This report shows a break down of open interest positions in three different categories. These categories include noncommercial, commercial, and index traders.

Disaggregated

The disaggregated COT report is another one that is commonly known by traders. It provides a deeper breakdown of the market participants, splitting commercial traders into producers, merchants, processors, users, and swap dealers. The noncommercial participants are split between managed money and other reportables. This is meant to provide a clearer picture of what the people with skin in the game—the users of the actuals—think about the market versus the people with profit motivations or speculators. The disaggregated COT report is, in part, a response to some of the criticism of the legacy COT.

Traders in Financial Futures

The final part of the COT Report is the Traders in Financial Futures report. This section outlines different contracts such as U.S. Treasuries, stocks, currencies, and euros. As with the others, there are four different classifications in this report: dealer/intermediary, asset manager/institutional, leveraged funds, and other reportables.