What Is a Limit Move?

A limit move acts as a market circuit breaker and is the maximum amount of change that the price of a commodity futures contract is allowed to undergo in a single day. This amount gets its basis from the previous day's closing price. Trades are not permitted to rise above or drop below the set price once reaching the limit. The exchange where the futures contract trades will set the limit move. 

If the price moves up to rapidly, it is said to be limit up; a rapid decline could result in limit down.

Key Takeaways

  • A limit move is the maximum amount of change that the price of a commodity futures contract is allowed to undergo in a day, set by an exchange.
  • The amount the limit move is set at is based on the previous day's closing price and is not allowed to go above or drop below once the limit is reached.
  • The purpose of a limit move is to prevent excessive volatility in a market.
  • A limit move does not halt trading of the commodity but instead suspends price moves.
  • There are many other limit moves that apply to futures commodity contracts, such as a position limit, exercise limit, daily trading limit, lock limit, limit up, and limit down.

Understanding a Limit Move

Limit moves exist on the futures exchange to prevent excessive volatility in a particular market. Several factors can prompt market volatility or extreme changes. The most common are changes in response to the weather, results of the supply and demand report, and intense market uncertainty. Today, only a few commodities have limit move controls such as those for grains, livestock, and lumber.

If a particular contract contains control limits, the information will appear on the specification sheet on the exchange where it trades. The limit move does not halt trading of the commodity but instead suspends price moves. Traders may not buy above the high limit and cannot sell below the low limit. 

The daily controls will use the previous closing price and add an initial limit to that price. The initial limit will reset the bar, allowing the price to advance beyond the last close while it will also raise the bottom price. If a market should try to exceed the limit in place, the following day the exchange may expand the limit move, giving the commodity more room to run.

Of course, this will also move the bottom price level up. The opposite may also happen where the market pushes the price below the bottom price. Once the commodity begins closing at a rate that is neither the limit high nor the limit low, then the price will return to its original initial limit.

Types of Limit Moves

Limit moves which affect a commodity's futures contract are:

  • The lock limit which happens when the contract price of a commodity instrument moves beyond an allowable limit, stopping trading for the day.
  •  A limit up is the maximum amount the price of a commodity futures contract may advance in one trading day.
  • Conversely, the limit down is the most the price may decline in one trading day.

Example of a Limit Move

For example, assume that a lumber futures contract is selling for $3.50, and has a previous day's close of $4. The exchange will set the initial limit at $4.25. During a particularly dry growing season, a wildfire has broken out and threatens a prime forest growing area. This event would cause the futures price to rise and perhaps try to pass the $4.25 control point. The following day the exchange may expand the limit to $4.60.

Other Limits for Commodity Futures

Non-move related limits also exist in futures markets, including:

  • position limit is a preset level of ownership or control which a trader cannot exceed. Most position limits are set too high for an individual trader to reach, but they provide stability in financial markets.
  • The exercise limit sets restrictions on the number of a single class of contracts that a person or company may exercise within a fixed period. This action avoids allowing one entity to corner or impact the market of the underlying security.
  • daily trading limit is a maximum amount that an investor may profit or may lose on a derivative contract in any one trading session. These limits occur because most futures trading uses margin.