1. Beginner's Guide To Trading Futures: Introduction
  2. Beginner's Guide To Trading Futures: The Basic Structure of the Futures Market
  3. Beginner's Guide To Trading Futures: Considerations Prior to Trading Futures
  4. Beginner's Guide To Trading Futures: Evaluating Futures
  5. Beginner's Guide To Trading Futures: A Real-World Example
  6. Beginner's Guide To Trading Futures: Conclusion

A futures contract is an agreement between two parties – a buyer and a seller – to buy or sell an asset at a specified future date and price. Each futures contract represents a specific amount of a given security or commodity. The most widely traded commodity futures contract, for example, is crude oil, which has a contract unit of 1,000 barrels. Each futures contract of corn, on the other hand, represents 5,000 bushels – or about 127 metric tons of corn. 

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Futures contracts were originally designed to allow farmers to hedge against changes in the prices of their crops between planting and when they could be harvested and brought to market. While producers (e.g., farmers) and end users continue to use futures to hedge against risk, investors and traders of all types use futures contracts for the purpose of speculation – to profit by betting on the direction the asset will move. (For more, see What is the Difference Between Hedging and Speculation?)

While the first futures contracts focused on agricultural commodities such as livestock and grains, the market now includes contracts linked to a wide variety of assets, including precious metals (gold), industrial metals (aluminum), energy (oil), bonds (Treasury bonds) and stocks (S&P 500). These contracts are standardized agreements that trade on futures exchanges around the world, including the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in the U.S. (For more, see How Do Futures Contracts Work?)

This tutorial provides a general overview of the futures market, including a discussion of how futures work, how they differ from other financial instruments, and understanding the benefits and drawbacks of leverage. It also covers important considerations, how to evaluate futures and a basic example of a futures trade – taking a step-by-step look at instrument selection, market analysis and trade execution. If you are considering trading in the futures markets, it’s important that you understand how the markets works. Here’s a quick introduction to help you get started.

Beginner's Guide To Trading Futures: The Basic Structure of the Futures Market
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