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Futures Trading Introduction (Part 2)

Why Leverage is the Biggest Advantage and the Biggest Disadvantage
How to Protect Profits with Stop-Loss Orders
Where to Get Market Information


Why Leverage is the Biggest Advantage and the Biggest Disadvantage

The main advantage and disadvantage in futures trading is the leverage involved. (You can hold a very large amount of a commodity for a small deposit so any gains and losses are multiplied.) This is the main difference between futures trading and, say, speculating with stocks and shares.

For example, you have $3000 to invest. You could buy $3000 of shares in an Oil Mining Company, buying them outright. Or this $3000 may be sufficient margin (a goodwill "security bond") to buy a couple of Crude Oil futures contracts worth $30,000.

The price of Crude Oil drops 10%. If this effects the price of your mining stocks by 10%, you would lose $300 (10% of $3000). But this 10% fall on the value of your Crude Oil futures contracts would lose $3000 (10% of $30,000). In other words, all of your initial stake would be lost trading the futures rather than only 10% of your capital trading the shares.

But, with Stop-Loss Orders you will always know how much money you are risking in any trade.

A Stop Loss Order is a pre-determined exiting point which automatically exits your position should the market go against you. In the above example, you may only decide to risk $1000 on the Crude Oil futures contracts. You would place a stop loss just under the market price and if the market dropped slightly, your position would be exited for the $1000 loss.

So Leverage is great if the market goes in your predicted direction - you could quickly double, treble or quadruple your initial stake. But if the market goes against you, you could lose a lot of money just as quickly. All of your initial stake (your margin) could be wiped out in a few days. And in some cases, you may have to pay more money to your broker if the margin you have put up is less than the loss of your trade.


How to Protect Profits with Stop-Loss Orders

As mentioned above, losses can accumulate just as quickly as profits in futures trading. Nearly every successful trader uses Stop-Loss Orders in his trading to ensure profits are 'locked in' and losses are minimised.

How do Stop-Losses work?

A stop-loss is usually placed when a trade is entered, although it can be entered or moved at any time. It is placed slightly below or above the current market price, depending on whether you are buying or selling.

For example, say Pork Bellies is trading at $55.00 and you think prices are about to rise. You decide to buy one Pork Bellies contract, but you don't want to risk more than $800 on the trade. A one-cent move in the market is worth $4.00 on a pork bellies futures contract so, therefore, you would place your stop at $53.00 (200 cents away from the current price x $4 per point = $800).

You can also move a stop-loss order to protect any profits you accumulate.

Taking the Pork Bellies example: Two weeks later, bellies are now trading at $65.00. You are now up $4000 (1000 cents of movement x $4). To protect these profits, you can raise your stop-loss simply by calling your broker. Say you place it at $63.00, you have locked it a profit of at least $3200 and now risk $800 to your new stop level.

But what if the market went against you? Going back to the original position when you bought at $55.00 with a stop at $53.00: what happens if the market suddenly tumbles down to $51.00 during the day? Your trade would automatically be 'stopped out' at your stop level of $53.00 for an $800 loss. The fact that the market closed the day at $51.00 is irrelevant as you are now out of the market. (Had you not used a stop-loss and viewed the market at the end of the day, you would have large losses on your hands!)

The same would happen if the market reached $65.00 and you had raised your stop to $63.00: If the market fell from here, say to $62.80, you would be stopped out at $63.00 and would have a profit of $3200. Even if the market suddenly reversed here and rose to $79.00, this would be irrelevant as you are now out of the market.

This last example would be annoying because if you hadn't been stopped out, you would now be $9600 in profit. But you were stopped out at your $63.00 stop. The market only went 20-cents under this and reversed!

It is for this reason that some traders don't use stops: they have been stopped out in the past JUST when the market was about to go their way.

The solution is not to abandon using stops as this is EXTREMELY RISKY. The solution is to use stops effectively.

(In fast moving markets it is sometimes impossible for brokers to get your orders exited exactly on your stop loss limits. They are legally required to do their best, but if the price in the trading pit suddenly jumps over your limit, you may be required to settle the difference. In the above scenario, the price of Pork Bellies could open trading at $62.50, fifty cents through your stop at $63.00. Your broker would have to exit your trade here and, in fact, you would lose $1000, $200 more than your anticipated $800.)


Where to Get Market Information

Commodity prices can change direction much faster than other investments, such as company stocks. Therefore, it is important for traders to stay on top of market announcements. Professional traders may use a wide number of techniques to do this, using fundamental information and technical indicators.

Fundamental data may include government reports of weather, crop sizes, livestock numbers, producer’s figures, money supply and interest rates. Other fundamental news that could affect a commodity might be news of an outbreak of war.

Technical indicators are mathematical tools used to plot market prices and behaviour patterns on a graph. These can include trend lines, over-bought and over-sold indicators, moving averages, momentum indicators, Elliott wave analysis and Gann theory.

Some traders use just one of these basic methods religiously, disregarding the other completely. Others use a combination of the two.

Many investors, especially smaller investors, devise their own trading method or purchase one from another trader. (Be careful not to buy a system that has been over-optimised and curve-fitted to fit past data. Many times, I have seen systems claiming 80%+ winning trades on past data, but when I have run the system on current prices, the results are breakeven at best!)

They normally paper trade the method (i.e. they follow the markets but only pretend to place the trades) for a few months to make sure the method works for them before placing any actual trades.

Tracking price charts and keeping up with fundamental data is a difficult full-time job – some large organisations employ dozens of staff to follow market moves. And some traders, especially those on the market floor, may only hold a position for a few hours or even minutes.

So where does this leave the small, independent investor who would like to trade in the lucrative futures markets?

Many trade on a daily or weekly basis, i.e. they note or 'download' market prices at the end of each trading day and make their decisions from this data. Often, they will leave a trade on for at least a few weeks (possibly months). This is a much SAFER way of trading because any fluctuations are ridden out and less panic-buying or selling is involved.


In the next section, you will learn:

  • Futures Contracts for Beginners

  • Futures Trading Alternatives

  • Smaller Futures Contracts

  • Spread Betting

  • Options Trading

Next


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Disclaimer: There is risk of loss trading futures.
The information presented in this site is for informational purposes only. Investment in futures involves a high degree of risk, your investment may fall as well as rise, you may lose all your original investment and you may also have to pay more on the original amount invested. Consult your broker or advisor prior to making any investment decisions. Past or simulated performance is not a guide to future performance. Copyright 1999-2016 Futures-Investor.co.uk. All rights reserved.
Futures-Investor, Old Mill House, Rockfield, Monmouth, NP25 5QE. Tel: +44 (0) 1600 715 039 Email philriou@futures-investor.co.uk