Futures trading is a form of financial derivative trading that entails the buying and selling futures contracts. While it can be intimidating to inexperienced traders, understanding how futures work, selecting suitable markets, and adhering to risk management rules is essential for successful futures trading. This guide offers a comprehensive introduction to the world of futures trading, covering topics from the basics of how futures trading works, the types of markets available and strategies for risk management.

Understanding how futures trading works

A futures contract is an agreement between two traders to buy or sell a specific asset at a set price on a specific agreed-upon date. Futures contracts in the UK are standardised and traded on exchanges such as CME Group and ICE Futures Europe. 

The most common type of futures contract is an equity index futures contract, which tracks the performance of an underlying stock market index. Other popular markets include commodities (oil, gold, copper) and currencies (US dollar vs Euro).

Types of markets for futures trading

Futures traders can access various markets, including stock indices, currencies, commodities, and interest rates. Each market has unique characteristics, which should be considered when selecting suitable markets for trading.

Stock index future

Equity index futures are popular among professional and institutional traders due to their liquidity and low transaction costs. Popular stock indices include the S&P 500 (US), FTSE 100 (UK), CAC 40 (France) and Nikkei 225 (Japan).


Commodity futures contracts allow traders to speculate on critical commodities such as crude oil, gold, copper, and natural gas price movements. These contracts can hedge against price fluctuations or take advantage of short-term price movements.


Currency futures contracts let traders speculate on the exchange rate between currencies, such as the US dollar and Euro. These contracts can also hedge against currency fluctuations or take advantage of short-term trends in the foreign exchange market.

Interest rates

Interest rate futures are based on government bonds and Treasury bills. These contracts allow UK traders to speculate on future changes in interest rates (and consequently yields).

Risk management strategies for futures trading

Any trader needs to understand and practice risk management when trading futures markets. Risk management is assessing risks associated with trades, setting appropriate stop losses and controlling position size.

Set realistic expectations

It is essential to understand that there are no guarantees when trading the futures market, and losses can occur even with the best strategies. It is, therefore, essential for traders to set realistic expectations and manage their risk accordingly.

Avert overtrading

Many novice traders are lured into overtrading, which involves taking on too much risk by opening too many positions simultaneously or trading without adequate capital. Overtrading can lead to excessive losses, so traders should be aware of this risk and avoid it at all costs.

Use stop-loss orders

Setting appropriate stop-loss limits helps limit potential losses from trades gone wrong. A stop-loss order instructs a broker to close an open position once a certain price level is reached. It prevents traders from taking on excessive losses.

Manage position size

Position sizing is a crucial risk management element that helps traders control their risk exposure. Traders should always try to manage their position size in line with the amount of capital they have and their overall risk tolerance.

Keep an eye on the market environment

Trading in futures markets requires traders to be constantly aware of the market environment. Market conditions can change rapidly, and traders must monitor the different market components such as economic reports, news headlines, sentiment indicators and technical analysis.

Economic reports

Economic reports are critical pieces of data that provide insight into the state of the economy. They are released regularly by governments and organisations such as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics or Eurostat. Reports on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), inflation, manufacturing activity and unemployment rates can affect futures prices significantly and should be monitored by traders.

News headlines

News headlines can also have an impact on futures markets. Political changes, natural disasters or corporate events are among some of the news stories that could influence future prices. Traders should stay up to date with news headlines to identify potentially profitable opportunities in the market.

Sentiment indicators

Sentiment indicators measure investor sentiment towards a particular asset or market. Investors’ sentiment can often influence price movements in futures markets. So, traders should monitor sentiment indicators such as the Fear & Greed Index, Put/Call Ratio or Commitment of Traders Report to understand how investor sentiment may affect prices.

Technical analysis

Technical analysis is another vital tool traders use to predict future price movements in futures markets. Technical analysis involves analysing past price movements and identifying patterns indicating future price trends. It includes a variety of methods, such as support/resistance lines, chart patterns, moving averages or momentum indicators which help traders confirm potential trading signals they may spot on charts to increase their chances of making profitable trades.

The bottom line

Futures trading can be attractive and lucrative, but understanding how it works and adhering to good risk management rules is essential for successful futures trading. Aspiring traders should learn about the types of markets available, set realistic expectations, manage their position size and use stop-loss orders to protect against excessive losses. In addition, keeping an eye on market news and sentiment is essential to stay informed of any price shifts or trends that may affect their investments. With the proper knowledge and commitment, futures trading can provide a rewarding opportunity for investors.