Understanding Futures Pricing Formula

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  • 27 Sep 2023

In futures trading, there are distinct categories of traders, some referred to as intuitive traders who base their decisions on gut instincts. Achieving success in trading demands a combination of skills, expertise, and experience to transform your trading activities into profitable ventures. Nonetheless, gaining a solid grasp of the futures pricing formula is crucial when entering the realm of futures trading.

The synchronized fluctuations in the cost of the underlying asset determine the future price. When the cost of the underlying asset rises, the future price also increases, and conversely, if the cost of the underlying asset decreases, the future price drops as well.

It's important to note that the future price is not necessarily equal to the current value of the underlying asset. These two entities can be traded at distinct prices in the market, reflecting various factors and market dynamics.

The formula for computing futures prices can be expressed as:

Futures Prices = Spot Price * [1 + (RF * (X/365) - D)], where:

The risk-free return rate, RF, signifies the rate one can earn throughout the year in a perfect market. A risk-free rate typically relies on the interest rate for a Treasury Bill, which is usually quoted per annum.

Therefore, it necessitates proportional adjustment for the number of days until expiry. The rationale for adjusting risk-free interest returns is to assess the minimum return that would have been earned if the investment had been made on the futures date. In this way, it represents the opportunity cost of investing in security in the present instead of the future. The futures price, in turn, accounts for the time value of money.

The number of days until expiry refers to X. As the formula suggests, the futures price directly correlates with X. If the number of days to expiry increases, the futures price also increases.

The company pays dividends (D) until expiry. The company does not pay the dividend to the holder of a futures contract; it only pays it to the shareholders on the record date. Even though the holder does not receive the dividend, the declaration of a dividend affects the price of the securities and, consequently, the futures price. After the company pays the dividend, the spot price usually goes down by the amount of the dividend paid. This shows that new shareholders do not qualify for the dividend payment. Therefore, it is crucial to make dividend adjustments to the futures price.

Some important things to keep in mind when conducting such analysis are:

  • Underlying Asset: Understand the underlying asset that the futures contract represents. Different assets, such as commodities, financial instruments, or stock market indices, have unique drivers and price behaviors.

  • Spot Price: The current spot price of the underlying asset is a critical reference point. Changes often influence futures prices in the spot price, so monitor it closely.

  • Expiration Date: Be aware of the contract's expiration date. Futures prices can vary depending on how close or far the contract is from expiration. Understanding this relationship is essential for timely trading decisions.

  • Costs and Carry: Consider the cost of carry, which includes expenses like storage, insurance, and financing costs. These costs can impact the futures price, especially for physical commodities.

  • Interest Rates: Keep an eye on prevailing interest rates. Changes in interest rates can affect futures prices, particularly for financial futures contracts.

  • Supply and Demand: Factor in the supply and demand dynamics for the underlying asset. Factors like production, consumption, geopolitical events, and weather conditions can influence prices.

  • Market Sentiment: Sentiment plays a significant role in futures markets. Stay informed about news that can affect market sentiment, as it can lead to rapid price movements.

  • Volatility: Futures markets can be volatile. Understand the asset's historical and implied volatility levels to gauge potential price swings.

Comprehending the futures pricing formula is crucial for several reasons:

  • Risk Management: Traders and investors use futures contracts to guard against price fluctuations in the underlying asset. Understanding how futures prices are determined helps in managing and mitigating risk effectively.

  • Speculation: Speculators aim to profit from price movements in futures contracts. By understanding the pricing formula, they can make informed trading decisions and potentially capitalize on market opportunities.

  • Arbitrage: Knowledge of futures pricing allows arbitrageurs to identify and exploit price discrepancies between the futures market and the underlying asset, thereby earning risk-free profits.

Some crucial definitions related to pricing futures contract are as follows:

  • Clearing House

In an active market, an exchange called a clearinghouse facilitates futures trading. In India, the National Stock Exchange Limited (NSE) engages in futures trading through the future index.

  • Buying vs Selling Futures Contract

Futures contracts represent legal and standardized agreements. Typically, the buyer holds a long position while the seller takes a short position.

  • Margin Requirement

Margin refers to the total amount deposited by the parties in the clearinghouse. It serves as a guarantee that all parties will fulfill their contractual obligations. At the outset of a trade, both parties must deposit a margin. If the initial margin significantly drops below the maintenance amount due to market fluctuations, the party in question will receive a margin call.

  • Marking to Market

Marking to market is a daily settlement process for future prices. The fluctuations in future prices result from active trading. Following each trading session, clearinghouses credit or debit the margin amount from the differential amount deposited by the parties to account for price differences.

Summing it Up

Based on the cost-of-carry model, the futures pricing formula is a fundamental concept for anyone involved in futures trading or investing. It considers factors like the spot price, interest rates, time to expiration, and the cost of carrying the asset. By grasping this formula, traders and investors can make informed decisions, manage risk, and seize opportunities in the dynamic world of futures markets.

FAQs on Futures Pricing Formula

Interest rates hold a prominent position as a key determinant of futures prices. Nevertheless, various factors influence futures prices, including the underlying asset's price, interest (dividend) income, storage expenses, risk-free rate, and convenience yield. These factors collectively contribute to the determination of futures prices.

This phenomenon arises from various factors, including market interest rates, time until expiration, dividend yield, and more. When futures are priced higher than spot prices, it is referred to as asset trading at a premium.

A negative price in a futures contract does not indicate a malfunctioning market. On the contrary, when supply and demand are significantly imbalanced, the futures market would actually be malfunctioning if it did not reflect a negative price.

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