What are Index Futures?

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  • 18 Jul 2023

Traders use index futures contracts to buy or sell a financial index today, with a resolution scheduled for later. Speculating on the price direction of an index, such as the BSE 30, is made possible through index futures. Investors and investment managers utilize index futures to safeguard their stock investments against losses.

Index futures are financial derivatives contracts that allow traders to speculate on the future value of a stock market index. A stock market index represents the performance of a specific group of stocks, often used as a benchmark for the broader market. The purpose of index futures is to provide investors with a means to hedge against market volatility, manage risk, and engage in speculative trading.

Mechanics of Index Futures Trading

To better understand index futures, it is important to grasp the mechanics behind their trading. Index futures contracts specify a predetermined future date for the settlement of the contract, as well as an agreed-upon price known as the futures price. Traders can take either a long or short position in index futures, depending on their market expectations.

When taking a long position, a trader anticipates an increase in the underlying index's value. Conversely, a short position is taken when a trader predicts a decline. The profit or loss from an index futures trade is determined by the difference between the futures price the contract entered into and the index's actual value at the contract's expiration.

Traders or investors hold power and responsibility in index futures since they are obligated to offer the contract's cash value depending on an underlying index at a future date. Unless the contract is unwound before expiration through an offsetting deal, the trader must provide the cash value upon expiry.

An index represents the price of a single item or a collection of assets. Deriving from an underlying asset (the index), index futures allow traders to engage in various asset trading, including stocks, commodities, and currencies. Investors can buy or sell index futures on the BSE 30 to speculate on the appreciation or depreciation of the index.

In index futures investing or trading, the buyer and seller execute purchase and sell bids, locking their positions. Both parties agree to lawfully close their holdings at a specific price and on a predetermined date. A futures broker places the buy and sell orders on behalf of the traders. The next step involves establishing long and short positions for buy and sell orders and initial and maintenance margins.

Cash payment forms the basis of futures contracts. On the expiration date, the seller and buyer can also receive or pay the difference in cash based on the agreed-upon contract price. Simply put, a higher price yields a profit for the buyer, while a lower price results in a loss for the seller.

Index futures offer several advantages to investors. Firstly, they provide a highly liquid market, enabling traders to enter and exit positions easily. This liquidity ensures efficient price discovery, minimizing the impact of large buy or sell orders on market prices.

Secondly, index futures allow investors to diversify their portfolios and gain exposure to an entire market or sector without owning individual stocks. This diversification reduces specific company risks and can lead to better risk-adjusted returns.

Furthermore, index futures enable investors to hedge their existing positions, thereby protecting their portfolios against adverse market movements. Investors can offset potential losses in their stock holdings by taking an opposite position in index futures.

  1. BSE 30: The BSE's Sensitive Index, or Sensex comprises 30 underlying securities, which make up the S&P BSE Sensex.
  2. Nifty 50: The NSE's Nifty index consists of 50 underlying securities, forming the Nifty 50.
  3. Nifty IT: In the case of Nifty IT, the underlying securities are shares of information technology. The fortunes of these futures will depend on the overall performance of the IT sector.
  4. Nifty Bank: Nifty Bank is composed of bank shares. Therefore, the performance of Nifty Bank futures will be contingent upon the performance of the banking sector.
  5. BSE Bankex: The S&P BSE Bankex futures comprise banking stocks listed on the Sensex.
  6. BSE Sensex 50: The S&P BSE Sensex 50 includes 50 stocks, expanding beyond the 30 stocks that constitute the Sensex.
  7. BSE Bharat 22 Index: The S&P BSE Bharat 22 Index is made up of 22 central public sector enterprises (CPSE).

Risks and Considerations

While index futures present opportunities, they also carry inherent risks. Traders must carefully consider factors such as market volatility, leverage, and the potential for unforeseen events impacting the index's performance.

Additionally, using leverage in index futures trading magnifies potential profits and losses. Traders must exercise caution and implement appropriate risk management strategies to protect their capital.

To Conclude

Index futures provide investors a versatile tool for managing risk, speculating on market movements, and diversifying their portfolios. By understanding the mechanics and benefits of index futures, traders can make informed decisions and optimize their investment strategies.

However, it is crucial to acknowledge the risks involved and take appropriate precautions. Seeking professional advice and developing a thorough understanding of market dynamics can significantly enhance one's ability to navigate the complexities of index futures trading.

By harnessing the power of index futures, investors can seize opportunities in global financial markets, participate in economic growth, and achieve their financial goals.


Index futures are derivatives contracts that allow traders to speculate on the future value of a stock market index. They derive their value from an underlying stock market index such as BSE 30 or Nifty 50.

When index futures reach their expiration date, the futures contract ends. You must buy the underlying asset if you hold the contract beyond this date. Unlike options, which give you the choice to exercise your rights, futures contracts do not provide that flexibility.

The main drawbacks include the inability to control future events, potential price volatility, and the risk of asset price drops as the expiration date draws near.

Index futures are derivative contracts that utilize a particular index, such as Nifty 50 or Bank Nifty, as their underlying asset. These contracts share the same lot size as stock futures. However, since indices represent an abstract concept, settling transactions through the direct purchase or sale of the underlying assets is not possible.

Index futures contracts are exclusively settled in cash because the physical delivery of an index is not feasible. Settlements occur daily, employing a mark-to-market approach. These futures contracts are traded via futures brokers on stock exchanges, and individuals can enter into a contract by placing a buy or sell order.

Holding a futures contract until its expiry date is not obligatory. In practice, most traders choose to exit their contracts before the designated expiration dates.

Index futures often serve as reliable indicators for predicting the opening market direction, yet even the most skilled prognosticators occasionally find themselves mistaken.

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