Calculating and Pricing futures contracts
A futures contract represents a legally binding agreement between two parties to pay or receive the difference between the predicted underlying price set when entering into the contract and the actual price of the underlying when the contract expires. Index futures trade with a multiplier that inflates the value of the contract to add leverage to the trade. The multiplier for the Dow is 10, for the Nasdaq it is 100 and it is 250 for the S&P.
For example, if a Dow Jones Index future is trading at 10, 000, this means that if an investor purchased one futures contract, it would be worth $100, 000. What this really means for the investor is that every one-point change in the Dow will cause a $10 change in real terms for the investor. If the Dow falls 100 points, the holder of the contract on the long side will lose $1, 000.Futures contracts are marked to market, meaning the change in value to the investor is shown in the investor's account at the end of each trading day until expiration. If the Dow falls 100 points in one trading day, at the end of the day, $1, 000 will be taken out of the futures contract purchaser's account and placed into the seller's account. Because the index and the futures contract are so closely related both in price movement and value change, index futures are used to gauge the direction of the market.
For example, when the futures contracts on the S&P 500 trade higher, it means futures investors believe the actual exchange index will also trade higher once the markets open. DJIA futures contracts begin trading on the Chicago Board of Trade at 8:20am EST, just over an hour before the stock market opens for trading. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures both open at 8:30am EST and trade on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
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