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In addition to the margin/security deposit difference, futures contracts have several other features that make them different from equities, as Table 1.1 indicates. Futures come in different contract sizes and expire in specific months. Equities all are priced on a uniform per-share basis, and they do not expire (although a company may go out of business, which could cause your investment to expire ). Stocks may also have splits and reverse splits, and some even pay dividends. With equities, you can maintain a long-term position indefinitely. With futures, you can also have a long-term position, but that will require that you roll over from one contract to the next, liquidating your holding in an expiring contract and establishing a new position in a contract month that is further away. Novice traders and even traders coming off an exchange floor to trade from a computer need to realize that different futures markets trade in different contract months, at different times of the day, and at different exchanges. In stocks, you have one symbol for Intel (INTC) or IBM (IBM) or every other individual stock. In futures, a June contract for Japanese yen is not the same as a September Japanese yen contract, for example, and they have different symbols. First, you need to know the symbol for the market you want to trade CL for crude oil, for example. Most quote vendors use the same symbols as they are pretty much a universal language in the futures industry. However, some vendors use the symbol CC instead of CO for cocoa or SU instead of SB for sugar. The mini-sized Dow contract may be YJ, YM, ZJ, or some other
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INTRODUCTION TO FUTURES AND OPTIONS: Understanding the Mechanics
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symbol specific to a data service or brokerage firm. Most applications have a menu of symbols so you can look up the quotes or charts you want. Second, you need to know the symbols for each month. This can be somewhat confusing, especially to newcomers. The list of symbols for each contract month is shown at the bottom of Table 1.1. Notice that March is the only month that even contains the month s symbol, H, as a letter in the name of the contract month. The trickiness in properly identifying a futures contract is one reason new traders find futures trading more complicated than equity trading. It can lead to a hazardous situation when you are rolling out of a contract that has been trading for a while and switching to a new one. For example, if you have been trading a June contract and have to shift to the September contract as the June contract expires, you may still be in the habit of using June. When placing orders, a slip in identifying a contract can create problems and cost you money. Placing an order for a June contract when you really mean to trade the September contract can easily happen in futures trading if you get careless. There is a window of time when the June contract will still be trading but not actively as most of the trading activity shifts into the next month. For commodities, that time period is between the first notice day and the last trading day for a contract. Orders will still be accepted for the expiring month in that time frame, and it will be up to you to cover your error if your order gets you into the wrong contract month. (Note: The trading tactics section in 12 provides a technique that some big traders and floor professionals use as first notice day approaches. It may benefit you to be aware of the first notice day trick.) Third, you may need to know the exchange where the contract you want is traded. Although a number of futures markets are traded on only one exchange, some are traded at several exchanges. For example, if you want to trade hard red winter wheat, you have to specify the wheat contract traded at the Kansas City Board of Trade, not the wheat contracts traded in Chicago or Minneapolis. Fourth, you may need to be specific about the time of day you want to trade or the size of the contract you want to trade. Table 1.1 does not show all the symbols differentiating between the day session s regular trading hours and the electronic or after-hours night sessions. Nor are the symbols given for most of the mini-sized electronic products traded at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade.
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