Strategies involving futures can broadly be described as either hedging strategies or speculative strategies.
In using futures to hedge, you may be looking to lock in the value of a portfolio of shares you hold. Alternatively, you can use futures to hedge an anticipated purchase of shares. In using futures to hedge, you are reducing the risk of your share portfolio.
Futures also are an ideal way of gaining leveraged exposure to moves in the sharemarket, enabling you to trade a view on the broad market in one transaction. This use of futures offers the possibility of large percentage returns on your trades – at the same time, you are exposed to the risk of significant losses.
Described below are two strategies that give you exposure to the sharemarket through futures.
- Sell futures to hedge a share portfolio
- Buy futures for leveraged exposure
Sell futures to hedge a share portfolio
Assume you hold a share portfolio that trades in line with the S&P/ASX50 Index. By selling index futures, you can lock in the value of the portfolio until maturity of the futures contract.
If the index falls after you sell the futures contract, the value of your portfolio will also fall, and so too will the price of the index futures contract. The loss on your shares will be offset by a profit on the futures transaction when you close out your futures position.
If on the other hand the index rises, both the futures price and the value of your share portfolio will increase. The increase in the value of your shares will be offset by a loss on the futures transaction.
This illustrates an important difference between the use of put options and the use of futures to protect shareholdings. In selling futures you do not have the possibility of benefiting from a rise in the value of your shares, as any increase in their value will be offset by a loss on the futures contract; in contrast, buying a put option still allows you to benefit from a rise in the value of your portfolio. However, in selling futures you do not incur the expense of the premium you must pay when you buy a put option.
Example: Assume you own a portfolio of shares that trades approximately in line with the S&P/ASX50 Index. On July 1 your portfolio is worth $120,000. You are concerned that over the next two to three months the sharemarket will decline, and want to lock in the value of your portfolio.
The S&P/ASX50 Index stands at 3050 points, and ASX Mini50 futures are trading at 3080 points. You sell four ASX Mini50 futures contracts at 3080 points.
At the start of September, the S&P/ASX50 Index has fallen to 2870 points, and your share portfolio is now worth $112,500. ASX Mini50 futures are trading at 2880 points. You decide to close out your futures position by buying back the four ASX Mini50 futures contracts.
The table shows the results of your hedging strategy:
|1 July||1 July|
|S&P/ASX50 - 3050 points
Share portfolio - $120,000
|Sell 4 ASX Mini50 futures @ 3080 points
= 4 X 3080 X $10
(Initial margin payment = $4,000)
|1 September||1 September|
|S&P/ASX50 - 2870 points
Share portfolio - $112,500
Unrealised loss = $7,500
|Buy 4 ASX Mini50 futures @ 2880 points
= 4 X 2880 X $10
Profit on futures = $8,000
You can see that the loss in value of your share portfolio has been offset by the profit you made on the futures transaction.
You have in fact made more on the futures transaction than you lost on your share portfolio. This is due to three factors:
- you were slightly over-hedged – you sold futures contracts with a total face value of $123,200, although your share portfolio was worth only $120,000
- your share portfolio may not have moved exactly in line with the S&P/ASX50 Index
- the futures and physical prices have converged. When you opened the futures position futures were trading at a 30-point premium to the index; when you closed the futures position the premium was just 10 points. Convergence is a normal characteristic of futures pricing. See How futures are valued for more details.
The initial margin assumed in this example is $1,000 per contract. Initial margins are determined by ACH according to the volatility of the underlying index and are reviewed regularly.
While your futures position remained open, you would have been subject to variation margins. See Futures margins for more information on the way futures positions are margined.
The hedging strategy has protected the value of your share portfolio. Had the S&P/ASX50 Index risen over this period, your share portfolio would have increased in value, however you would have suffered a loss on closing out your futures position. The overall result would have been similar – a profit in one instrument offsetting a loss in the other.
Buy futures for leveraged exposure
ASX Mini Index Futures provide you with leveraged exposure to movements in the underlying index. Your initial outlay when you trade a futures contract is a small percentage of the value of the contract. Therefore, if the market moves in your favour, the percentage returns you make from trading the futures contract will be significantly higher than the percentage movement in the underlying index.
Example: Assume it is early November, and the S&P/ASX200 Index is at 3380. You believe the market will rise over the next few weeks, and decide to buy an ASX Mini200 future. The December contract is trading at 3405 points.
Two weeks later, the index has risen to 3490 points, and the December futures contract is trading at 3509 points, You decide to close out your position by selling the December futures contract.
|Opening trade||Buy 1 December ASX Mini200 future|
|Futures price/value||3405.0 / $34,050|
|Initial margin paid||$1,000|
|Closing trade||Sell 1 December ASX Mini200 future|
|Futures price/value||3509.0 / $35,090|
|Initial margin refunded||$1,000|
Note: the initial margin assumed in this example is $1,000.
Because your outlay at the time of the opening transaction is limited to the initial margin, the percentage return made on your investment is greater than the movement in the underlying index.
It is important to understand that the leveraged exposure provided by futures can also lead to substantial losses. If in the example the market had fallen, the losses you would have suffered on the trade would have been greater in percentage terms than the decline in the index.
You should discuss with your investment adviser whether the risks of leveraged exposure are appropriate to your circumstances.