A futures contract is an agreement between a contract buyer and seller to exchange cash for a product ( commodity, stock, currency). For example, a trader might buy a CME Crude Oil futures contract (CL) at $63 with a July expiry. They set up a trade where a trader buys 1,000 barrels of oil for $63 per barrel when the contract expires in July. The seller gives the buyer 1,000 barrels of oil for $63 per barrel at that time, no matter the market price.
Futures Expiry Dates
Futures contracts are based on commodities brought to exchange and bought by parties that need them. Corn, oil, beef, precious metals, and other materials are examples of items that are bought and sold on exchanges.
Investment companies use these products to create securities. They then sell them on the exchanges. Futures contracts (the securities) are traded based on the prices of the underlying products. This means that the prices of these securities rise and fall with the price of the products.
As well as following the price changes, the futures contracts have expiry dates that match the expiry date of the commodity contract. Many kinds of futures contracts expire on different dates.
Expiry dates are fixed for each futures contract by the exchange that provides the market.
Their expiry dates are also based on the exchange that handles the contracts. Be aware of the expiry date for the contract you are trading; it will be stated in the contract language.
If you notice a drastic decline in volume from one day to the next, you are likely nearing expiration on that futures contract, as most traders have switched to trading a contract with a date further out.
Futures contracts are divided into several (usually four or more) expiry dates throughout the year. Each of the futures contracts is active (can be traded) for an amount of time. The contract then expires and cannot be traded anymore. The date upon which a futures contract expires is known as its "expiry date."
Expiry Dates for Stocks, Indexes
The expiry dates for U.S. stock and stock index futures contracts fall on the third Friday of every third month. This table shows these dates through 2024.
|March 19||March 18||March 17||March 15|
|June 18||June 17||June 16||June 21|
|September 17||September 16||September 15||September 20|
|December 17||December 16||December 15||December 20|
Finding Futures Expiry Dates
You can also lookup expiration dates on the website of the exchange on which a contract is listed. To see the expiry date for your futures contract listed on a CME Group exchange:
- Go to cmegroup.com, and put your cursor over Markets.
- Click on the category your futures contract belongs to.
- Find your contract, and click on the link.
- Click on the Calendar tab.
- Note the contract (month) you are trading, and look for the Settlement date.
To see the expiry date for your specific futures contract listed on the ICE or Intercontinental Exchange:
- Go to theice.com, click on Markets, and then on a category of product.
- Click on ICE Product Guide.
- Find the product you're trading and click on it.
- Note the contract (month) you are trading and look for the Last Trading Day.
Expiry dates for futures products traded on other exchanges can be found the same way on the exchange's website. In addition, some trading platforms also show when a futures contract expires.
Why Futures Contracts Expire
Most futures contracts are not held until expiry, so there is no exchange of barrels of oil or corn. Instead, traders make money off the price changes in the futures contract when they trade.
Still, the true purpose of a commodity futures contract is to exchange goods for cash at some future date. The expiry date represents the day when that cash-for-goods exchange takes place.
Futures have an expiry date because farmers and producers use the futures market to buy or sell goods at contracted prices.
This is also why most short-term traders get out of their futures positions before they expire. They don't want to take the product. If the trader wants to maintain their position in the product, they can place a trade in another futures contract with an expiry date that is further out.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you trade futures?
Trading futures is similar to trading stocks; you just need to open a brokerage account with an institution that lets you buy and sell futures. However, opening an account with a futures broker isn't quite as simple as opening a stock trading account. Some brokers might not offer futures trading, and those that do might require a higher minimum account balance than needed for stock-trading accounts. Once you've opened an account, you just have to place buy and sell orders to start trading futures contracts.
What time does the futures market open and close?
The futures market is open nearly 24 hours per day from 6 p.m. EST Sunday through 5 p.m. Friday. There is a break between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., and some markets have other breaks, but traders can generally find a market to trade at any point during the week.