A Guide to Futures Market Expiration Dates

futures contract expiration dates explanation
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A futures contract is an agreement between the buyer and seller of the contract to exchange cash for a specific amount of the underlying product (commodity, stock, currency, etc). For example, if a trader buys a CME Crude Oil futures contract (CL) at $63, with a July expiry, the buyer is agreeing to buy 1,000 barrels of oil at a price of $63 a barrel when the contract expires in July. The seller is agreeing to give the buyer 1,000 barrels of oil at a price of $63 a barrel.

Futures contracts are typically divided into several (usually four or more) expiry dates throughout the year. Each of the futures contracts is active (can be traded) for a specific amount of time. The contract then expires and cannot be traded anymore. The date upon which a futures contract expires is known as its expiration date. Expiration dates are fixed for each futures contract by the exchange that provides the market, such as the ones owned by CME Group, for example.

Expiration Dates for Stocks and Indexes

The expiration dates for U.S. stock and stock index futures contracts fall on the third Friday of every third month. This table shows these expiration dates through 2022.

2019 2020 2021 2022
March 15 March 20 March 19 March 18
June 21 June 19 June 18 June 17
September 20 September 18 September 17 September 16
December 20 December 18 December 17 December 16

Additional Futures Expiration Dates

Many other kinds of futures contracts expire on different dates, depending on the exchange that handles the contracts. Be aware of the expiration date for the specific 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 an expiration date further out. 

Finding Futures Expiration Dates

You can also look up expiration dates on the website of the exchange on which a contract is listed. To see the expiration date for your specific futures contract listed on a CME Group exchange:

  • Go to cmegroup.com and put your cursor over Trading
  • Click on the category your futures contract belongs to
  • Find your contract and click on the link or click on View Full Contract Specs
  • Click on the Calendar tab
  • Note the contract (month) you are trading and look for the Last Trade date, which is the expiration date

To see the expiration date for your specific futures contract listed on the ICE, or Intercontinental Exchange:

  • Go to theice.com and click on Markets and then on a category of product
  • Click on a specific product
  • Note the contract (month) you are trading and look for the LTD, which stands for "last trade date" and is the expiration date 

Expiry dates for futures products traded on other exchanges can be found in a similar fashion on the appropriate exchange's website. In addition, some trading platforms also indicate when a futures contract expires.

Why Futures Contracts Expire

Most futures contracts are not held until expiration, and therefore there is no exchange of, for example, barrels of oil. Rather, traders simply make money off the price fluctuations in the futures contract following their trade.

Still, the true purpose of a commodity futures contract is to exchange goods for cash at some future date. The expiration date represents the day when that cash-for-physical-goods transaction takes place. That is why futures have an expiration date, as farmers and commercial goods producers use the futures market to buy or sell goods at pre-determined contract prices at a future date. 

This is also why most short-term traders get out of their futures positions before they expire, as they don't want to physically buy or sell the underlying product. If the trader wants to maintain their position in the underlying product, the trader can place a trade in another futures contract with an expiry date that is further out.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.