Profile of the S&P 500 (ES) Futures Market

Learn the basics of trading S&P 500, known as ES, futures

day trading e-mini S&P 500 ES futures
Day Trading ES Futures. Cory Mitchell, Indicators: thedaytradingacademy.com

Futures that trade under the symbol ES are based on the S&P 500 stock index, a well-recognized benchmark for US stocks. The S&P 500 index is calculated using the stock prices of 500 large capitalization US companies.

ES futures trades on the Globex electronic trading system, 24 hours per day from 5:00 PM Central Time on Sunday night to 4:15 PM Central Time on Friday night. Trading is halted between 3:15 and 3:30 PM CT each day.

The ES futures market (active contract) has a daily trading volume typically between 1 and 2.2 million contracts. This fluctuates with volatility; volatile days have higher volume and low volatility days are more toward the lower end of the range.  Based on Average True Range, ES futures typically see a daily range of 15 points when volatility is lower and upwards of 20 points when volatility is heightened. 

ES Contract Specifications

The contract specifications for the ES futures market are as follows :

  • Symbol: ES
  • Expiration months: March, June September and December
  • Exchange: CME Globex
  • Currency: US Dollar
  • Tick size / Minimum price fluctuation: 0.25
  • Tick value / Profit/loss per tick: $12.50
  • Ticks per point: 4 (making each point worth $50)

Knowing your tick values is very important for controlling risk and trading the proper futures position size

The base symbol of the E-mini S&P 500 future is ES, but since there are multiple expiry dates for each year the full symbol is longer.

Each expiry month has a code:

  • March is H
  • June is M,
  • September is U
  • December is Z

If trading the March contract, the symbol is ESH, for example, but we also need to know the year. Take the last digit of the year you are trading and add it to the symbol. In 2015 the symbol would be ESH5. In 2017 the March contract will be ESH7.

The December 2019 contract will be ESZ9.

Some websites and platforms use the last 2 digits of the year, for example, ESU16 for the September 2016 contract. See Futures Market Expiration Dates for more information.

S&P 500 (ES) Holidays

The ES futures market is open for trading every trading day (Monday to Friday), except for the holidays, which can be found here: CME Holiday Calendar.

Trading E-Mini S&P 500 (ES) Futures

The E-mini S&P 500 (ES) futures are some of the most liquid in the world and are the preferred choice of many day traders. If you don't like research and want to day trade the same product each day, ES is a great one. It offers movement and volume--a great combination for consistent daily profits. 

The couple hours surrounding the open often have the best price movement and volume, and are ideal for day trading (see: Best Times to Day Trade the Stock Market).

Practice your ES day trading strategy before trading with real capital. There are a number of programs, including NinjaTrader, that allow you download previous trading days and trade them whenever you want--like you were trading in real time. This is very beneficial if you have limited time or want to practice in the evening (when the market isn't open).

Risk management is paramount for successful ES trading. How much you start trading with will depend on your strategy and how much you are willing to risk per trade. It's recommended traders start day trading with at least $3500 for day trading one ES contract--that's using a 5 tick stop loss (or less) and risking 2% per trade. Risking only 1% is better, which would mean starting with $6,500 to $7,000.

More Information on ES and Other Futures

The CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) website is available at http://www.cmegroup.com/ and provides additional information about the exchange, its trading system. They also provide additional information about trading the E-mini S&P 500 ES futures market, including margins and current quotes. 

Edited and updated by Cory Mitchell.