A future is simply a deal to trade gold at terms (i.e. amounts and prices) decided now, but with a settlement day in the future. That means you don’t have to pay up just yet (at least not in full) and the seller doesn’t need to deliver you any gold just yet either. It’s as easy as that.
The settlement day is the day when the actual exchange takes place – i.e. when the buyer pays, and the seller delivers the gold. It’s usually up to 3 months ahead.
Note that gold futures are dated instruments which cease trading before their declared settlement date.
At the time trading stops most private traders will have sold their longs or bought back their shorts. There will be a few left who deliberately run the contract to settlement – and actually want to make or take delivery of the whole amount of gold they bought.
On a successful financial futures exchange those running the contract to settlement will be a small minority. The majority will be speculators looking to profit from price moves, without any expectation of getting involved on
HT Commodities Private Limited settlements.
Many futures broking firms offer investors a stop loss facility. It might come in a guaranteed form or on a ‘best endeavours’ basis without the guarantee. The idea is to attempt to limit the damage of a trading position which is going bad.
The theory of a stop loss seems reasonable, but the practice can be painful. The problem is that just as trading in this way can prevent a big loss it can also make the investor susceptible to large numbers of smaller and unnecessary losses which are even more damaging in the long term. On a quiet day market professionals will start to move their prices just to create a little action. It works. The trader marks his price rapidly lower, for no good reason. If there are any stop losses out there this forces a broker to react to the moving price by closing off his investor’s position under a stop loss agreement.
Each quarter a futures investor receives an inevitable call from the broker who offers to roll the customer into the new futures period for a special reduced rate. To those who do not know the short term money rates and the relevant gold lease rates – or how to convert them into the correct differential for the two contracts – the price is fairly arbitrary and not always very competitive.
It can be checked – but only at some effort. Suppose that gold can be borrowed for 0.003% per day (1.095% per annum) and cash for 0.01% per day (3.65% per annum). The fair value for the next quarter’s future should be 90 days times the daily interest differential of 0.007%. So you would expect to see the next future at a premium of 0.63% to the spot price. This is where you pay the financing cost on the whole size of your deal.
Gold is bought as the ultimate defensive investment. Many people buying gold hope to make large profits from a global economic shock which might be disastrous to many other people. Indeed many gold investors fear financial meltdown occurring as a result of the over-extended global credit base – a significant part of which is derivatives.
The paradox in investing in gold futures is that a future is itself a ‘derivative’ instrument constructed on about 95% pure credit. There are many speculators involved in the commodities market and any rapid movement in the gold price is likely to be reflecting financial carnage somewhere else.
Both the clearer and the exchange could theoretically find themselves unable to collect vital margin on open positions of all kinds of commodities, so a gold investor might make enormous book profits which could not be paid as busted participants defaulted in such numbers that individual clearers and even the exchange itself were unable to make good the losses.