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Participate in a Commodity Pool

Another alternative method of participating in futures trading is through a commodity pool, which is similar in concept to a common stock mutual fund. It is the only method of participation in which you will not have your own individual trading account. Instead, your money will be combined with that of other pool participants and, in effect, traded as a single account. You share in the profits or losses of the pool in proportion to your investment in the pool. One potential advantage is greater diversification of risks than you might obtain if you were to establish your own trading account. Another is that your risk of loss is generally limited to your investment in the pool, because most pools are formed as limited partnerships. And you won't be subject to margin calls.

Bear in mind, however, that the risks that a pool incurs in any given futures transaction are no different than the risks incurred by an individual trader. The pool still trades in futures contracts, which are highly leveraged and in markets that can be highly volatile. And like an individual trader, the pool can suffer substantial losses. A major consideration, therefore, is who will be managing the pool in terms of directing its trading.

While a pool must execute all of its trades through a brokerage firm that is registered with the CFTC as an FCM, it may or may not have any other affiliation with the brokerage firm. Some brokerage firms, to serve those customers who prefer to participate in commodity trading through a pool, either operate or have a relationship with one or more commodity trading pools. Other pools operate independently.

In most instances, a Commodity Pool Operator (CPO) cannot accept your money until it has provided you with a Disclosure Document that contains information about the pool operator, the pool's principals and any outside persons who will be providing trading advice or making trading decisions. It must also disclose the previous performance records, if any, of all persons who will be operating or advising the pool (or, if none, a statement to that effect). Disclosure Documents contain important information and should be carefully read before you invest your money. Another requirement is that the Disclosure Document advise you of the risks involved.

In the case of a new pool, there is frequently a provision that the pool will not begin trading until (and unless) a certain amount of money is raised. Normally, a time deadline is set and the CPO is required to state in the Disclosure Document what that deadline is (or, if there is none, that the time period for raising funds is indefinite). Be sure you understand the terms, including how your money will be invested in the meantime, what interest you will earn (if any), and how and when your investment will be returned in the event the pool does not commence trading.

Determine whether you will be responsible for any losses in excess of your investment in the pool. If so, this must be indicated prominently at the beginning of the pool's Disclosure Document.

Ask about fees and other costs, including what, if any, initial charges will be made against your investment for organizational or administrative expenses. Such information should be noted in the Disclosure Document. You should also determine from the Disclosure Document how the pool's operator and advisor are compensated. Understand, too, the procedure for redeeming your shares in the pool, any restrictions that may exist, and provisions for liquidating and dissolving the pool if more than a certain percentage of the capital were to be lost.

Ask about the pool operator's general trading philosophy, what types of contracts will be traded, whether they will be day-traded, etc.

With a few exceptions, CPOs must be registered with the CFTC and be Members of NFA. You can verify that these requirements have been met by conducting a background search on NFA's BASIC system or by contacting NFA toll-free at 800-621-3570.

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