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SECURITY FUTURES CONTRACTS
This disclosure statement discusses the characteristics and risks of standardized security futures contracts traded on regulated U.S. exchanges. At present, regulated exchanges are authorized to list futures contracts on individual equity securities registered under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (including common stock and certain exchange-traded funds and American Depositary Receipts), as well as narrow-based security indices. Futures on other types of securities and options on security futures contracts may be authorized in the future. The glossary of terms appears at the end of the document.
Customers should be aware that the examples in this document are exclusive of fees and commissions that may decrease their net gains or increase their net losses. The examples also do not include tax consequences, which may differ for each customer.
1.1. Risks of Security Futures Transactions
Trading security futures contracts may not be suitable for all investors. You may lose a substantial amount of money in a very short period of time. The amount you may lose is potentially unlimited and can exceed the amount you originally deposit with your broker. This is because futures trading is highly leveraged, with a relatively small amount of money used to establish a position in assets having a much greater value. If you are uncomfortable with this level of risk, you should not trade security futures contracts.
1.2. General Risks
- Trading security futures contracts involves risk and may result in potentially unlimited losses that are greater than the amount you deposited with your broker. As with any high risk financial product, you should not risk any funds that you cannot afford to lose, such as your retirement savings, medical and other emergency funds, funds set aside for purposes such as education or home ownership, proceeds from student loans or mortgages, or funds required to meet your living expenses.
- Be cautious of claims that you can make large profits from trading security futures contracts. Although the high degree of leverage in security futures contracts can result in large and immediate gains, it can also result in large and immediate losses. As with any financial product, there is no such thing as a "sure winner."
- Because of the leverage involved and the nature of security futures contract transactions, you may feel the effects of your losses immediately. Gains and losses in security futures contracts are credited or debited to your account, at a minimum, on a daily basis. If movements in the markets for security futures contracts or the underlying security decrease the value of your positions in security futures contracts, you may be required to have or make additional funds available to your carrying firm as margin. If your account is under the minimum margin requirements set by the exchange or the brokerage firm, your position may be liquidated at a loss, and you will be liable for the deficit, if any, in your account. Margin requirements are addressed in Section 4.
- Under certain market conditions, it may be difficult or impossible to liquidate a position. Generally, you must enter into an offsetting transaction in order to liquidate a position in a security futures contract. If you cannot liquidate your position in security futures contracts, you may not be able to realize a gain in the value of your position or prevent losses from mounting. This inability to liquidate could occur, for example, if trading is halted due to unusual trading activity in either the security futures contract or the underlying security; if trading is halted due to recent news events involving the issuer of the underlying security; if systems failures occur on an exchange or at the firm carrying your position; or if the position is on an illiquid market. Even if you can liquidate your position, you may be forced to do so at a price that involves a large loss.
- Under certain market conditions, it may also be difficult or impossible to manage your risk from open security futures positions by entering into an equivalent but opposite position in another contract month, on another market, or in the underlying security. This inability to take positions to limit your risk could occur, for example, if trading is halted across markets due to unusual trading activity in the security futures contract or the underlying security or due to recent news events involving the issuer of the underlying security.
- Under certain market conditions, the prices of security futures contracts may not maintain their customary or anticipated relationships to the prices of the underlying security or index. These pricing disparities could occur, for example, when the market for the security futures contract is illiquid, when the primary market for the underlying security is closed, or when the reporting of transactions in the underlying security has been delayed. For index products, it could also occur when trading is delayed or halted in some or all of the securities that make up the index.
- You may be required to settle certain security futures contracts with physical delivery of the underlying security. If you hold your position in a physically settled security futures contract until the end of the last trading day prior to expiration, you will be obligated to make or take delivery of the underlying securities, which could involve additional costs. The actual settlement terms may vary from contract to contract and exchange to exchange. You should carefully review the settlement and delivery conditions before entering into a security futures contract. Settlement and delivery are discussed in Section 5.
- You may experience losses due to systems failures. As with any financial transaction, you may experience losses if your orders for security futures contracts cannot be executed normally due to systems failures on a regulated exchange or at the brokerage firm carrying your position. Your losses may be greater if the brokerage firm carrying your position does not have adequate back-up systems or procedures.
- All security futures contracts involve risk, and there is no trading strategy that can eliminate it. Strategies using combinations of positions, such as spreads, may be as risky as outright long or short positions. Trading in security futures contracts requires knowledge of both the securities and the futures markets.
- Day trading strategies involving security futures contracts and other products pose special risks. As with any financial product, persons who seek to purchase and sell the same security future in the course of a day to profit from intra-day price movements ("day traders") face a number of special risks, including substantial commissions, exposure to leverage, and competition with professional traders. You should thoroughly understand these risks and have appropriate experience before engaging in day trading. The special risks for day traders are discussed more fully in Section 7.
- Placing contingent orders, if permitted, such as "stop-loss" or "stop-limit" orders, will not necessarily limit your losses to the intended amount. Some regulated exchanges may permit you to enter into stop-loss or stop-limit orders for security futures contracts, which are intended to limit your exposure to losses due to market fluctuations. However, market conditions may make it impossible to execute the order or to get the stop price.
- You should thoroughly read and understand the customer account agreement with your brokerage firm before entering into any transactions in security futures contracts.
- You should thoroughly understand the regulatory protections available to your funds and positions in the event of the failure of your brokerage firm. The regulatory protections available to your funds and positions in the event of the failure of your brokerage firm may vary depending on, among other factors, the contract you are trading and whether you are trading through a securities account or a futures account. Firms that allow customers to trade security futures in either securities accounts or futures accounts, or both, are required to disclose to customers the differences in regulatory protections between such accounts, and, where appropriate, how customers may elect to trade in either type of account.
2.1. What is a Security Futures Contract?
A security futures contract is a legally binding agreement between two parties to purchase or sell in the future a specific quantity of shares of a security or of the component securities of a narrow-based security index, at a certain price. A person who buys a security futures contract enters into a contract to purchase an underlying security and is said to be "long" the contract. A person who sells a security futures contract enters into a contract to sell the underlying security and is said to be "short" the contract. The price at which the contract trades (the "contract price") is determined by relative buying and selling interest on a regulated exchange.
In order to enter into a security futures contract, you must deposit funds with your brokerage firm equal to a specified percentage (usually at least 20 percent) of the current market value of the contract as a performance bond. Moreover, all security futures contracts are marked-to-market at least daily, usually after the close of trading, as described in Section 3 of this document. At that time, the account of each buyer and seller reflects the amount of any gain or loss on the security futures contract based on the contract price established at the end of the day for settlement purposes (the "daily settlement price").
An open position, either a long or short position, is closed or liquidated by entering into an offsetting transaction (i.e., an equal and opposite transaction to the one that opened the position) prior to the contract expiration. Traditionally, most futures contracts are liquidated prior to expiration through an offsetting transaction and, thus, holders do not incur a settlement obligation.
- Investor A is long one September XYZ Corp. futures contract. To liquidate the long position in the September XYZ Corp. futures contract, Investor A would sell an identical September XYZ Corp. contract.
Investor B is short one December XYZ Corp. futures contract. To liquidate the short position in the December XYZ Corp. futures contract, Investor B would buy an identical December XYZ Corp. contract.
Security futures contracts that are not liquidated prior to expiration must be settled in accordance with the terms of the contract. Some security futures contracts are settled by physical delivery of the underlying security. At the expiration of a security futures contract that is settled through physical delivery, a person who is long the contract must pay the final settlement price set by the regulated exchange or the clearing organization and take delivery of the underlying shares. Conversely, a person who is short the contract must make delivery of the underlying shares in exchange for the final settlement price.
Other security futures contracts are settled through cash settlement. In this case, the underlying security is not delivered. Instead, any positions in such security futures contracts that are open at the end of the last trading day are settled through a final cash payment based on a final settlement price determined by the exchange or clearing organization. Once this payment is made, neither party has any further obligations on the contract.
Physical delivery and cash settlement are discussed more fully in Section 5.
2.2. Purposes of Security Futures
Security futures contracts can be used for speculation, hedging, and risk management. Security futures contracts do not provide capital growth or income.
Speculators are individuals or firms who seek to profit from anticipated increases or decreases in futures prices. A speculator who expects the price of the underlying instrument to increase will buy the security futures contract. A speculator who expects the price of the underlying instrument to decrease will sell the security futures contract. Speculation involves substantial risk and can lead to large losses as well as profits.
The most common trading strategies involving security futures contracts are buying with the hope of profiting from an anticipated price increase and selling with the hope of profiting from an anticipated price decrease. For example, a person who expects the price of XYZ stock to increase by March can buy a March XYZ security futures contract, and a person who expects the price of XYZ stock to decrease by March can sell a March XYZ security futures contract. The following illustrates potential profits and losses if Customer A purchases the security futures contract at $50 a share and Customer B sells the same contract at $50 a share (assuming 100 shares per contract).
|Price of XYZ at Liquidation||Customer A Profit/Loss||Customer B Profit/Loss|
|$55||$500||- $500||$50||0||0||$45||- $500||$500|
Speculators may also enter into spreads with the hope of profiting from an expected change in price relationships. Spreaders may purchase a contract expiring in one contract month and sell another contract on the same underlying security expiring in a different month (e.g., buy June and sell September XYZ single stock futures). This is commonly referred to as a "calendar spread."
Spreaders may also purchase and sell the same contract month in two different but economically correlated security futures contracts. For example, if ABC and XYZ are both pharmaceutical companies and an individual believes that ABC will have stronger growth than XYZ between now and June, he could buy June ABC futures contracts and sell June XYZ futures contracts. Assuming that each contract is 100 shares, the following illustrates how this works.
|Opening Position||Price at Liquidation||Gain or Loss||Price at Liquidation||Gain or Loss|
|Buy ABC at 50||$50||$300||53||$300||Sell XYZ at 45||$46||- $100||$50||- $500||Net Gain or Loss||$200||- $200|
Speculators can also engage in arbitrage, which is similar to a spread except that the long and short positions occur on two different markets. An arbitrage position can be established by taking an economically opposite position in a security futures contract on another exchange, in an options contract, or in the underlying security.
Generally speaking, hedging involves the purchase or sale of a security future to reduce or offset the risk of a position in the underlying security or group of securities (or a close economic equivalent). A hedger gives up the potential to profit from a favorable price change in the position being hedged in order to minimize the risk of loss from an adverse price change.
An investor who wants to lock in a price now for an anticipated sale of the underlying security at a later date can do so by hedging with security futures. For example, assume an investor owns 1,000 shares of ABC that have appreciated since he bought them. The investor would like to sell them at the current price of $50 per share, but there are tax or other reasons for holding them until September. The investor could sell ten 100-share ABC futures contracts and then buy back those contracts in September when he sells the stock. Assuming the stock price and the futures price change by the same amount, the gain or loss in the stock will be offset by the loss or gain in the futures contracts.
|Value of 1,000
Shares of ABC
|Gain or Loss
Although hedging mitigates risk, it does not eliminate all risk. For example, the relationship between the price of the security futures contract and the price of the underlying security traditionally tends to remain constant over time, but it can and does vary somewhat. Furthermore, the expiration or liquidation of the security futures contract may not coincide with the exact time the hedger buys or sells the underlying stock. Therefore, hedging may not be a perfect protection against price risk.
Some institutions also use futures contracts to manage portfolio risks without necessarily intending to change the composition of their portfolio by buying or selling the underlying securities. The institution does so by taking a security futures position that is opposite to some or all of its position in the underlying securities. This strategy involves more risk than a traditional hedge because it is not meant to be a substitute for an anticipated purchase or sale.
2.3. Where Security Futures Trade
By law, security futures contracts must trade on a regulated U.S. exchange. Each regulated U.S. exchange that trades security futures contracts is subject to joint regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
A person holding a position in a security futures contract who seeks to liquidate the position must do so either on the regulated exchange where the original trade took place or on another regulated exchange, if any, where a fungible security futures contract trades. (A person may also seek to manage the risk in that position by taking an opposite position in a comparable contract traded on another regulated exchange.)
Security futures contracts traded on one regulated exchange might not be fungible with security futures contracts traded on another regulated exchange for a variety of reasons. Security futures traded on different regulated exchanges may be non-fungible because they have different contract terms (e.g., size, settlement method), or because they are cleared through different clearing organizations. Moreover, a regulated exchange might not permit its security futures contracts to be offset or liquidated by an identical contract traded on another regulated exchange, even though they have the same contract terms and are cleared through the same clearing organization. You should consult your broker about the fungibility of the contract you are considering purchasing or selling, including which exchange(s), if any, on which it may be offset.
Regulated exchanges that trade security futures contracts are required by law to establish certain listing standards. Changes in the underlying security of a security futures contract may, in some cases, cause such contract to no longer meet the regulated exchange's listing standards. Each regulated exchange will have rules governing the continued trading of security futures contracts that no longer meet the exchange's listing standards. These rules may, for example, permit only liquidating trades in security futures contracts that no longer satisfy the listing standards.
2.4. How Security Futures Differ from the Underlying Security
Shares of common stock represent a fractional ownership interest in the issuer of that security. Ownership of securities confers various rights that are not present with positions in security futures contracts. For example, persons owning a share of common stock may be entitled to vote in matters affecting corporate governance. They also may be entitled to receive dividends and corporate disclosure, such as annual and quarterly reports.
The purchaser of a security futures contract, by contrast, has only a contract for future delivery of the underlying security. The purchaser of the security futures contract is not entitled to exercise any voting rights over the underlying security and is not entitled to any dividends that may be paid by the issuer. Moreover, the purchaser of a security futures contract does not receive the corporate disclosures that are received by shareholders of the underlying security, although such corporate disclosures must be made publicly available through the SEC's EDGAR system, which can be accessed at www.sec.gov. You should review such disclosures before entering into a security futures contract. See Section 9 for further discussion of the impact of corporate events on a security futures contract.
All security futures contracts are marked-to-market at least daily, usually after the close of trading, as described in Section 3 of this document. At that time, the account of each buyer and seller is credited with the amount of any gain, or debited by the amount of any loss, on the security futures contract, based on the contract price established at the end of the day for settlement purposes (the "daily settlement price"). By contrast, the purchaser or seller of the underlying instrument does not have the profit and loss from his or her investment credited or debited until the position in that instrument is closed out.
Naturally, as with any financial product, the value of the security futures contract and of the underlying security may fluctuate. However, owning the underlying security does not require an investor to settle his or her profits and losses daily. By contrast, as a result of the mark-to-market requirements discussed above, a person who is long a security futures contract often will be required to deposit additional funds into his or her account as the price of the security futures contract decreases. Similarly, a person who is short a security futures contract often will be required to deposit additional funds into his or her account as the price of the security futures contract increases.
Another significant difference is that security futures contracts expire on a specific date. Unlike an owner of the underlying security, a person cannot hold a long position in a security futures contract for an extended period of time in the hope that the price will go up. If you do not liquidate your security futures contract, you will be required to settle the contract when it expires, either through physical delivery or cash settlement. For cash-settled contracts in particular, upon expiration, an individual will no longer have an economic interest in the securities underlying the security futures contract.
2.5. Comparison to Options
Although security futures contracts share some characteristics with options on securities (options contracts), these products are also different in a number of ways. Below are some of the important distinctions between equity options contracts and security futures contracts.
If you purchase an options contract, you have the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a security prior to the expiration date. If you sell an options contract, you have the obligation to buy or sell a security prior to the expiration date. By contrast, if you have a position in a security futures contract (either long or short), you have both the right and the obligation to buy or sell a security at a future date. The only way that you can avoid the obligation incurred by the security futures contract is to liquidate the position with an offsetting contract.
A person purchasing an options contract runs the risk of losing the purchase price (premium) for the option contract. Because it is a wasting asset, the purchaser of an options contract who neither liquidates the options contract in the secondary market nor exercises it at or prior to expiration will necessarily lose his or her entire investment in the options contract. However, a purchaser of an options contract cannot lose more than the amount of the premium. Conversely, the seller of an options contract receives the premium and assumes the risk that he or she will be required to buy or sell the underlying security on or prior to the expiration date, in which event his or her losses may exceed the amount of the premium received. Although the seller of an options contract is required to deposit margin to reflect the risk of its obligation, he or she may lose many times his or her initial margin deposit.
By contrast, the purchaser and seller of a security futures contract each enter into an agreement to buy or sell a specific quantity of shares in the underlying security. Based upon the movement in prices of the underlying security, a person who holds a position in a security futures contract can gain or lose many times his or her initial margin deposit. In this respect, the benefits of a security futures contract are similar to the benefits of purchasing an option, while the risks of entering into a security futures contract are similar to the risks of selling an option.
Both the purchaser and the seller of a security futures contract have daily margin obligations. At least once each day, security futures contracts are marked-to-market and the increase or decrease in the value of the contract is credited or debited to the buyer and the seller. As a result, any person who has an open position in a security futures contract may be called upon to meet additional margin requirements or may receive a credit of available funds.
- Assume that Customers A and B each anticipate an increase in the market price of XYZ stock, which is currently $50 a share. Customer A purchases an XYZ 50 call (covering 100 shares of XYZ at a premium of $5 per share). The option premium is $500 ($5 per share X 100 shares). Customer B purchases an XYZ security futures contract (covering 100 shares of XYZ). The total value of the contract is $5000 ($50 share value X 100 shares). The required margin is $1000 (or 20% of the contract value).
The most that Customer A can lose is $500, the option premium. Customer A breaks even at $55 per share, and makes money at higher prices. Customer B may lose more than his initial margin deposit. Unlike the options premium, the margin on a futures contract is not a cost but a performance bond. The losses for Customer B are not limited by this performance bond. Rather, the losses or gains are determined by the settlement price of the contract, as provided in the example above. Note that if the price of XYZ falls to $35 per share, Customer A loses only $500, whereas Customer B loses $1500.
2.6. Components of a Security Futures Contract
Each regulated exchange can choose the terms of the security futures contracts it lists, and those terms may differ from exchange to exchange or contract to contract. Some of those contract terms are discussed below. However, you should ask your broker for a copy of the contract specifications before trading a particular contract.
2.6.1. Each security futures contract has a set size. The size of a security futures contract is determined by the regulated exchange on which the contract trades. For example, a security futures contract for a single stock may be based on 100 shares of that stock. If prices are reported per share, the value of the contract would be the price times 100. For narrow-based security indices, the value of the contract is the price of the component securities times the multiplier set by the exchange as part of the contract terms.
2.6.2. Security futures contracts expire at set times determined by the listing exchange. For example, a particular contract may expire on a particular day, e.g., the third Friday of the expiration month. Up until expiration, you may liquidate an open position by offsetting your contract with a fungible opposite contract that expires in the same month. If you do not liquidate an open position before it expires, you will be required to make or take delivery of the underlying security or to settle the contract in cash after expiration.
2.6.3. Although security futures contracts on a particular security or a narrow-based security index may be listed and traded on more than one regulated exchange, the contract specifications may not be the same. Also, prices for contracts on the same security or index may vary on different regulated exchanges because of different contract specifications.
2.6.4. Prices of security futures contracts are usually quoted the same way prices are quoted in the underlying instrument. For example, a contract for an individual security would be quoted in dollars and cents per share. Contracts for indices would be quoted by an index number, usually stated to two decimal places.
2.6.5. Each security futures contract has a minimum price fluctuation (called a tick), which may differ from product to product or exchange to exchange. For example, if a particular security futures contract has a tick size of 1¢, you can buy the contract at $23.21 or $23.22 but not at $23.215.
2.7. Trading Halts
The value of your positions in security futures contracts could be affected if trading is halted in either the security futures contract or the underlying security. In certain circumstances, regulated exchanges are required by law to halt trading in security futures contracts. For example, trading on a particular security futures contract must be halted if trading is halted on the listed market for the underlying security as a result of pending news, regulatory concerns, or market volatility. Similarly, trading of a security futures contract on a narrow-based security index must be halted under such circumstances if trading is halted on securities accounting for at least 50 percent of the market capitalization of the index. In addition, regulated exchanges are required to halt trading in all security futures contracts for a specified period of time when the Dow Jones Industrial Average ("DJIA") experiences one-day declines of 10-, 20- and 30-percent. The regulated exchanges may also have discretion under their rules to halt trading in other circumstances – such as when the exchange determines that the halt would be advisable in maintaining a fair and orderly market.
A trading halt, either by a regulated exchange that trades security futures or an exchange trading the underlying security or instrument, could prevent you from liquidating a position in security futures contracts in a timely manner, which could prevent you from liquidating a position in security futures contracts at that time.
2.8. Trading Hours
Each regulated exchange trading a security futures contract may open and close for trading at different times than other regulated exchanges trading security futures contracts or markets trading the underlying security or securities. Trading in security futures contracts prior to the opening or after the close of the primary market for the underlying security may be less liquid than trading during regular market hours.
Every regulated U.S. exchange that trades security futures contracts is required to have a relationship with a clearing organization that serves as the guarantor of each security futures contract traded on that exchange. A clearing organization performs the following functions: matching trades; effecting settlement and payments; guaranteeing performance; and facilitating deliveries.
Throughout each trading day, the clearing organization matches trade data submitted by clearing members on behalf of their customers or for the clearing member's proprietary accounts. If an account is with a brokerage firm that is not a member of the clearing organization, then the brokerage firm will carry the security futures position with another brokerage firm that is a member of the clearing organization. Trade records that do not match, either because of a discrepancy in the details or because one side of the transaction is missing, are returned to the submitting clearing members for resolution. The members are required to resolve such "out trades" before or on the open of trading the next morning.
When the required details of a reported transaction have been verified, the clearing organization assumes the legal and financial obligations of the parties to the transaction. One way to think of the role of the clearing organization is that it is the "buyer to every seller and the seller to every buyer." The insertion or substitution of the clearing organization as the counterparty to every transaction enables a customer to liquidate a security futures position without regard to what the other party to the original security futures contract decides to do.
The clearing organization also effects the settlement of gains and losses from security futures contracts between clearing members. At least once each day, clearing member brokerage firms must either pay to, or receive from, the clearing organization the difference between the current price and the trade price earlier in the day, or for a position carried over from the previous day, the difference between the current price and the previous day's settlement price. Whether a clearing organization effects settlement of gains and losses on a daily basis or more frequently will depend on the conventions of the clearing organization and market conditions. Because the clearing organization assumes the legal and financial obligations for each security futures contract, you should expect it to ensure that payments are made promptly to protect its obligations.
Gains and losses in security futures contracts are also reflected in each customer's account on at least a daily basis. Each day's gains and losses are determined based on a daily settlement price disseminated by the regulated exchange trading the security futures contract or its clearing organization. If the daily settlement price of a particular security futures contract rises, the buyer has a gain and the seller a loss. If the daily settlement price declines, the buyer has a loss and the seller a gain. This process is known as "marking-to-market" or daily settlement. As a result, individual customers normally will be called on to settle daily.
The one-day gain or loss on a security futures contract is determined by calculating the difference between the current day's settlement price and the previous day's settlement price.
- For example, assume a security futures contract is purchased at a price of $120. If the daily settlement price is either $125 (higher) or $117 (lower), the effects would be as follows:
|(1 contract representing 100 shares)||Daily
The cumulative gain or loss on a customer's open security futures positions is generally referred to as "open trade equity" and is listed as a separate component of account equity on your customer account statement.
A discussion of the role of the clearing organization in effecting delivery is discussed in Section 5.
In the first instance, margin requirements for security futures contracts are set by the exchange on which the contract is traded, subject to certain minimums set by law. The basic margin requirement is 20% of the current value of the security futures contract, although some strategies may have lower margin requirements. Requests for additional margin are known as "margin calls." Both buyer and seller must individually deposit the required margin to their respective accounts.
It is important to understand that individual brokerage firms can, and in many cases do, require margin that is higher than the exchange requirements. Additionally, margin requirements may vary from brokerage firm to brokerage firm. Furthermore, a brokerage firm can increase its "house" margin requirements at any time without providing advance notice, and such increases could result in a margin call.
For example, some firms may require margin to be deposited the business day following the day of a deficiency, or some firms may even require deposit on the same day. Some firms may require margin to be on deposit in the account before they will accept an order for a security futures contract. Additionally, brokerage firms may have special requirements as to how margin calls are to be met, such as requiring a wire transfer from a bank, or deposit of a certified or cashier's check. You should thoroughly read and understand the customer agreement with your brokerage firm before entering into any transactions in security futures contracts.
If through the daily cash settlement process, losses in the account of a security futures contract participant reduce the funds on deposit (or equity) below the maintenance margin level (or the firm's higher "house" requirement), the brokerage firm will require that additional funds be deposited.
If additional margin is not deposited in accordance with the firm's policies, the firm can liquidate your position in security futures contracts or sell assets in any of your accounts at the firm to cover the margin deficiency. You remain responsible for any shortfall in the account after such liquidations or sales. Unless provided otherwise in your customer agreement or by applicable law, you are not entitled to choose which futures contracts, other securities or other assets are liquidated or sold to meet a margin call or to obtain an extension of time to meet a margin call.
Brokerage firms generally reserve the right to liquidate a customer's security futures contract positions or sell customer assets to meet a margin call at any time without contacting the customer. Brokerage firms may also enter into equivalent but opposite positions for your account in order to manage the risk created by a margin call. Some customers mistakenly believe that a firm is required to contact them for a margin call to be valid, and that the firm is not allowed to liquidate securities or other assets in their accounts to meet a margin call unless the firm has contacted them first. This is not the case. While most firms notify their customers of margin calls and allow some time for deposit of additional margin, they are not required to do so. Even if a firm has notified a customer of a margin call and set a specific due date for a margin deposit, the firm can still take action as necessary to protect its financial interests, including the immediate liquidation of positions without advance notification to the customer.
Here is an example of the margin requirements for a long security futures position.
A customer buys 3 July EJG security futures at 71.50. Assuming each contract represents 100 shares, the nominal value of the position is $21,450 (71.50 x 3 contracts x 100 shares). If the initial margin rate is 20% of the nominal value, then the customer's initial margin requirement would be $4,290. The customer deposits the initial margin, bringing the equity in the account to $4,290.
First, assume that the next day the settlement price of EJG security futures falls to 69.25. The marked-to-market loss in the customer's equity is $675 (71.50 - 69.25 x 3 contacts x 100 shares). The customer's equity decreases to $3,615 ($4,290 - $675). The new nominal value of the contract is $20,775 (69.25 x 3 contracts x 100 shares). If the maintenance margin rate is 20% of the nominal value, then the customer's maintenance margin requirement would be $4,155. Because the customer's equity had decreased to $3,615 (see above), the customer would be required to have an additional $540 in margin ($4,155 - $3,615).
Alternatively, assume that the next day the settlement price of EJG security futures rises to 75.00. The mark-to-market gain in the customer's equity is $1,050 (75.00 - 71.50 x 3 contacts x 100 shares). The customer's equity increases to $5,340 ($4,290 + $1,050). The new nominal value of the contract is $22,500 (75.00 x 3 contracts x 100 shares). If the maintenance margin rate is 20% of the nominal value, then the customer's maintenance margin requirement would be $4,500. Because the customer's equity had increased to $5,340 (see above), the customer's excess equity would be $840.
The process is exactly the same for a short position, except that margin calls are generated as the settlement price rises rather than as it falls. This is because the customer's equity decreases as the settlement price rises and increases as the settlement price falls.
Because the margin deposit required to open a security futures position is a fraction of the nominal value of the contracts being purchased or sold, security futures contracts are said to be highly leveraged. The smaller the margin requirement in relation to the underlying value of the security futures contract, the greater the leverage. Leverage allows exposure to a given quantity of an underlying asset for a fraction of the investment needed to purchase that quantity outright. In sum, buying (or selling) a security futures contract provides the same dollar and cents profit and loss outcomes as owning (or shorting) the underlying security. However, as a percentage of the margin deposit, the potential immediate exposure to profit or loss is much higher with a security futures contract than with the underlying security.
For example, if a security futures contract is established at a price of $50, the contract has a nominal value of $5,000 (assuming the contract is for 100 shares of stock). The margin requirement may be as low as 20%. In the example just used, assume the contract price rises from $50 to $52 (a $200 increase in the nominal value). This represents a $200 profit to the buyer of the security futures contract, and a 20% return on the $1,000 deposited as margin. The reverse would be true if the contract price decreased from $50 to $48. This represents a $200 loss to the buyer, or 20% of the $1,000 deposited as margin. Thus, leverage can either benefit or harm an investor.
Note that a 4% decrease in the value of the contract resulted in a loss of 20% of the margin deposited. A 20% decrease would wipe out 100% of the margin deposited on the security futures contract.
If you do not liquidate your position prior to the end of trading on the last day before the expiration of the security futures contract, you are obligated to either 1) make or accept a cash payment ("cash settlement") or 2) deliver or accept delivery of the underlying securities in exchange for final payment of the final settlement price ("physical delivery"). The terms of the contract dictate whether it is settled through cash settlement or by physical delivery.
The expiration of a security futures contract is established by the exchange on which the contract is listed. On the expiration day, security futures contracts cease to exist. Typically, the last trading day of a security futures contract will be the third Friday of the expiring contract month, and the expiration day will be the following Saturday. This follows the expiration conventions for stock options and broad-based stock indexes. Please keep in mind that the expiration day is set by the listing exchange and may deviate from these norms.
5.1. Cash settlement
In the case of cash settlement, no actual securities are delivered at the expiration of the security futures contract. Instead, you must settle any open positions in security futures by making or receiving a cash payment based on the difference between the final settlement price and the previous day's settlement price. Under normal circumstances, the final settlement price for a cash-settled contract will reflect the opening price for the underlying security. Once this payment is made, neither the buyer nor the seller of the security futures contract has any further obligations on the contract.
5.2. Settlement by physical delivery
Settlement by physical delivery is carried out by clearing brokers or their agents with National Securities Clearing Corporation ("NSCC"), an SEC-regulated securities clearing agency. Such settlements are made in much the same way as they are for purchases and sales of the underlying security. Promptly after the last day of trading, the regulated exchange's clearing organization will report a purchase and sale of the underlying stock at the previous day's settlement price (also referred to as the "invoice price") to NSCC. If NSCC does not reject the transaction by a time specified in its rules, settlement is effected pursuant to the rules of NSCC within the normal clearance and settlement cycle for securities transactions, which currently is three business days.
If you hold a short position in a physically settled security futures contract to expiration, you will be required to make delivery of the underlying securities. If you already own the securities, you may tender them to your brokerage firm. If you do not own the securities, you will be obligated to purchase them. Some brokerage firms may not be able to purchase the securities for you. If your brokerage firm cannot purchase the underlying securities on your behalf to fulfill a settlement obligation, you will have to purchase the securities through a different firm.
Positions in security futures contracts may be held either in a securities account or in a futures account. Your brokerage firm may or may not permit you to choose the types of account in which your positions in security futures contracts will be held. The protections for funds deposited or earned by customers in connection with trading in security futures contracts differ depending on whether the positions are carried in a securities account or a futures account. If your positions are carried in a securities account, you will not receive the protections available for futures accounts. Similarly, if your positions are carried in a futures account, you will not receive the protections available for securities accounts. You should ask your broker which of these protections will apply to your funds.
You should be aware that the regulatory protections applicable to your account are not intended to insure you against losses you may incur as a result of a decline or increase in the price of a security futures contract. As with all financial products, you are solely responsible for any market losses in your account.
Your brokerage firm must tell you whether your security futures positions will be held in a securities account or a futures account. If your brokerage firm gives you a choice, it must tell you what you have to do to make the choice and which type of account will be used if you fail to do so. You should understand that certain regulatory protections for your account will depend on whether it is a securities account or a futures account.
6.1. Protections for Securities Accounts
If your positions in security futures contracts are carried in a securities account, they are covered by SEC rules governing the safeguarding of customer funds and securities. These rules prohibit a broker/dealer from using customer funds and securities to finance its business. As a result, the broker/dealer is required to set aside funds equal to the net of all its excess payables to customers over receivables from customers. The rules also require a broker/dealer to segregate all customer fully paid and excess margin securities carried by the broker/dealer for customers.
The Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) also covers positions held in securities accounts. SIPC was created in 1970 as a non-profit, non-government, membership corporation, funded by member broker/dealers. Its primary role is to return funds and securities to customers if the broker/dealer holding these assets becomes insolvent. SIPC coverage applies to customers of current (and in some cases former) SIPC members. Most broker/dealers registered with the SEC are SIPC members; those few that are not must disclose this fact to their customers. SIPC members must display an official sign showing their membership. To check whether a firm is a SIPC member, go to www.sipc.org, call the SIPC Membership Department at (202) 371-8300, or write to SIPC Membership Department, Securities Investor Protection Corporation, 805 Fifteenth Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005-2215.
SIPC coverage is limited to $500,000 per customer, including up to $100,000 for cash. For example, if a customer has 1,000 shares of XYZ stock valued at $200,000 and $10,000 cash in the account, both the security and the cash balance would be protected. However, if the customer has shares of stock valued at $500,000 and $100,000 in cash, only a total of $500,000 of those assets will be protected.
For purposes of SIPC coverage, customers are persons who have securities or cash on deposit with a SIPC member for the purpose of, or as a result of, securities transactions. SIPC does not protect customer funds placed with a broker/dealer just to earn interest. Insiders of the broker/dealer, such as its owners, officers, and partners, are not customers for purposes of SIPC coverage.
6.2. Protections for Futures Accounts
If your security futures positions are carried in a futures account, they must be segregated from the brokerage firm's own funds and cannot be borrowed or otherwise used for the firm's own purposes. If the funds are deposited with another entity (e.g., a bank, clearing broker, or clearing organization), that entity must acknowledge that the funds belong to customers and cannot be used to satisfy the firm's debts. Moreover, although a brokerage firm may carry funds belonging to different customers in the same bank or clearing account, it may not use the funds of one customer to margin or guarantee the transactions of another customer. As a result, the brokerage firm must add its own funds to its customers' segregated funds to cover customer debits and deficits. Brokerage firms must calculate their segregation requirements daily.
You may not be able to recover the full amount of any funds in your account if the brokerage firm becomes insolvent and has insufficient funds to cover its obligations to all of its customers. However, customers with funds in segregation receive priority in bankruptcy proceedings. Furthermore, all customers whose funds are required to be segregated have the same priority in bankruptcy, and there is no ceiling on the amount of funds that must be segregated for or can be recovered by a particular customer.
Your brokerage firm is also required to separately maintain funds invested in security futures contracts traded on a foreign exchange. However, these funds may not receive the same protections once they are transferred to a foreign entity (e.g., a foreign broker, exchange or clearing organization) to satisfy margin requirements for those products. You should ask your broker about the bankruptcy protections available in the country where the foreign exchange (or other entity holding the funds) is located.
Certain traders who pursue a day trading strategy may seek to use security futures contracts as part of their trading activity. Whether day trading in security futures contracts or other securities, investors engaging in a day trading strategy face a number of risks.
- Day trading in security futures contracts requires in-depth knowledge of the securities and futures markets and of trading techniques and strategies. In attempting to profit through day trading, you will compete with professional traders who are knowledgeable and sophisticated in these markets. You should have appropriate experience before engaging in day trading.
- Day trading in security futures contracts can result in substantial commission charges, even if the per trade cost is low. The more trades you make, the higher your total commissions will be. The total commissions you pay will add to your losses and reduce your profits. For instance, assuming that a round-turn trade costs $16 and you execute an average of 29 round-turn transactions per day each trading day, you would need to generate an annual profit of $111,360 just to cover your commission expenses.
- Day trading can be extremely risky. Day trading generally is not appropriate for someone of limited resources and limited investment or trading experience and low risk tolerance. You should be prepared to lose all of the funds that you use for day trading. In particular, you should not fund day trading activities with funds that you cannot afford to lose.
8.1. Corporate Events
As noted in Section 2.4, an equity security represents a fractional ownership interest in the issuer of that security. By contrast, the purchaser of a security futures contract has only a contract for future delivery of the underlying security. Treatment of dividends and other corporate events affecting the underlying security may be reflected in the security futures contract depending on the applicable clearing organization rules. Consequently, individuals should consider how dividends and other developments affecting security futures in which they transact will be handled by the relevant exchange and clearing organization. The specific adjustments to the terms of a security futures contract are governed by the rules of the applicable clearing organization. Below is a discussion of some of the more common types of adjustments that you may need to consider.
Corporate issuers occasionally announce stock splits. As a result of these splits, owners of the issuer's common stock may own more shares of the stock, or fewer shares in the case of a reverse stock split. The treatment of stock splits for persons owning a security futures contract may vary according to the terms of the security futures contract and the rules of the clearing organization. For example, the terms of the contract may provide for an adjustment in the number of contracts held by each party with a long or short position in a security future, or for an adjustment in the number of shares or units of the instrument underlying each contract, or both.
Corporate issuers also occasionally issue special dividends. A special dividend is an announced cash dividend payment outside the normal and customary practice of a corporation. The terms of a security futures contract may be adjusted for special dividends. The adjustments, if any, will be based upon the rules of the exchange and clearing organization. In general, there will be no adjustments for ordinary dividends as they are recognized as a normal and customary practice of an issuer and are already accounted for in the pricing of security futures.
Corporate issuers occasionally may be involved in mergers and acquisitions. Such events may cause the underlying security of a security futures contact to change over the contract duration. The terms of security futures contracts may also be adjusted to reflect other corporate events affecting the underlying security.
8.2. Position Limits and Large Trader Reporting
All security futures contracts trading on regulated exchanges in the United States are subject to position limits or position accountability limits. Position limits restrict the number of security futures contracts that any one person or group of related persons may hold or control in a particular security futures contract. In contrast, position accountability limits permit the accumulation of positions in excess of the limit without a prior exemption. In general, position limits and position accountability limits are beyond the thresholds of most retail investors. Whether a security futures contract is subject to position limits, and the level for such limits, depends upon the trading activity and market capitalization of the underlying security of the security futures contract.
Position limits apply are required for security futures contracts that overlie a security that has an average daily trading volume of 20 million shares or fewer. In the case of a security futures contract overlying a security index, position limits are required if any one of the securities in the index has an average daily trading volume of 20 million shares or fewer. Position limits also apply only to an expiring security futures contract during its last five trading days. A regulated exchange must establish position limits on security futures that are no greater than 13,500 (100 share) contracts, unless the underlying security meets certain volume and shares outstanding thresholds, in which case the limit may be increased to 22,500 (100 share) contracts.
For security futures contracts overlying a security or securities with an average trading volume of more than 20 million shares, regulated exchanges may adopt position accountability rules. Under position accountability rules, a trader holding a position in a security futures contract that exceeds 22,500 contracts (or such lower limit established by an exchange) must agree to provide information regarding the position and consent to halt increasing that position if requested by the exchange.
Brokerage firms must also report large open positions held by one person (or by several persons acting together) to the CFTC as well as to the exchange on which the positions are held. The CFTC's reporting requirements are 1,000 contracts for security futures positions on individual equity securities and 200 contracts for positions on a narrow-based index. However, individual exchanges may require the reporting of large open positions at levels less than the levels required by the CFTC. In addition, brokerage firms must submit identifying information on the account holding the reportable position (on a form referred to as either an "Identification of Special Accounts Form" or a "Form 102") to the CFTC and to the exchange on which the reportable position exists within three business days of when a reportable position is first established.
8.3. Transactions on Foreign Exchanges
U.S. customers may not trade security futures on foreign exchanges until authorized by U.S. regulatory authorities. U.S. regulatory authorities do not regulate the activities of foreign exchanges and may not, on their own, compel enforcement of the rules of a foreign exchange or the laws of a foreign country. While U.S. law governs transactions in security futures contracts that are effected in the U.S., regardless of the exchange on which the contracts are listed, the laws and rules governing transactions on foreign exchanges vary depending on the country in which the exchange is located.
8.4. Tax Consequences
For most taxpayers, security futures contracts are not treated like other futures contracts. Instead, the tax consequences of a security futures transaction depend on the status of the taxpayer and the type of position (e.g., long or short, covered or uncovered). Because of the importance of tax considerations to transactions in security futures, readers should consult their tax advisors as to the tax consequences of these transactions.
This glossary is intended to assist customers in understanding specialized terms used in the futures and securities industries. It is not inclusive and is not intended to state or suggest the legal significance or meaning of any word or term.
Arbitrage – taking an economically opposite position in a security futures contract on another exchange, in an options contract, or in the underlying security.
Broad-based security index – a security index that does not fall within the statutory definition of a narrow-based security index (see Narrow-based security index). A future on a broad-based security index is not a security future. This risk disclosure statement applies solely to security futures and generally does not pertain to futures on a broad-based security index. Futures on a broad-based security index are under exclusive jurisdiction of the CFTC.
Cash settlement – a method of settling certain futures contracts by having the buyer (or long) pay the seller (or short) the cash value of the contract according to a procedure set by the exchange.
Clearing broker – a member of the clearing organization for the contract being traded. All trades, and the daily profits or losses from those trades, must go through a clearing broker.
Clearing organization – a regulated entity that is responsible for settling trades, collecting losses and distributing profits, and handling deliveries.
Contract – 1) the unit of trading for a particular futures contract (e.g., one contract may be 100 shares of the underlying security), 2) the type of future being traded (e.g., futures on ABC stock).
Contract month – the last month in which delivery is made against the futures contract or the contract is cash-settled. Sometimes referred to as the delivery month.
Day trading strategy – an overall trading strategy characterized by the regular transmission by a customer of intra-day orders to effect both purchase and sale transactions in the same security or securities.
EDGAR – the SEC's Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system maintains electronic copies of corporate information filed with the agency. EDGAR submissions may be accessed through the SEC's Web site, www.sec.gov.
Futures contract – a futures contract is (1) an agreement to purchase or sell a commodity for delivery in the future; (2) at a price determined at initiation of the contract; (3) that obligates each party to the contract to fulfill it at the specified price; (4) that is used to assume or shift risk; and (5) that may be satisfied by delivery or offset.
Hedging – the purchase or sale of a security future to reduce or offset the risk of a position in the underlying security or group of securities (or a close economic equivalent).
Illiquid market – a market (or contract) with few buyers and/or sellers. Illiquid markets have little trading activity and those trades that do occur may be done at large price increments.
Liquidation – entering into an offsetting transaction. Selling a contract that was previously purchased liquidates a futures position in exactly the same way that selling 100 shares of a particular stock liquidates an earlier purchase of the same stock. Similarly, a futures contract that was initially sold can be liquidated by an offsetting purchase.
Liquid market – a market (or contract) with numerous buyers and sellers trading at small price increments.
Long – 1) the buying side of an open futures contact, 2) a person who has bought futures contracts that are still open.
Margin – the amount of money that must be deposited by both buyers and sellers to ensure performance of the person's obligations under a futures contract. Margin on security futures contracts is a performance bond rather than a down payment for the underlying securities.
Mark-to-market – to debit or credit accounts daily to reflect that day's profits and losses.
Narrow-based security index – in general, and subject to certain exclusions, an index that has any one of the following four characteristics: (1) it has nine or fewer component securities; (2) any one of its component securities comprises more than 30% of its weighting; (3) the five highest weighted component securities together comprise more than 60% of its weighting; or (4) the lowest weighted component securities comprising, in the aggregate, 25% of the index's weighting have an aggregate dollar value of average daily trading volume of less than $50 million (or in the case of an index with 15 or more component securities, $30 million). A security index that is not narrow-based is a "broad based security index." (See Broad-based security index).
Nominal value – the face value of the futures contract, obtained by multiplying the contract price by the number of shares or units per contract. If XYZ stock index futures are trading at $50.25 and the contract is for 100 shares of XYZ stock, the nominal value of the futures contract would be $5025.00.
Offsetting – liquidating open positions by either selling fungible contracts in the same contract month as an open long position or buying fungible contracts in the same contract month as an open short position.
Open interest – the total number of open long (or short) contracts in a particular contract month.
Open position – a futures contract position that has neither been offset nor closed by cash settlement or physical delivery.
Performance bond – another way to describe margin payments for futures contracts, which are good faith deposits to ensure performance of a person's obligations under a futures contract rather than down payments for the underlying securities.
Physical delivery – the tender and receipt of the actual security underlying the security futures contract in exchange for payment of the final settlement price.
Position – a person's net long or short open contracts.
Regulated exchange – a registered national securities exchange, a national securities association registered under Section 15A(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, a designated contract market, a registered derivatives transaction execution facility, or an alternative trading system registered as a broker or dealer.
Security futures contract – a legally binding agreement between two parties to purchase or sell in the future a specific quantify of shares of a security (such as common stock, an exchange-traded fund, or ADR) or a narrow-based security index, at a specified price.
Settlement price – 1) the daily price that the clearing organization uses to mark open positions to market for determining profit and loss and margin calls, 2) the price at which open cash settlement contracts are settled on the last trading day and open physical delivery contracts are invoiced for delivery.
Short – 1) the selling side of an open futures contract, 2) a person who has sold futures contracts that are still open.
Speculating – buying and selling futures contracts with the hope of profiting from anticipated price movements.
Spread – 1) holding a long position in one futures contract and a short position in a related futures contract or contract month in order to profit from an anticipated change in the price relationship between the two, 2) the price difference between two contracts or contract months.
Stop limit order – an order that becomes a limit order when the market trades at a specified price. The order can only be filled at the stop limit price or better.
Stop loss order – an order that becomes a market order when the market trades at a specified price. The order will be filled at whatever price the market is trading at. Also called a stop order.
Tick – the smallest price change allowed in a particular contract.
Trader – a professional speculator who trades for his or her own account.
Underlying security – the instrument on which the security futures contract is based. This instrument can be an individual equity security (including common stock and certain exchange-traded funds and American Depositary Receipts) or a narrow-based index.
Volume – the number of contracts bought or sold during a specified period of time. This figure includes liquidating transactions.
1 NASD members are subject to equivalent NASD requirements.
2 There is a small charge for bulk orders.
1 15 U.S.C. 78s(b)(7).
2 17 C.F.R. 240.19b-7.
3 7 U.S.C. §21(j) (2002).
4 15 U.S.C. 78o-3(k).
5 15 U.S.C. 78o(b)(11).
6 NASD members are subject to equivalent NASD requirements.
7 There is a small charge for bulk orders.
8 15 U.S.C. 78o-3(k).
9 15 U.S.C. 78s(b)(1).
10 17 C.F.R. 200.30-3(a)(75).