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THE OPTIONS COURSE The Big Picture FUTURES To the novice, futures contracts can be quite confusing; yet they offer a unique opportunity to make money in today’s volatile markets. Futures markets consist of a variety of commodities (e.g., gold, oil, soybeans, etc.); financial trading instruments (e.g., bonds, currencies); indexes (e.g, S&P 500, Nasdaq 100); and most recently, single stock futures (Microsoft, Intel, Citigroup). A futures contract is the agreement to buy or sell a uniform quantity and quality of physical or financial commodities at a designated time in the future at a specific price. The contracts themselves are traded on the futures market. Futures markets gave rise to two distinct types of traders: hedgers and speculators. Hedgers consist primarily of farmers and manufacturers. Futures contracts were initially used by farmers and manufacturers to protect themselves or lock in prices for a certain crop or product cycle.  Hence, hedgers are primar