Common Terminology in Futures and Commodities Trading

While at a coffee shop with friends, one turns to you and says, “I just went LONG in Lean Hogs off a confirmed swing bottom.” What did he say? He went “LONG” in a hog off a swing in the bottom?”

For those of us who trade, we instantly know what was just said. By going “LONG”, this person BOUGHT (or is a BUYER) in the Lean Hogs futures market. His decision to do so was based on his determining that Lean Hogs had made a bottom and was now moving higher, thus ‘confirming’ the bottom.

The term LONG is very common in trading circles. It simply means that you took the BUY SIDE of the trade (every trade has two sides, the one who SELLS and the one who BUYS). You believe the market is going to go UP, so you decide to BUY, thus going LONG.

The term SHORT is the opposite of LONG. When you go SHORT, you are a SELLER in the market. In trading Futures and Commodities, you can just as easily SELL first to open the position SHORT, in hopes the market is going to go down. Later, you can then close your position with a BUY.

When you BUY to enter a position, you are LONG. But when you BUY to exit a position, because you SOLD first (went SHORT), you are simply out of your position.

When you SELL to enter a position, you are SHORT. But when you SELL to exit a position, because you BOUGHT first (went LONG), you are simply out of your position.

When you are out of all your positions, you are considered FLAT.

MARGIN is a term used in reference to the amount of money you have available in your trading account that can be used for trading. Brokers require that you have a certain amount of capital available for each contract you trade, in the event that the trade does not go in your favor. A MAINTENANCE MARGIN is the minimum margin you must have in your account for each futures contract you enter into.

BULL MARKET refers to a period when prices are rising. A BEAR MARKET refers to a period when prices are declining.

COMMISSIONS are the fees you pay to the broker for executing your trades.

HEDGING is the practice of offsetting your risk in the actual commodity by taking an equal but opposite position in the futures market. For example, a Farmer who grows Wheat has inherent risks to his crop. By the time he goes to market, prices could have dropped. To protect himself, he can take a SHORT position in the Wheat futures. If the price of Wheat drops by the time he goes to sell his crop, he losses in the actual crop, but he gains in the SHORT futures position, thus offsetting his losses. If the price of Wheat instead moves higher, he gains in the higher prices he is able to sell his Wheat for, but losses in his SHORT futures, again offsetting each other.

DELIVERY refers to the transfer of the actual commodity from the seller of a futures contract to the buyer of the futures contract. Most traders do not take delivery, but will close out their position by FIRST NOTICE DAY.

FIRST NOTICE DAY refers to the first day that a notice of intent to deliver a commodity can be made by a clearinghouse to a buyer of a futures contract.

These are some of the terms you can expect to hear among traders of Futures. There are a few others, less used. And if you trade Options on Futures, you have a whole set of terms such as PUT, CALL, In-the-Money, Out-of-the-Money, etc.

Before engaging in futures trading, take the time to learn the language. This way, there will be no mistakes in communication between you and your broker, and it helps when sitting around with traders at the coffee shop.

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