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What are Index Futures? Meaning, Advantages, Returns & Examples

What are Index Futures? Meaning, Advantages, Returns & Examples
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As financial markets continue to evolve and offer new opportunities for investors, stock market index futures come into play. Stock market index futures have emerged as a popular instrument for those looking to speculate or hedge their positions. Undoubtedly, these have gained significant popularity in trading. Thus, Index futures in India offer investors a unique way to speculate on the overall performance of an entire market or sector, rather than focusing on individual stocks. 

In this blog, we will provide you with a comprehensive introduction to index futures, exploring what they are, how they work, and why they have become an integral part of the modern financial landscape. Let’s begin by learning what is futures index. 

What are Index Futures?

Index futures are a type of stock futures. But before we delve into its definition, let’s first understand future contracts. A future contract allows buyers or sellers to trade a specific stock market index at a predetermined price, known as the “strike price,” in the future. This means that you can invest in a certain quantity of a specific stock and buy at a predetermined price in future. 

Index futures are a type of futures contract that allows traders to bet on the future direction of a stock index. Thus, these allow investors to speculate on the future direction of an underlying stock market index. By trading index futures in India, investors can gain exposure to the broader market and potentially profit from anticipated market movements. 

Additionally, in India, the first index-based stock futures meaning contracts were introduced in 2000. These are actively traded on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE). Thus, these contracts paved the way for investors to participate in futures trading. Now that we know what is Index Futures, let’s see how they work.

How Index Futures Work?

Index futures which are also called stock or equity futures meaning market and work just like any other future contract. They grant investors the authority and responsibility to deliver the cash value of the contract, based on an underlying index, at a specified future date and an agreed-upon price. Unless the contract is terminated prior to expiration through an offsetting trade, the trader is obligated to fulfil the cash value upon expiry.

Traders utilize share index futures investing in India to hedge against or speculate on future price fluctuations in the underlying equity index. For instance, the S&P BSE Sensex 50 monitors the stock prices of 30 largest companies traded on BSE in India. An investor can engage in buying or selling stock stock index futures in India on the S&P BSE Sensex 50 to mitigate risks or speculate on potential gains or losses in the index.

How are Index Futures Traded and Settled?

Index futures operate like standard futures contracts but with a stock index as the underlying asset. They involve an agreement to pay a specific price on a set expiration date. These contracts are cash-settled due to the nature of index assets, with daily settlements on a mark-to-market basis.

Index futures trade on stock exchanges through futures brokers, allowing for buy or sell orders to establish long or short positions. An initial margin is necessary, with a maintenance mar

What are the Features of Index Futures in India?

Index futures are similar to other futures contracts in that they have a predetermined price, an expiration date, and a margin requirement. However, share index futures in stock market have some unique features that make them attractive to traders.

Here are some of the key features of index futures:

  • Liquidity: Index futures are highly liquid, meaning that there are always buyers and sellers in the market. This makes it easy to enter and exit positions, and to get a good price for your contracts.
  • Hedging: Index futures can be used to hedge against risk. For example, a portfolio manager who owns a large number of stocks might buy share index futures to protect their portfolio against a decline in the stock market.
  • Speculation: Stock market Index futures can also be used for speculation. For example, a trader who believes that the stock market is going to go up might buy index futures in the hopes of making a profit.
  • Low Margin Requirements: The margin requirements for share index futures are typically lower than the margin requirements for other types of futures contracts. This makes them more accessible to smaller investors.

What are the Types of Index Futures?

There are many different types of stock index futures, but some of the major index futures include:

  • Nifty 50: The Nifty 50 is a stock market index that tracks the performance of the 50 largest companies listed on the National Stock Exchange (NSE).
  • Nifty IT: The Nifty IT is a stock market index that tracks the performance of the 25 largest information technology companies listed on the NSE. It is a popular way to trade the overall direction of the Indian IT sector. 
  • Nifty Bank: The Nifty Bank is a stock market index that tracks the performance of the 20 largest banks listed on the NSE. It is a popular way to trade the overall direction of the Indian banking sector. 
  • S&P BSE Bankex: The S&P BSE Bankex is a stock market index that tracks the performance of the top banking stock. It accounts for more than 90% of the total market capitalization of the banking sector.
  • S&P BSE Sensex 50: The S&P BSE Sensex 50 is a stock market index that tracks the performance of the 30 largest companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). It is the oldest and most widely followed index in India.
  • S&P BSE Bharat 22 Index: The S&P BSE Bharat 22 Index is a stock market index that tracks the performance of the 22 largest companies listed on the BSE. It is a popular way to trade the overall direction of the Indian stock market with lower margin requirements. 

Index Futures, Margins & Index Options in India – An Overview 

Futures contracts allow buyers to enter trades without putting up the entire contract value upfront. Instead, they are only required to maintain a fraction of the contract amount known as the initial margin. 

While index futures prices can experience significant fluctuations until the contract expires, traders need to have sufficient funds in their accounts. That is to cover potential losses, referred to as the maintenance margin. The maintenance margin sets the minimum account balance required to fulfil future trading meaning claims. 

According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the minimum account balance required is typically 25% of the total trade value, although certain brokerages may impose higher requirements. As the trade value increases before expiration, the broker may request additional funds to be added to the account.

However, we understand that index futures and what is Index Future Options meaning may sound way more similar due to their initials but they quite differ from one another. A future contract differs from an index option because it is considered an obligation. On the other hand, stock Index options are the right that can be exercised or not. In simple terms, it can be understood as a call option that gives the owner a right to buy a given quantity of an underlying asset. 

Index Futures vs. Commodities Futures Contracts

Stock index futures and futures contracts operate differently. While futures contracts allow traders to buy or sell a specific quantity of a commodity at an agreed-upon price and date in the future. Stock index futures pertain to the value of an underlying stock market index. Futures contracts typically involve tangible goods like cotton, soybeans, sugar, crude oil, gold, and more.

Commodity futures are commonly traded by investors for hedging or speculative purposes. Consequently, enabling them to manage price risks associated with the underlying commodities. In contrast, index futures in India are settled in cash and do not involve physical delivery. However, in the commodities futures, long position holders may be required to take physical delivery if they haven’t closed their positions before the contract expires.

Businesses often utilize commodity futures to secure prices for the raw materials required in their production processes.

Who Trades Index Futures? 

Index futures are traded by a variety of people, including:

  • Hedgers: Hedgers are investors who use NASDAQ index futures to protect their portfolios against risk. For example, a portfolio manager who owns a large number of stocks might buy index futures to protect their portfolio against a decline in the stock market.
  • Speculators: Speculators are investors who trade index futures in the hopes of making a profit. They believe that the price of the index will go up or down in the future, and they trade futures contracts to take advantage of future contracts and this movement.
  • Market Makers: Market makers are traders who provide liquidity to the future market meaning by buying and selling index futures contracts. They make money by charging a spread between the bid and ask prices of the contracts.
  • Institutional Investors: Institutional investors, such as pension funds and hedge funds, are also active traders in index futures. They use index futures to manage their risk and to gain exposure to different asset classes.

Hedging on Index Futures

Index futures India can serve as a hedge against portfolio losses by allowing investors to offset potential declines in the value of their stock holdings. It is common for portfolio managers to hedge their portfolios against potential losses by buying equity index futures. So, if the managers are positioned in a large number of stocks, then they can take a short position in index futures. 

However, one of the downsides of hedging is that this reduces profits if the hedge isn’t required. 

How are Index Futures Contracts Settled?

Index futures contracts are cash-settled, which means that the buyer and seller of the contract do not actually exchange the underlying index. Instead, they settle the contract in cash based on the difference between the contract price and the index move price on the settlement date.

The settlement price is typically determined by the closing price of the index call on the settlement date. However, some exchanges use a different method for calculating the settlement price. For example, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) uses a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) to calculate the settlement price of S&P 500 futures contracts.

The process of settling index futures contracts is relatively simple. On the settlement date, the buyer and seller of the contract calculate the difference between the contract price and the index price. The party that is owed money pays the other party the difference in cash.

For example, let’s say that you buy an S&P BSE Sensex 50 futures contract. That too with a contract price of 3,000 and the index price on the settlement date is 3,100. You would be owed 100 points, or ₹1,000 (100 x ₹10). The seller of the contract would pay you ₹1,000 in cash.

Additionally, index futures contracts are also available on a rolling basis for maturities like one, two, and three months.

What does ‘Margin’ Mean in Index Futures Trading Meaning?

Before trading, you must deposit an initial margin with your broker. It’s a percentage of your transaction value, enough to cover potential daily losses. Both buyers and sellers must deposit it. For example, with a 5% margin, trading Rs 10 lakh futures requires a Rs 50,000 deposit. Consequently, enabling high-volume trading and profit potential. But leverage can result in significant losses if the market doesn’t go as expected. Stock index futures typically have lower margins than other futures contracts

Factors to Consider While Trading in Index Futures

Trading in index futures can be a lucrative endeavor if you approach it strategically. To make informed decisions and enhance your chances of success, it’s essential to consider key factors. Here, we’ll explore the critical aspects you should keep in mind when trading in index futures:

  • Market Analysis: Stay updated with market trends, economic indicators, and news that can impact the index you’re trading. Conduct thorough technical and fundamental analyses to make well-informed decisions.
  • Risk Management: Establish a clear risk management strategy. Set stop-loss orders and determine the risk-reward ratio for each trade to protect your capital.
  • Trading Plan: Develop a comprehensive trading plan that outlines your objectives, entry and exit points, and overall strategy. Stick to your plan to avoid impulsive decisions.
  • Diversification: Consider diversifying your index futures portfolio to spread risk and enhance potential returns.
  • Broker Selection: Choose a reliable and reputable broker who offers competitive fees, a user-friendly platform, and access to the indexes you’re interested in.
  • Margin Requirements: Understand the margin requirements of the index futures you’re trading. Ensure you have adequate capital to meet these requirements.
  • Trading Hours: Be aware of the trading hours for the specific index futures you’re interested in, as they may vary.
  • Market Volatility: Index futures can experience high volatility. Prepare for price swings and have risk mitigation strategies in place.

What is the Importance of Index Futures?

Limited cash for substantial stock purchases? Futures contracts offer an effective solution. These derivatives allow traders to invest less for potentially higher returns. There are two primary strategies:

  • Speculation: Experienced traders can use futures to speculate on the future direction of assets or indices. Instead of buying or selling them directly. Staying updated on market trends is vital for success.
  • Hedging: Traders often use futures contracts to hedge against stock price fluctuations, reducing risks. When stock prices drop, investors sell futures contracts to safeguard their investments, benefiting as futures gain value.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Stock Index Futures?

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of stock index futures. 

Stock Index Futures AdvantagesStock Index Futures Disadvantages
Provides broad market exposureRequires understanding of market dynamics
Allows leverage, controlling larger positionsInvolves risks and potential losses
Enables hedging against portfolio lossesCan be complex for inexperienced investors
Offers liquidity and ease of tradingSubject to market volatility and price fluctuations
Provides opportunities for speculation and profitMargin requirements may pose capital constraints
Cash settlement eliminates physical deliveryMarket timing and correct predictions are challenging

Example of Stock Index Futures

Let’s take a hypothetical example to show how investors can speculate using index futures. 

The Nifty 50 is a widely followed stock market index in India, representing the performance of the top 50 companies listed on the National Stock Exchange (NSE).

Here’s how you can learn to invest in Nifty 50

Let’s say the current level of the Nifty 50 index is at 15,000 points. An investor who expects the Nifty 50 index to rise in the future can buy a stock index futures contract. Each Nifty 50 futures contract typically represents a fixed value of the index, for example, ₹10 per index point.

Assuming the investor buys one Nifty 50 futures contract at a futures price of 15,100, they are essentially agreeing to buy the Nifty 50 index at 15,100 points on the expiration date of the contract. If the Nifty 50 index rises to 15,300 points at expiration, the investor can sell their futures contract and profit from the increase of 200 points (15,300 – 15,100) multiplied by the contract value of ₹10 per point.

Conversely, if the Nifty 50 index falls to 14,900 points at expiration, the investor would incur a loss of 200 points multiplied by ₹10 per point.

To Wrap It Up…

In conclusion, index futures offer investors a powerful tool for managing risk and gaining exposure to the broader market. You don’t have to invest large amounts of capital and since you are investing in a basket of shares, risks are lower too. However, it is crucial to note that index futures come with risks. Therefore, understanding market dynamics, conducting a thorough analysis, and implementing effective risk management strategies are vital for success in index futures trading.


1. What do you mean by index futures?

Index futures enable traders to buy or sell a financial index today and settle the transaction at a later date.

2. How to trade index futures in India?

To engage in futures trading, open a trading account and submit your trade request through your broker. Your bid requires a margin payment, typically a percentage of the contract value.

3. What is the difference between future index and option index?

Futures allow trading of the underlying asset on a specific date, while options index grant flexibility for exercise before expiration.

4. What is the formula for index futures?

Stock futures, tied to specific market indexes, derive their prices from spot values, much like stocks themselves. You can calculate the futures price using this formula: 
Futures Price = Stock Price × (1 + Risk-Free Interest Rate – Dividend Yield)

5. What is the difference between stock futures and index futures?

An index monitors asset prices, including equities, commodities, and currencies. A futures index contract, a derivative, compels index traders to buy or sell the underlying asset at a predetermined price on a specific future date.

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