What Are Index Futures?

What Are Index Futures?

Index Futures are futures contracts whose value is linked to underlying assets such as stocks, commodities, and currencies. In the context of an index, the underlying value is determined by its constituents (stocks). Similar to other futures contracts, traders have the option to enter into a contract for buying or selling an underlying asset at a predetermined price in the future. In this article, we will take a closer look at the various types, examples and other important factors of index futures.

Example of Stock Index Futures

Let's take an example to explain how investors can make speculative moves with index futures.

Consider the Nifty 50, a popular stock market index in India that reflects the performance of the top 50 companies on the National Stock Exchange (NSE).

Imagine the current Nifty 50 index is at 15,000 points. If an investor believes the index will go up, they can buy a stock index futures contract. Each contract usually represents a set value of the index, like ₹10 for each index point.

Suppose the investor buys one Nifty 50 futures contract at a futures price of 15,100. This means they're agreeing to purchase the Nifty 50 Index at 15,100 points when the contract expires. If, at expiration, the Nifty 50 Index is at 15,300 points, the investor can sell their futures contract and make a profit from the 200-point increase (15,300 – 15,100) multiplied by the contract value of 

₹10 per point.

On the other hand, if the Nifty 50 index drops to 14,900 points at expiration, the investor would experience a loss of 200 points multiplied by ₹10 per point.

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Table of Content

  1. Example of Stock Index Futures
  2. Key Features of Index Futures in India
  3. Types of Index Futures
  4. How do Index Futures Work?
  5. How to Trade Index Futures?
  6. Advantages and Disadvantages of Stock Index Futures
  7. Who Trades Index Futures?
  8. What is the Margin in Index Futures Trading?
  9. How are Index Futures Contracts Settled?
  10. Factors to Consider while Trading in Index Futures

Key Features of Index Futures in India

Index Futures share similarities with other futures contracts, featuring a predetermined price, an expiration date, and a margin requirement. However, stock market share index futures possess distinctive attributes that make them appealing to traders.

1. Liquidity

Index Futures exhibit high liquidity, ensuring a constant presence of buyers and sellers. This facilitates easy entry and exit from positions and allows traders to obtain favorable prices for their contracts.

2. Hedging

Share index futures serve as effective tools for risk hedging. For instance, a portfolio manager with a substantial stock holding might use share index futures to safeguard their portfolio from potential declines in the stock market.

3. Speculation

Stock market index futures are also utilized for speculative purposes. A trader anticipating an upward movement in the stock market may invest in index futures to generate a profit.

4. Low Margin Requirements

Share index futures generally entail lower margin requirements compared to other types of futures contracts. This characteristic enhances accessibility for smaller investors, making these futures contracts more feasible for a diverse range of market participants.

What Are Index Futures?


Types of Index Futures

There are various types of stock index futures, with some of the primary ones including:

1. Nifty 50

This stock market index monitors the performance of the 50 largest companies listed on the National Stock Exchange (NSE).

2. Nifty IT

Focusing on the information technology sector, Nifty IT tracks the performance of the 25 largest IT companies listed on the NSE.

3. Nifty Bank 

This index observes the performance of the 20 largest banks listed on the NSE, providing insights into the overall direction of the Indian banking sector.

4. S&P BSE Bankex

Concentrating on top banking stocks, the S&P BSE Bankex index encompasses over 90% of the total market capitalization of the banking sector.

5. S&P BSE Sensex 50

As the oldest and most widely followed index in India, this stock market index reflects the performance of the 30 largest companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).

6. S&P BSE Bharat 22 Index

This index tracks the performance of the 22 largest companies listed on the BSE, offering a popular way to trade the overall direction of the Indian stock market with lower margin requirements.

How do Index Futures Work?

Index futures, also known as stock or equity futures, operate similarly to other types of futures contracts within the market. These agreements empower investors with 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 before expiration through an offsetting trade, the trader is obligated to fulfil the cash value upon expiry.

Traders employ share index futures in the Indian investing landscape to hedge against or speculate on future price fluctuations in the underlying equity index. Take, for example, the S&P BSE Sensex 50, which tracks the stock prices of the 30 largest companies traded on BSE in India. An investor can participate in buying or selling stock index futures in India related to the S&P BSE Sensex 50 to mitigate risks or speculate on potential gains or losses in the index.

How to Trade Index Futures?

Index futures operate comparably to standard futures contracts. The key difference lies in their underlying asset, which is a stock index.

1. Contractual Commitment

Participants in index futures commit to paying a predetermined price. This commitment is bound by a specific expiration date.

2. Cash Settlement

Due to the unique nature of index assets, these contracts are settled in cash. Daily settlements occur on a mark-to-market basis.

3. Trading Mechanism

Index futures are traded on stock exchanges through futures brokers. This setup facilitates the execution of buy or sell orders to establish either long or short positions.

4. Margin Requirements

Participation in index futures requires an initial margin. Additionally, a maintenance margin is necessary to sustain the position.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Stock Index Futures

It's important for investors to carefully consider their risk tolerance and investment goals before engaging in stock index futures trading. Let's understand the advantages and disadvantages of stock index futures.

Stock Index Futures Advantages 

Stock Index Futures Disadvantages

Offers broad exposure to the overall market.Requires an understanding of market dynamics
Permits leverage, enabling control of larger positions.Involves risks and potential losses.
Facilitates hedging against portfolio losses.Can be complex, especially for inexperienced investors.
Provides liquidity and ease of trading.Subject to market volatility and price fluctuations.
Presents opportunities for speculation and profits.Margin requirements may pose capital constraints.
Cash settlement eliminates the need for physical delivery.Market timing and accurate predictions can be challenging.

Who Trades Index Futures?

Various types of investors participate in trading index funds, reflecting the diverse appeal of these investment vehicles. Here are some key categories of investors who commonly trade in index funds:

1. Hedgers

Hedgers in index futures are investors who use these financial instruments as a risk management tool to protect their portfolios from adverse market movements. For example, a portfolio manager with a significant stock holding might purchase index futures to hedge against potential losses in a declining stock market.

2. Speculators

Speculators are the investors trading index futures to make a profit.

Speculators anticipate future movements in the index's price and engage in futures contracts to capitalize on these projected changes.

3. Market Makers

Traders contribute liquidity to the futures market by buying and selling index futures contracts.

Market makers profit by establishing a spread between the bid and ask prices of the contracts.

4. Institutional Investors

Large-scale investors like pension funds and hedge funds actively participate in index futures trading. Institutional investors employ index futures to manage risk and diversify exposure across different asset classes.

What is the Margin in Index Futures Trading?

Before engaging in trading activities, it is necessary to provide your broker with an initial margin. This margin, calculated as a percentage of your transaction value, serves to cover potential daily losses. Both buyers and sellers are required to make this deposit. For instance, if the margin is set at 5%, trading futures worth Rs 10 lakh would necessitate a Rs 50,000 deposit. This system facilitates high-volume trading and the potential for profits. However, it is crucial to note that the use of leverage can lead to substantial losses if the market behaves differently than anticipated. In comparison to other types of futures contracts, stock index futures typically entail lower margin requirements.

How are Index Futures Contracts Settled?

Index futures contracts operate on a cash settlement basis, indicating that the actual exchange of the underlying index does not take place between the buyer and the seller. Instead, the settlement occurs in cash, determined by the variance between the contract price and the index movement price on the settlement date.

The procedure for settling index futures contracts is relatively straightforward. On the settlement date, both the buyer and seller of the contract compute the disparity between the contract price and the index price. The party obligated to pay settles the difference in cash with the other party.

For instance, if you purchase an S&P BSE Sensex 50 futures contract at a contract price of 3,000, and the index price on the settlement date is 3,100, you would be entitled to 100 points, equivalent to ₹1,000 (100 x ₹10). In this scenario, the seller of the contract would make a cash payment of ₹1,000 to you.

Moreover, index futures contracts are offered with rolling durations, including options for maturities ranging from one, two, to three months.

Factors to Consider while Trading in Index Futures

Engaging in index futures trading can be a profitable venture when approached strategically. To maximize your chances of success, it is crucial to take into account key factors. Below, we will examine essential aspects to consider when trading in index futures:

1. Market Analysis

Stay informed about market trends, economic indicators, and relevant news affecting the specific index you are trading. Conduct thorough technical and fundamental analyses to make well-grounded decisions.

2. Risk Management

Establish a transparent risk management strategy. Implement stop-loss orders and define the risk-reward ratio for each trade to safeguard your capital.

3. Trading Plan

Develop a comprehensive trading plan that outlines your goals, entry and exit points, and overall strategy. Adhering to your plan helps prevent impulsive decision-making.

4. Diversification

Consider diversifying your portfolio of index futures to spread risk and potentially enhance returns.

5. Broker Selection

Choose a trustworthy and reputable broker offering competitive fees, a user-friendly platform, and access to the specific indexes that align with your interests.


Investors can utilize index futures as a robust instrument for risk management and accessing the wider market without the need for substantial capital. With investments spread across a basket of shares, the associated risks are diminished. Nonetheless, it is important to highlight that index futures carry inherent risks. Thus, achieving success in index futures trading necessitates a keen understanding of market dynamics, thorough analysis, and the implementation of effective risk management strategies.

For both experienced and new traders the convenience and accessibility offered by a stock market app are crucial. These apps enable users to monitor their portfolios, execute trades, and stay connected to the financial markets from anywhere in the world.

FAQs on Index Futures

Yes, investors use index futures to hedge against potential losses in their portfolios.

No, index futures can be based on various underlying assets, including bonds, commodities, and more.

Yes, traders can roll over index futures contracts by closing the current contract and entering into a new one with a later expiration date.

Yes, traders can diversify their exposure by simultaneously trading multiple index futures contracts.

While index futures are often used for short-term trading, some investors may use them strategically for long-term portfolio management.