A futures contract is a legally binding, perishable security. Accordingly, each has a distinct expiration date on which the contract’s terms are settled. When the contract expires, it ceases to be tradable on the open market.
The concept of expiration makes futures contracts finite instruments. If you’re trading shares or currencies, then there are no stock or forex expiry dates to be aware of—but there are futures expiration dates! If you’re going to trade these exciting products, then you had better be able to answer the question, “When do futures contracts expire?”
During Which Futures Contracts Months Does Expiration Occur?
Futures contracts are standardized instruments, meaning their attributes are clearly defined. For instance, every contract is assigned a symbol, quantity, settlement procedure, and expiration date. Upon expiration of the contract, it becomes untradable.
When futures expiry passes, settlement commences. Settlement is the process by which all open contracts are closed. It is conducted by the exchange and comes in two primary forms:
- Physical delivery: The trader is required to either assume possession or produce a specified quantity of the contract’s underlying asset. When the CME contract expiration dates for most commodities pass, physical delivery commences.
- Financial: The trader’s account balance is adjusted to reflect realized gains or losses at expiry. Financial settlement is a common way of closing out a futures contract that faces currencies or the equities indices.
For active traders, it’s important to understand each contract’s futures expiry calendar. In the live market, CME futures contract expiration dates come in three types: monthly, quarterly, and seasonal.
Contracts that expire on a monthly basis offer 12 unique listings for each calendar year. One example of monthly scheduling is Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) SPX futures expirations dates. In reference to the SPX, futures contract expiration falls monthly.
In addition, some contracts feature schedules that are largely monthly but allow for variance. An example of variable scheduling pertains to CME gold futures expiration dates. According to the CME, gold is listed monthly “for three consecutive months, any Feb., Apr., Aug., Oct. in the nearest 23 months and any June and Dec. in the nearest 72 months.” So, if you’re going to trade bullion, it’s important to understand how gold futures expiry dates work.
Quarterly contracts are offered once every three months, or four times per year. These issues are useful in the application of longer-term trading strategies because liquidity is present even though the futures expiration dates may be farther out. Essentially, a quarterly futures expiration (or quarterly options expiration) gives market participants more time to capitalize on broader pricing trends.
To illustrate how a deferred futures contract expiration offers flexibility, assume that an equities investor sought exposure to the S&P 500 going into the 2020 U.S. presidential election. All that investor would need to do is check out the E-mini S&P 500 (ES) futures expiration calendar 2019. With a bit of due diligence, the investor could identify desirable forthcoming futures contract months and open a new position. Similar strategies could also be executed by examining ES options expiration dates in 2019.
Seasonal expirations are designed with respect to the production schedule of the underlying asset. Seasonal expiry is common to ag commodities that are subject to planting and harvest. Thus, many commodity futures expiration dates are based on the production schedules of raw materials.
A good example of seasonal expiry comes in the form of grain and oilseed futures. For instance, the CME describes the contract months for corn (ZC) as being “nine monthly contracts of March, May, Sept. and eight monthly contracts of July and Dec. listed annually after the termination of trading in the December contract of the current year.” As you can see from the unique schedule, trading the CME corn September futures contract is a very different proposition than targeting corn’s July future expiry date.
CME Lineup: When Do Future Contracts Expire?
The CME provides participants with a variety of products designed to aid in the pursuit of almost any financial goal. Here are the expiration types, settlement procedures, and calendar futures contract months when several of the most popular “come off the board.” If you’re constantly asking, “When do futures contracts expire?” this table can help:
|Product||Expiration||Settlement||Futures Contract Months Expiry|
|E-Mini S&P 500||Quarterly||Financial||March, June, Sept., Dec.|
|E-Mini DOW||Quarterly||Financial||March, June, Sept., Dec.|
|E-Mini NASDAQ||Quarterly||Financial||March, June, Sept., Dec.|
|Euro FX||Quarterly||Financial||March, June, Sept., Dec.|
|Canadian Dollar FX||Quarterly||Financial||March, June, Sept., Dec.|
|Japanese Yen FX||Quarterly||Financial||March, June, Sept., Dec.|
|WTI Crude Oil||Monthly||Deliverable||Jan. through Dec.|
|Henry Hub Natural Gas||Monthly||Deliverable||Jan. through Dec.|
|Gold||Variable||Deliverable||Feb, April, June, Aug., Oct., Dec.|
|Silver||Variable||Deliverable||Jan., March, May, Sept., July, Dec.|
|Corn||Seasonal||Deliverable||March, May, July, Sept., Dec.|
|Soybeans||Seasonal||Deliverable||Jan., Mar, May, July, Aug., Sept., Nov.|
It’s important to remember that just because futures are standardized doesn’t mean all expiration dates are not the same. However, from year to year, the schedules are similar. So if you look at the futures expiration calendar 2019, 2020, 2021, or 2022, there will be many like entries. In this way, silver contract expiration dates, gold expiration dates, and E-mini futures expiration dates won’t be too different year-over-year.
To avoid any unexpected liabilities associated with delivery or financial settlement, it is imperative to be aware of a product’s futures contract months. Fortunately, you can accomplish this task readily by simply referencing the contract’s specs.
Futures Contract Expiration: FAQs
No matter if you’re studying an ES futures expiration calendar or a gold futures options expiration calendar, a few questions are likely to come to mind. Here are answers to several of the most common:
- Do futures contracts expire? Yes. All futures contracts are assigned an expiration date, after which they become untradable.
- When do contracts expire? Contracts expire on a monthly, quarterly, or seasonal basis.
- What happens when a futures contract expires? When the expiration date is reached, the settlement process starts. Contracts are settled via physical delivery or financially. So, when the CME gold December contract reaches expiration, the holder is required to purchase or provide 100 troy ounces of bullion. If you’re going to trade bullion, then being aware of gold futures expiry is a must.
- When do E-mini futures expire? CME E-mini equity index futures settle quarterly. Other E-mini products, such as E-mini WTI crude oil, settle monthly.
- What happens when an E-mini futures contract expires? All CME E-mini futures contracts are settled financially.
Be Ready for Expiration
Successful futures traders understand the importance of continuous education and improvement. To learn more about how futures contracts expiration can influence your trading and other technical aspects of futures contracts, download our free e-book Technical Analysis for Beginners. It will help you make more informed decisions as you start trading futures.