Understanding Futures Contracts and Rollovers: A Key Guide for Traders

Futures contracts and the concept of rollovers are integral components of the commodities, forex, and indices markets. Mastering these concepts is essential for any trader seeking to navigate these markets effectively. This article aims to provide a detailed understanding of futures contracts, the concept of rollovers, and how they can influence trading decisions.

Futures Contracts: An Overview

A futures contract is a legal agreement between two parties to buy or sell a particular commodity or financial instrument at a predetermined price at a specified time in the future. Futures contracts are standardized in terms of the quality and quantity of the asset, the price unit, and the date of delivery.

Futures contracts are traded on futures exchanges, which act as a marketplace between buyers and sellers. These contracts are used by both speculators, who seek to profit from price changes, and hedgers, who want to mitigate their risk against adverse price movements.

Understanding Rollovers

A rollover, in the context of futures contracts, refers to the process of closing out a position in a soon-to-expire contract and simultaneously opening a position in a contract with a later expiration date. This is done to maintain a position in the market and avoid the delivery process associated with the futures contract's expiration.

Futures contracts have a limited lifespan and are typically tied to specific delivery months. For example, a crude oil futures contract may be for delivery in August 2023. As the delivery month approaches, trading volume tends to shift from the near-term contract to the next contract, commonly referred to as the "back month" contract. This transition is known as the 'rollover'.

The Mechanics of Rollover

Rollover usually occurs in the week leading up to the expiration of the near-term contract. While the specific rollover dates can vary depending on the contract and the exchange, they are generally well-established and can be found on the exchange's website or trading platform.

During the rollover period, traders close their positions in the expiring contract and open positions in the back month contract. This process can lead to increased trading volume and volatility. Traders need to keep track of the contract with the highest volume or "open interest" to ensure they are trading in a liquid market.

The Impact of Rollovers

The process of rolling over a futures contract can have several impacts on a trader:

  • Pricing Differences: The prices of the near-term and back month contracts may not be the same due to factors such as storage costs, interest rates, and supply and demand dynamics. This price difference, known as the 'basis', can impact the profit or loss from a rollover.
  • Margin Requirements: Different contracts may have different margin requirements. Rolling over to a new contract could require more or less capital.
  • Transaction Costs: Rollover involves closing one position and opening another, which can increase transaction costs due to spreads and commissions.


Understanding futures contracts and the concept of rollovers is essential for traders participating in the futures market. While the rollover process can seem complex, it is a fundamental aspect of futures trading, facilitating continuous trading without the need to physically deliver the underlying asset.

However, traders should be aware of the potential impacts of rollovers on their trading, including price differences between contracts and increased transaction costs. As always, knowledge and preparation are key to successful futures trading.