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Day Trading Futures

5 min read

When day trading futures, you enter and exit all positions in the same day – never carrying a position overnight. Since the overnight moves of the market are difficult to predict, many traders avoid risk by day trading. Ironically, the public believes that day trading is the riskiest way to trade.


Some traders day trading futures, make 1 to 3 trades per day, trying to catch the major intraday moves. Others trade in-and-out very frequently, trying to “scalp” a small profit on each trade. (My style uses a unique blend of these two strategies.)

For those day trading futures, the Emini Stock Index Futures have become the most popular day trading vehicle because of their liquidity, leverage, and the ease of trading them online. You can go short or long with equal ease – unlike stocks where it’s easier to go long than short due to the “up tick” rule.

The time relationship of the eminis (and the “big contracts”) to the cash indices is important to understand. Let’s start from square one.

The S&P 500 stock index (the cash index, symbol SPX) is central to day trading futures. It has an Exchange Traded Fund (the “Spyders,” symbol SPY) that trades like a stock, but without the “up tick” rule. The price of the S&P 500 cash index moves up and down with the 500 stocks that make up the index. The SPYders follow the S&P 500 cash index very closely. You can trade Exchange Traded Funds such as the SPY (and QQQQ for the Nasdaq 100) online from home. But for day traders, they are not as favorable as day trading futures.

The concept of “futures” is a little confusing, but it boils down to this: the financial industry has turned the S&P 500 cash index into a “contract” that trades like a stock. The contract (or futures contract) has a price that goes up and down from one moment to the next. It has a chart that looks just like stock chart, and you can make money with it by buying low and selling high, or vice versa. That’s a complicated as it needs to be for now.

The “big contracts” or SP Maxis were invented first and they’re still around. With the big contracts, a lot of money changes hands. When the price of the SP Maxis moves one point, $250 per contract moves with it. The SP Maxi contracts trade in a literal “pit” where the traders, called “locals,” shout at each other, buying and selling for everyone who wants a piece of the action.

The locals are not public servants, of course, they make money for their own accounts. They have the advantage of being able to read each other’s body language and the tone of the other trader’s voices. They see what the strongest traders in the pit are doing. They have several other advantages too, their costs per trade are tiny compared to the public’s commissions.

The “locals” aren’t born as professional traders though, they learn to trade like everyone else, except they have a huge advantage in learning as well because they learn to scalp first! Their instant access and low commissions make this possible compared to others, but those day trading futures online can take advantage of scalping trades as well.

Scalping is basically limiting your losses to only one or two ticks while taking any profit you get as you get it. It’s easier than going for several points per trade, I’ve been using this strategy day trading futures with much success.

Locals also use the spread (the difference between the bid and ask price), to grab quick profits from orders that come in on either side of the market. This makes scalping easier for them.

In the past, all these advantages made it impossible for a “retail” day trader to be a successful scalper. It was insane to try. And to this day many traders have the idea that scalping is too difficult for the public because you have to compete against traders with an unfair advantage.

But all that has changed now. If you follow some simple, yet important guidelines then you too can be successful scalping and day trading futures online.

They took the concept of the Maxi futures contracts and came up with smaller contracts (the eminis) that move $50.00 per SP point instead of $250.00. This allows all traders, big and small, to trade the stock index futures.

But even more radically, they set it up so that the smaller contracts (the eminis) are traded only through computers. This was revolutionary, they bypassed the pit, taking away the advantage of the “locals,” and leveling the playing field in a way that has never been done before. And to level the field even more, retail commission costs fell like a rock. Today, any trader day trading futures with a small account can pay $4.80 per round turn (entering and exiting a trade).

This means that scalping is open to the day trading public for the first time in history. But most people who areday trading futures don’t even realize where the new advantage really is.

Scalping is one of the keys to making a living day trading futures as I do, because I follow a simple rule: “Every trade starts out as a scalp until proven otherwise”.

The SP emini futures became more and more popular and more liquid, breaking a lot of records along the way.

The SP Maxis futures and the SP emini futures are both derived from the S&P 500 index (symbol SPX), which, as I said, has an ETF that trades like a stock (symbol SPY).

So the question is – which of these is the leader and which are followers?

Today the emini futures track the Maxi contracts almost tick for tick, with the emini’s beginning to lead the Maxi’s at times, and also “overshooting” the Maxis at emotional extremes, such as the at the top of an intraday rally.

Both the SP eminis and the SP Maxis (the futures) lead the S&P 500 cash index by a variable amount of time, often in the range of a fraction of a second. Some people call this “the tail wagging the dog,” because the futures are derivatives of the stock indices, but call it what you want, the futures are leading the way.

The fact that the futures lead the markets makes their chart patterns more “pure” and reliable for support and resistance trading. This makes a huge difference to me.

I use the stock index futures (the eminis and Maxis) for calculating daily support and resistance areas, which are the basis of my own trading style – a style of trading that has paid my bills and built my financial security for about 27 years now.

I publish my support and resistance levels in the RBI Trader’s Updates, along with my daily trading plan. Since 1996 many professional traders, as well as some beginners, have subscribed to my work because of its accuracy.

Mike Reed

All content in this article is for informational purposes only and in no way serves as investment advice. Investing in cryptocurrencies, commodities and stocks is very risky and can lead to capital losses.

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