Commodity Futures – Meaning, Objectives and Benefits

What is “Commodity” and “Commodity Exchange”?

Any product that can be used for commerce or an article of commerce which is traded on an authorized commodity exchange is known as commodity. The article should be movable of value, something which is bought or sold and which is produced or used as the subject or barter or sale. In short commodity includes all kinds of goods. Indian Forward Contracts (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 1952 defines “goods” as “every kind of movable property other than actionable claims, money and securities”. A commodity exchange is an association or a company or any other body corporate organizing futures trading in commodities for which license has been granted by regulating authority.

In current situation, all goods and products of agricultural (including plantation), mineral and fossil origin are allowed for commodity trading recognized under the FCRA. The national commodity exchanges, recognized by the Central Government, permits commodities which include precious (gold and silver) and non-ferrous metals, cereals and pulses, ginned and un-ginned cotton, oilseeds, oils and oilcakes, raw jute and jute goods, sugar and gur, potatoes and onions, coffee and tea, rubber and spices. Etc.

What is Commodity Futures?

A Commodity futures is an agreement between two parties to buy or sell a specified and standardized quantity of a commodity at a certain time in future at a price agreed upon at the time of entering into the contract on the commodity futures exchange.

The need for a futures market arises mainly due to the hedging function that it can perform. Commodity markets, like any other financial instrument, involve risk associated with frequent price volatility. The loss due to price volatility can be attributed to the following reasons:

  1. Consumer Preferences: In the short-term, their influence on price volatility is small since it is a slow process permitting manufacturers, dealers and wholesalers to adjust their inventory in advance.
  2. Changes in supply: They are abrupt and unpredictable bringing about wild fluctuations in prices. This can especially noticed in agricultural commodities where the weather plays a major role in affecting the fortunes of people involved in this industry. The futures market has evolved to neutralize such risks through a mechanism; namely hedging.

The Objectives of Commodity Futures

  • Hedging with the objective of transferring risk related to the possession of physical assets through any adverse moments in price. Liquidity and Price discovery to ensure base minimum volume in trading of a commodity through market information and demand supply factors that facilitates a regular and authentic price discovery mechanism.
  • Maintaining buffer stock and better allocation of resources as it augments reduction in inventory requirement and thus the exposure to risks related with price fluctuation declines. Resources can thus be diversified for investments.
  • Price stabilization along with balancing demand and supply position. Futures trading leads to predictability in assessing the domestic prices, which maintains stability, thus safeguarding against any short term adverse price movements. Liquidity in Contracts of the commodities traded also ensures in maintaining the equilibrium between demand and supply.
  • Flexibility, certainty and transparency in purchasing commodities facilitate bank financing. Predictability in prices of commodity would lead to stability, which in turn would eliminate the risks associated with running the business of trading commodities. This would make funding easier and less stringent for banks to commodity market players.

Benefits of Commodity Futures Markets

The primary objectives of any futures exchange are authentic price discovery and an efficient price risk management. The beneficiaries include those who trade in the commodities being offered in the exchange as well as those who have nothing to do with futures trading. It is because of price discovery and risk management through the existence of futures exchanges that a lot of businesses and services are able to function smoothly.

  1. Price Discovery: Based on inputs regarding specific market information, the demand and supply equilibrium, weather forecasts, expert views and comments, inflation rates, Government policies, market dynamics, hopes and fears, buyers and sellers conduct trading at futures exchanges. This transforms in to continuous price discovery mechanism. The execution of trade between buyers and sellers leads to assessment of fair value of a particular commodity that is immediately disseminated on the trading terminal.
  2. Price Risk Management: Hedging is the most common method of price risk management. It is strategy of offering price risk that is inherent in spot market by taking an equal but opposite position in the futures market. Futures markets are used as a mode by hedgers to protect their business from adverse price change. This could dent the profitability of their business. Hedging benefits who are involved in trading of commodities like farmers, processors, merchandisers, manufacturers, exporters, importers etc.
  3. Import- Export competitiveness: The exporters can hedge their price risk and improve their competitiveness by making use of futures market. A majority of traders which are involved in physical trade internationally intend to buy forwards. The purchases made from the physical market might expose them to the risk of price risk resulting to losses. The existence of futures market would allow the exporters to hedge their proposed purchase by temporarily substituting for actual purchase till the time is ripe to buy in physical market. In the absence of futures market it will be meticulous, time consuming and costly physical transactions.
  4. Predictable Pricing: The demand for certain commodities is highly price elastic. The manufacturers have to ensure that the prices should be stable in order to protect their market share with the free entry of imports. Futures contracts will enable predictability in domestic prices. The manufacturers can, as a result, smooth out the influence of changes in their input prices very easily. With no futures market, the manufacturer can be caught between severe short-term price movements of oils and necessity to maintain price stability, which could only be possible through sufficient financial reserves that could otherwise be utilized for making other profitable investments.
  5. Benefits for farmers/Agriculturalists: Price instability has a direct bearing on farmers in the absence of futures market. There would be no need to have large reserves to cover against unfavorable price fluctuations. This would reduce the risk premiums associated with the marketing or processing margins enabling more returns on produce. Storing more and being more active in the markets. The price information accessible to the farmers determines the extent to which traders/processors increase price to them. Since one of the objectives of futures exchange is to make available these prices as far as possible, it is very likely to benefit the farmers. Also, due to the time lag between planning and production, the market-determined price information disseminated by futures exchanges would be crucial for their production decisions.
  6. Credit accessibility: The absence of proper risk management tools would attract the marketing and processing of commodities to high-risk exposure making it risky business activity to fund. Even a small movement in prices can eat up a huge proportion of capital owned by traders, at times making it virtually impossible to payback the loan. There is a high degree of reluctance among banks to fund commodity traders, especially those who do not manage price risks. If in case they do, the interest rate is likely to be high and terms and conditions very stringent. This posses a huge obstacle in the smooth functioning and competition of commodities market. Hedging, which is possible through futures markets, would cut down the discount rate in commodity lending.
  7. Improved product quality: The existence of warehouses for facilitating delivery with grading facilities along with other related benefits provides a very strong reason to upgrade and enhance the quality of the commodity to grade that is acceptable by the exchange. It ensures uniform standardization of commodity trade, including the terms of quality standard: the quality certificates that are issued by the exchange-certified warehouses have the potential to become the norm for physical trade.

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