Futures contract details

Explore the components of futures contracts along with some basic futures concepts.

Futures and futures options trading is provided by Charles Schwab Futures and Forex LLC.

Each futures contract is made up of five key specifications.

Contract size

A futures contract has a standardized size that does not change, but it can be different for each product.

For example, one contract of crude oil (/CL) represents 1,000 barrels. And one contract of gold futures (/GC) represents 100 troy ounces. However, the E-mini S&P 500 futures (/ES) represent $50 times the price of the S&P 500 Index, while the Micro E-mini S&P futures (/MES) represent $5 times the price of the S&P 500.

Contract value

Also known as a contract's notional value, contract value is calculated by multiplying the size of the contract by the current price.

For example, the E-mini S&P 500 contract is $50 times the price of the index. If the index is trading at 2,250, the value of one E-mini S&P 500 contract would be $112,500.

Tick size

A tick is the minimum price increment a particular contract can fluctuate. Tick sizes and values vary from contract to contract.

For example, a tick in /ES is 0.25 per point. Since /ES represents $50 times the S&P 500 Index, every 0.25 move in /ES equals $12.50.

Trading hours

Most futures markets are open 23 hours per day, from Sunday evening until Friday afternoon, but some futures products have unique trading hours.

For example, you can trade E-mini S&P 500 futures between 6:00 p.m. ET and 5:00 p.m. ET, while corn futures can be traded from 8:00 p.m. ET through 2:20 p.m. ET with a 45-minute pause from 8:45 a.m. ET to 9:30 a.m. ET.


Futures contracts have expiration dates and are either cash settled or physically settled at expiration.

  • Cash settled futures contracts expire directly into cash at expiration. /ES is an example of a financially settled product.
  • Physically settled futures contracts expire directly into the physical commodity. /CL is an example of a physically settled product. At expiration, anyone long a contract in /CL will receive 1,000 barrels of crude oil. However, Charles Schwab Futures and Forex LLC doesn't allow clients to take physical delivery of a futures contract, and are cash settled.

More important futures trading concepts to know


Mark-to-market is the process used to price futures contracts at the end of every trading day. Discover how this impacts your positions.

Futures roll

Because futures contracts have an expiration date, you may need to roll a position in order to maintain it. This means closing the current position in the expiring month and opening a new position in the next month, which would incur additional costs. Learn why rolling a position is something you might consider when trading certain futures products.

Have questions about futures? We're here to help.