A currency future, also FX future or foreign exchange future, is a futures contract to exchange one currency for another at a specified date in the future at a price (exchange rate) that is fixed on the purchase date. Typically, one of the currencies is the US dollar. The price of a future is then in terms of US dollars per unit of other currency. This can be different from the standard way of quoting in the spot foreign exchange markets. The trade unit of each contract is then a certain amount of other currency, for instance €125,000. Most contracts have physical delivery, so for those held at the end of the last trading day, actual payments are made in each currency. However, most contracts are closed out before that. Investors can close out the contract at any time prior to the contract's delivery date.
Currency futures were first created at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) in 1972, less than one year after the system of fixed exchange rates was abandoned along with the gold standard. Some commodity traders at the CME did not have access to the inter-bank exchange markets in the early 1970s, when they believed that significant changes were about to take place in the currency market. They established the International Monetary Market (IMM) and launched trading in seven currency futures on May 16, 1972. Today, the IMM is a division of CME. In the second quarter of 2005, an average of 332,000 contracts with a notional value of $43 billion were traded every day. Currently most of these are traded electronically .
The IMM dates are the third Wednesday in March, June, September and December.
Investors use these futures contracts to hedge against foreign exchange risk. If an investor will receive a cashflow denominated in a foreign currency on some future date, that investor can lock in the current exchange rate by entering into an offsetting currency futures position that expires on the date of the cashflow.
For example, Jane is a US-based investor who will receive €1,000,000 on December 1. The current exchange rate implied by the futures is $1.2/€. She can lock in this exchange rate by selling €1,000,000 worth of futures contracts expiring on December 1. That way, she is guaranteed an exchange rate of $1.2/€ regardless of exchange rate fluctuations in the meantime.
Currency futures can also be used to speculate and, by incurring a risk, attempt to profit from rising or falling exchange rates.
For example, Peter buys 10 September CME Euro FX Futures, at $1.2713/€. At the end of the day, the futures close at $1.2784/€. The change in price is $0.0071/€. As each contract is over €125,000, and he has 10 contracts, his profit is $8,875. As with any future, this is paid to him immediately. Edit: Quoting for FX Futures at CME is in €/$ not $/€!
More generally, each change of $0.0001/€ (the minimum Commodity tick size), is a profit or loss of $12.50 per contract.}}