Crypto Basics

What are Crypto Futures and How Do They Work?

Learn everything about crypto futures in this comprehensive guide, including their types, advantages, risks, and key strategies for successful trading.
S. Vishwa
15 Minutes
What are Crypto Futures?

Table of contents

In the rapidly evolving world of digital finance, crypto futures have emerged as a cornerstone, offering traders and investors alike a pathway to navigate the volatility of cryptocurrency markets with more confidence and strategy. 

These futures contracts enable participants to agree on the future price of cryptocurrency assets, providing a way to hedge against price fluctuations or speculate on price movements. 

They play a pivotal role in the maturation of the cryptocurrency markets, bringing a level of sophistication and liquidity previously reserved for traditional financial markets.

This article delves into the intricacies of crypto futures, beginning with a fundamental understanding of these futures contracts and elucidating how they operate within the broader context of cryptocurrency futures trading. 

It proceeds to categorize the different types of crypto futures contracts available, highlighting the advantages of trading in this arena while also cautioning about the risks and considerations investors should consider.

Understanding Crypto Futures

Definition and Basics

Crypto futures are derivative contracts in which parties agree to buy or sell a specific cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, at a predetermined price on a future date. 

These contracts allow investors to speculate on cryptocurrencies' price movements without owning digital assets. This financial tool mirrors the traditional futures market but is adapted to the digital currency landscape.

Historical Development and Evolution

The concept of crypto futures was first realized in December 2017 when Bitcoin futures were launched on major exchanges such as the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). 

Introducing these regulated platforms marked a significant milestone, providing a bridge for institutional investors to participate in the crypto market. 

Innovations continued with BitMEX's creation of perpetual swaps, a type of futures contract without an expiry date that enhances traders' flexibility.

Comparing Crypto Futures to Traditional Futures

Crypto Futures vs Traditional Futures

These distinctions highlight how crypto futures have adapted the traditional futures model to fit the unique characteristics of digital currencies, making it an essential tool for traders looking to hedge or speculate in the dynamic crypto market.

How Crypto Futures Work?

Mechanics of Trading Crypto Futures

Crypto futures operate similarly to traditional futures, allowing investors to speculate on the future price of cryptocurrencies without directly owning the underlying assets. 

The mechanics involve two primary types of margin requirements: the Initial Margin and the Maintenance Margin.

Initial Margin: This is the upfront deposit required to open a position in a futures contract. Exchanges set the initial margin, which varies depending on the underlying asset's volatility. 

For instance, a Futures Commission Merchant (FCM) might require additional funds beyond the exchange's minimum to cover potential losses.

Maintenance Margin: The trading account must maintain the minimum amount to keep the position open. 

If the account balance falls below this level due to adverse price movements, the trader may face a margin call, requiring them to add more funds or risk liquidating their position.

How Crypto Futures Work?
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Trading crypto futures involves setting up an account with a brokerage or exchange, getting approval to trade futures, and understanding the funding requirements and derivatives trading experience necessary for trading.

How does Leverage affect traders in Crypto Futures?

Leverage is critical in crypto futures trading, giving traders greater buying power. It allows traders to open larger positions than their existing capital ordinarily permits by borrowing additional funds from the broker or exchange.

Enhanced Purchasing Power: Leverage can significantly increase potential returns on investment by allowing traders to multiply the size of their positions. 

For example, with 10x leverage, a $1,000 investment allows the trader to hold a $10,000 position.

Risk of Liquidation: While leverage can amplify returns, it also significantly increases risk. If the market moves against the position, traders can quickly face liquidation. 

The liquidation process involves the exchange forcing positions to close to prevent further losses, often resulting in the total loss of the initial margin.

Long vs. Short Positions Explained

In crypto futures, traders can take long or short positions based on market expectations.

Going Long: A long position in crypto futures means that the trader is betting on the cryptocurrency's price rising in the future. 

Traders enter a long position by buying futures contracts with the expectation of selling them at a higher price as the market appreciates.

Going Short: Conversely, a short position involves selling futures contracts with the expectation to repurchase them at a lower price. 

This strategy is used when traders anticipate declining cryptocurrency prices, allowing them to profit from falling markets.

Both long and short positions carry risks, particularly in the volatile crypto market. To mitigate potential losses, traders must employ risk management strategies and stay informed about market conditions.

Types of Crypto Futures Contracts

Standard vs. Perpetual Contracts

In crypto futures, traders can choose between standard futures contracts and perpetual futures contracts, each serving distinct purposes and offering unique advantages.

Standard Futures Contracts are traditional forms of futures with a predetermined expiration date. These contracts require the holder to buy or sell the underlying asset at a specified price on a specific future date. 

The forward-looking market price of the asset influences the price of these contracts. Upon reaching the expiration date, these contracts can be settled either physically or financially, depending on the terms agreed upon by the parties involved.

On the other hand, Perpetual Futures Contracts do not have a fixed expiry date, making them an attractive option for many traders. These contracts are designed to closely mimic the underlying asset's price and allow traders to hold positions indefinitely. 

Perpetual contracts employ a funding rate mechanism to ensure that the contract price remains closely aligned with the asset's spot price. 

This mechanism requires periodic payments between long and short positions, which helps mitigate the risk of price manipulation and maintains fair trading conditions.

Settlement: Cash vs. Physical Delivery

The settlement of futures contracts can occur in two primary ways: cash settlement and physical delivery. Each method caters to different trading strategies and preferences.

Cash Settlement - In cash-settled futures, the contract holder does not receive the physical delivery of the underlying asset at expiration. 

Instead, the settlement involves exchanging the net cash amount, representing the difference between the spot and futures prices at the contract expiration. 

This method is favored for its convenience and speed, as it circumvents the complexities and costs associated with the physical handling of assets.

Cash settlement is particularly prevalent in markets where the underlying assets are difficult or impractical to deliver physically, such as in the case of indices or specific financial instruments.

Physical Delivery - Physical delivery involves the actual transfer of the underlying asset from the seller to the buyer at the end of the contract term. 

This method is common in commodities markets, where physical goods (like agricultural products, metals, etc.) are exchanged.

Opting for physical delivery requires coordination through a clearing broker or agent and involves additional costs such as transportation and storage, making it less common in the cryptocurrency futures market.

Both settlement types play crucial roles in the futures market, each offering advantages that cater to different investor needs and market conditions. 

While cash settlement offers simplicity and quick transaction times, physical delivery provides the actual commodities, which can be critical for specific businesses and industries.

Advantages of Trading Crypto Futures

Hedging and Risk Management - Crypto futures are instrumental for investors looking to manage risks associated with the volatile cryptocurrency markets. 

Establishing long and short positions enables traders to hedge against potential price declines without liquidating their holdings. 

This dual capability protects against adverse movements and provides profit opportunities. For instance, if an investor anticipates a decrease in Bitcoin's value, they can open a short position to offset potential losses on their long positions.

Leverage and Margin Trading - One of the most significant advantages of trading crypto futures is leveraging leverage. This means traders can control large amounts of cryptocurrency with a relatively small capital. 

Leverage can amplify profits but also increase potential losses, so it's crucial for traders to use it judiciously. 

The futures market offers structured margin requirements, including initial and maintenance margins, which help traders manage their financial exposure more effectively. 

For example, with a leverage ratio of 100:1, an investor can open a large position while only committing a fraction of the total value upfront.

Accessing High Liquidity Markets - Crypto futures contribute to higher liquidity in the cryptocurrency markets, making it easier for traders to enter and exit positions. This liquidity is vital for minimizing the cost of trading and allowing more efficient price discovery. 

High liquidity also reduces the risk of market manipulation, as the large volume of trades makes it more difficult for single entities to influence prices significantly. 

As more institutional investors and professional traders participate in these markets, their depth and resilience continue to improve, offering a more stable trading environment.

Risks and Considerations

Volatility and Market Risk - The cryptocurrency market is notoriously volatile, with prices often influenced by hype, market speculation, and the prevalent sentiment of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). 

This volatility is exacerbated by relatively limited liquidity, which can lead to significant price swings during substantial trading shifts. 

Regulatory changes, cybersecurity threats to crypto exchanges, and significant news events can dramatically affect market stability. 

Tools like Bollinger Bands and the Average True Range (ATR) are crucial for traders to visualize volatility and manage their trades accordingly. 

These instruments help traders identify potential entry and exit points by signaling overbought or oversold conditions, thus indicating possible price reversals.

Leverage Risks - Leverage allows traders to post a small amount of capital to open positions that are much larger in value, known as margin trading. 

While this can magnify profits, it also significantly increases the risk of substantial losses, potentially exceeding the initial investment. 

Maintaining margin requirements is critical; if the market moves unfavorably, traders may face margin calls, requiring additional funds to keep positions open or risk liquidation. 

The inherent risks of leverage have led to regulatory interventions in several countries. Authorities have set caps on leverage ratios or banned their use altogether to protect traders from the amplified risks.

Regulatory and Legal Considerations - Navigating the complex landscape of cryptocurrency regulation is crucial for every market participant. 

The sale of cryptocurrencies may be regulated under various legal frameworks depending on whether they are deemed securities or fall under other regulatory classifications, such as money services businesses (MSBs). 

In the United States, entities like the SEC, CFTC, and FinCEN have set guidelines that impact how crypto assets are traded, managed, and reported. 

Compliance with these regulations is critical; failure to adhere can result in hefty fines and legal actions. 

For instance, violations of the Bank Security Act (BSA) have led to significant penalties for crypto exchanges. 

Moreover, cryptocurrencies' international scope poses additional challenges, as traders and companies must also navigate the regulatory environments of all jurisdictions in which they operate.

How to Start Trading Crypto Futures?

Choosing the Right Exchange - When embarking on your journey into crypto futures trading, selecting the right exchange is paramount. Depending on your trading needs, a variety of platforms offer different advantages. 

Binance Futures, for instance, dominates the market with its extensive range of over 340 derivative trading pairs and high trading volume, making it a popular choice for many traders. 

For those interested in perpetual futures, MEXC provides a robust platform with contracts settled in either USDT or the underlying cryptocurrency. Meanwhile, platforms like Bybit and OKX offer various future products, including perpetual swaps and options.

It is crucial to consider the exchange's security measures. Look for features such as two-factor authentication (2FA) and cold storage options, which enhance the safety of your funds. 

Also, assess the exchange's liquidity and volume, as these factors will affect your transaction costs and trading experience. 

Lastly, understand the fee structure. Exchanges typically charge different fees for market makers and takers, which can impact your trading strategy.

Setting up a Trading Account - After choosing an exchange, the next step is to set up your trading account. This process generally involves registering with the exchange, verifying your identity to comply with regulatory requirements, and securing your account with strong passwords and 2FA.

Some exchanges, like Binance, require new users to pass a quiz on futures trading to ensure they have the requisite knowledge. This safety measure protects new traders from potential losses due to inexperience. 

Once your account is set up, you will need to deposit funds. Depending on the type of futures contracts you intend to trade, you may need to transfer funds into specific wallets, such as a USDT-M wallet for USDT-margined futures or a Coin-M wallet for coin-margined futures.

Developing a Trading Strategy - A robust trading strategy is essential for success in crypto futures trading. Begin by deciding whether you will trade standard or perpetual futures contracts. 

Each type has its own characteristics and suits different trading styles. For example, perpetual contracts might be preferable for traders who do not wish to worry about expiration dates.

Your strategy should also include risk management techniques. Use tools like stop-loss orders to protect against significant losses, and use leverage carefully to amplify your trading power while managing the risk of liquidation.

Consider using both technical and fundamental analysis to guide your trading decisions. Technical analysis involves studying price charts and trading volumes to predict future movements. 

In contrast, fundamental analysis looks at external factors, such as market news and economic indicators, that could affect the prices of cryptocurrencies.

Following these steps—choosing the right exchange, setting up your trading account, and developing a sound trading strategy—can help you begin trading crypto futures more confidently and effectively.

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Key Strategies for Successful Crypto Futures Trading

Technical Analysis Techniques

Technical analysis is a cornerstone for successful trading in the volatile crypto futures market. This method analyzes past market data, primarily price and volume, to forecast future price movements. Here's a detailed look at some of the key technical analysis techniques:

Candlestick Patterns are essential for understanding market sentiments and potential price movements. Candlesticks with a long lower wick and a short body at the top typically indicate a buying opportunity, suggesting that the selling pressure has ended. Conversely, a candlestick with a long upper wick indicates selling pressure.

Support and Resistance Levels: These levels are crucial as they represent the thresholds where the price movements of crypto assets are likely to halt and reverse. Identifying these levels helps traders make strategic buying or selling decisions.

Moving Averages: Utilizing moving averages helps smooth out price data over a specific period and identifies the direction of the market trend. Crossing short-term moving averages above long-term ones (a golden cross) can indicate a bullish market sentiment, while the opposite (a death cross) suggests a bearish market.

Technical Indicators:

  • Relative Strength Index (RSI): This indicator measures the speed and change of price movements. An RSI above 70 suggests an overbought condition, while below 30 indicates oversold conditions.
  • MACD (Moving Average Convergence Divergence): This tool helps identify trend reversals and momentum by showing the relationship between two moving price averages.

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Volume Analysis: The trading volume analysis can confirm trends identified by other methods or suggest a potential reversal if the price movement is not supported by volume.

By integrating these techniques, traders can enhance their ability to make informed decisions based on the anticipated crypto market movements.

Risk Management Strategies

Effective risk management is critical to sustaining long-term profitability in crypto futures trading. Here are several strategies traders should consider:

Establish a Trading Plan: This should detail your entry and exit strategies, desired position sizes, and when to cut losses or take profits. Adherence to a well-thought-out trading plan can significantly reduce emotional decision-making and improve consistency.

Position Sizing: Determining the appropriate amount to invest in each trade relative to your total capital is important, thus limiting potential losses. For instance, risking at most 1-2 % of your total trading capital on a single trade can prevent devastating losses.

Use of Stop Losses and Take Profit Orders:

  • Stop-loss orders can limit your losses by automatically closing a trade at a predetermined level if the market moves against you.
  • Take Profit Orders: Similarly, take profit orders to lock in profits by automatically closing a trade once a certain profit level is reached.

Maintain a Trading Journal: Recording all trades, including the strategy used, results, and emotional state, can provide valuable insights into your trading habits and help refine your strategy.

Avoid Over-Trading: Set limits on the number of trades you execute within a given period to avoid fatigue and potential error from excessive trading.

By employing these risk management strategies, traders can protect their capital from significant losses and improve their chances for long-term success in the crypto futures market.


Given the dynamic nature of cryptocurrency markets, the significance of crypto futures as a tool for risk mitigation and capitalizing on market movements must be considered. 

As we conclude, reflecting on the dual-edged sword of leverage within trading, the nuances of market liquidity, and the criticality of comprehensive risk management is essential. 

This discourse solidifies the operational knowledge of crypto futures and propels traders toward making calculated, informed decisions in their trading endeavors. 

Encouraging a forward-looking perspective, further research and continuous learning are imperative steps for traders to adapt and thrive in the ever-evolving expanse of cryptocurrency futures trading.


The information provided on this website does not constitute investment advice, financial advice, trading advice, or any other advice, and you should not treat any of the website's content as such.

Token Metrics does not recommend buying, selling, or holding any cryptocurrency. Conduct your due diligence and consult your financial advisor before making investment decisions.

S. Vishwa

Vishwa is an SEO Specialist and Blog Writer at Token Metrics. He has 7+ years of experience in digital marketing and enjoys creating insightful content in the finance and marketing sectors.

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