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S&P E-mini or S&P 500 Futures Contract Explained
The S&P E-mini is an index futures security, is traded worldwide, is a widely monitored benchmark of the US stock market performance, has low trade costs, broad market exposure, has a minimal bid-ask spread and can be profitably traded in either market direction.  Many professional traders trade the S&P E-mini since it's very widely traded meaning it's a quite liquid security. This security is traded electronically with very fast execution. The S&P E-mini futures is offered by CME Group and regulated by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

An index is a composite or group of securities bundled as one security.  In the S&P E-mini's case it's a bundle of Standard and Poor's benchmark of 500 large-cap stocks known for their liquidity, size and industry.  It's also a futures contract meaning that this security has a contract period lasting three months and then a new contract is created and traded.  Trading a futures contract allows the use of greater financial leverage relative to a typical ETF or group of stocks.

For qualified accounts with intraday day trading and a with broker margin one E-mini contract can be purchased for as low as $300-500. Those trading on margin should exit or close their position prior to the end of the trading day. 

The S&P E-mini is also 1/5 of the full S&P or larger institutional S&P contract, ticker symbol "SP", trading at $250 per point with 1/10 increments.  If, for example, the S&P 500 E-mini futures contract is trading at 1000 the contract controls $50,000 (as of September 2009).  Restated, with the purchase of one E-mini contract for $500 margin, a trader controls the equivalent of a basket of S&P index stocks worth $50,000.  (This "worth" value varies up and down with the gyrations of the S&P market.) Typical daily price range is about 15-20 points (60-80 ticks) or $750-1,000 per contract.  Of course, if price cycling occurs (or ratcheting movement) or if the day is volatile, overall price movement is greater.

One tick (or the minimal increment) is equal to $12.50.  For each point there are 4 ticks.  So a movement of 4 ticks * $12.50 per point is $50.00 profit/loss per point.  Total round-turn (in and out) trade costs (all costs) usually runs less than $5.00.

The contract rollover months are March (ESH), June (ESM), September (ESU) and December (ESZ) with each month having a symbol suffix value. The base S&P E-mini futures ticker symbol is "ES".  However, a continuous (or continuously quoted) S&P contract, TradeStation symbol "@ES", exists so traders can monitor price action over multiple contract periods.  Click here to view the CME Group's current S&P 500 E-mini calendar.

Trading occurs from Monday and Thursday 5:00 PM through 3:15 PM and from Sunday 5:00 PM Sunday through Monday 3:15 PM.  Conversely, weekdays from 3:16 PM to 4:59 PM the market is closed for system maintenance.  All time is Chicago time or Central time.

Competitive futures contracts are the DOW (symbol YM), the NASDAQ (symbol NQ) and the volatile Russell (symbol ER).  The New Era Trader S&P E-mini trading methodology can be used with these futures contracts but less effectively.

S&P-related Base Index Options Securities*

  1. OEX - a weekly and monthly S&P 100 index option that can be exercised before its expiration date, CBOE
  2. SP - S&P 500 futures options weekly and monthly expiration
  3. XSP  - represents the S&P 500 index but at 1/10th the value
  4. SPX - a monthly S&P 500 index option expiring monthly Thursday close, cash contract
  5. XEO - same as the OEX except this option cannot be exercised until its expiration date.
  6. SPY - monthly S&P 500 ETF 1/10th size of S&P futures contract
*These are dollar denominated securities; Euro-based S&P securities are also available.

S&P TradeStation Charting Symbols (All are CME)
  1. @SP.P - S&P 500 Continuous Full Contract
  2. @ES.D - S&P 500 E-mini Continuous Contract
  3. $SPX.X - S&P 500 Cash Index Daily
S&P ThinkOrSwim Charting Symbols - Preliminary
  1. @SP.P - S&P 500 Continuous Full Contract
  2. @ES.D - S&P 500 E-mini Continuous Contract
  3. $SPX.X - S&P 500 Cash Index Daily
S&P NinjaTrader Charting Symbols - Preliminary
  1. @SP.P - S&P 500 Continuous Full Contract
  2. @ES.D - S&P 500 E-mini Continuous Contract
  3. $SPX.X - S&P 500 Cash Index Daily