What is a Futures Contract? Definition & How Futures Work

What Is a Futures Contract? Definition & How Futures Work

Futures contracts are a type of financial derivative that investors use to speculate on the price of a security at a forthcoming date. These typically trade on separate futures exchanges, which allow for higher volumes of trading.

Recommended: A Guide to Derivatives Trading

What Is a Futures Contract?

Futures contracts, or futures, are legal agreements to either buy or sell a given security, commodity, or asset at a specific time in the future, for a previously agreed-upon price. For investors, they offer access to commodities and other markets they might not be able to access otherwise. They can also act as a way to protect against volatility.

One important feature of a future contract is that both buyers and sellers can execute the contract regardless of the current market price of the underlying asset when the contract expires.

Investors use futures contracts when they believe that the underlying security will go up or down by a certain amount of time over a fixed period of time. The futures contract buyer enters a legal agreement to buy the underlying asset at the contract’s expiration date. On the other side of the trade, the futures contract seller agrees to deliver the underlying security at the agreed-upon price, when the contract expires.

The majority of futures contracts on a futures exchange are standardized by date and price, to allow for higher trading volumes and simpler transactions.

Investors can buy futures contracts to make money – or to hedge against losses – resulting from the price increases or decreases in stocks and commodities like oil, as well as other financial instruments.

How Do Futures Contracts Work?

In a futures contract, the purchaser gets to buy a given asset at a predetermined price. That can help protect against big price swings up or down, making them popular not only with investors, but with companies that rely on commodities that experience sudden price changes.

Example of a Futures Contract

An airline, for example, might buy an oil futures contract to lock in the price of the oil that it will need to buy in order to get its jets off the ground in the coming months. Purchasing the futures contract allows the airline to guard against the financial harm of a sudden rise in the price of fuel. The risk to the airline, however, is that oil prices will go down – in which case, it will miss out on those lower prices.

On the other side of this hypothetical transaction is a fuel distributor, which has millions of gallons of oil in its inventory. It would sell the oil futures contract as a way of maintaining a steady market for its oil in the coming months. That’s because the airline buying the futures contract must buy the fuel at the agreed-upon price on the dates specified in the contract. That removes some risk for the oil distributor, but it also creates a risk if oil prices climb before the futures contract expires. Should that happen, the oil distributor will still have to sell the oil at the lower price specified in the futures contract.

To stay with this example, in the futures contract, the airline and the oil distributor will set and agree upon the terms, specifically the price of the oil and the expiration date upon which the contract expires. In this contract, the distributor agrees to sell 1,000 barrels of oil at $50 per barrel, in exactly 90 days. If the price of oil in 90 days is $75 per barrel, then the airline will have gotten a good deal. If a barrel of oil falls to $35, then the oil supplier will have protected itself against the price declines.

What’s the Difference Between Futures and Options?

Futures and options are both derivative contracts. However, futures contracts oblige the buyer or seller to complete the deal at the contract’s expiration, while options contracts give traders the right but not always the obligation to execute the contract when it expires.

Recommended: 10 Important Options Trading Strategies

Both futures and options share some of the same trading terminology. For example, both investors in both types of derivatives will need to consider it’s bid-ask price. The bid price is the highest price a buyer will pay for the contract, while the ask price is what the seller will accept.

Investors can also purchase options on future contracts. In a call option on a future, the buyer has the right to buy a futures contract at a specific price at a specific future date. In a put option, the buyer has the right to sell the futures contract at a specific price at a specific date.

Recommended: Call vs Put Options: What’s the Difference?

Futures Contracts Pros & Cons

Futures trading can be a profitable strategy, but it also has some drawbacks that investors should consider.

Benefits of Futures Contracts

• Futures contracts act as a hedge against the risks related to price volatility.

• Most futures markets are highly liquid, allowing traders to buy and sell when they want.

• Futures may give investors access to commodities, and other markets not normally accessible to everyday investors.

• Futures contract pricing is determined by adding the cost of carrying the underlying asset to its spot price.

Downsides of Futures Contracts

• Futures contracts can be a high risk investment. In some cases, a futures contract can lose all of its value and trade at $0 when it expires.

• Futures contracts can reduce or eliminate potential gains from price swings in the underlying securities or assets.

• Futures contracts themselves are often highly volatile, with their prices fluctuating wildly.

• You may have to pay high commission charges on high-volume trades.

How Investors Use Futures Contracts

But not everyone who buys an oil futures contract plans to take delivery of the oil it represents. Retail investors also use futures as a way to protect their investments against volatility. Those futures investors who buy and sell the contracts to make money off the price changes that the contracts themselves undergo.

To go back to the example of an oil futures contract, an investor owns a contract, and the price of oil rises, allowing the contract owner to buy oil for less than the market price. The investor will be able to sell that contract for more than they purchased it for. The investor will then sell the contract on the futures market.

Other investors use futures contracts related to other commodities, including corn, soybeans and wheat. But there are also futures markets where investors can buy futures contracts that offer them the ability to bet on the future of currencies, individual stocks or stock indices like the S&P 500 or 10-year Treasury bills. Investors may choose to buy futures, rather than the securities themselves, to reduce their volatility exposure.

How to Trade Futures Contracts

There are several steps to trading futures contracts.

1. Open a brokerage account

To trade futures contracts, the first thing you’ll need is a brokerage account. You may also need your broker to give approval for margin and options privileges in your account.

2. Set a trading strategy

Before jumping into the futures market, develop a strategy. That strategy could involve technical analysis based on market data, or fundamental analysis based on the investment’s underlying economic and financial trends.

Some investors even try out their strategy using hypothetical trades before they start trading with real money. This allows you to understand the risks of potential trades without actually losing money.

3. Research trades that make sense for your investment strategy

Most brokerages that offer futures trading have an online platform you can use to research specific securities and see futures contracts available to buy or sell.

4. Double-check the terms

Make sure that the contracts will do what you think. That means confirming the selling and purchase price of the contract, the expiration, and the fees.

5. Develop your skills

Whether doing it on paper, or with real money, you’ll want to refine your strategy over time. You may find that you make more profitable trades in a specific sector, for example, or need to work on staying calm as security prices rise and fall. Practice will allow you to improve, and get more out of the futures strategy you’ve developed.

The Takeaway

Futures contracts are a type of investment that can offer access to commodities markets, as well as a way to protect against volatility. They can be a helpful tool to some investors, but they’re also risky and can be an expensive way to invest.

While SoFi does not offer futures contracts, it does provide a great way for investors to get started building a portfolio. The SoFi Invest brokerage platform offers an active investing solution that allows you to choose stocks and exchange-traded funds without paying commissions. SoFi Invest also offers an automated investing solution that invests your money for you based on your goals and risk, with no Sofi management fee.

Photo credit: iStock/fizkes


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
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What Are Emerging Markets?

Emerging markets or emerging market economies (EMEs) are in the process of achieving the building blocks of developed nations: they’re establishing regulatory bodies, creating infrastructure, fostering political stability, and supporting mature financial markets. But many emerging markets still face challenges that developed market countries have overcome — contributing to potential instability.

To further answer the question, “What are emerging markets?”, it helps to understand developed markets.

Developed economies have higher standards of living and per-capita income, strong infrastructure, stable political systems, and mature capital markets. The U.S., Europe, U.K, and Japan are among the biggest developed nations.

Because these economies wield so much power globally, many internationally focused investors don’t realize that in fact emerging markets make up the majority of the global economy.

India, China, and Russia are a few of the larger countries that fall into the emerging markets category. Some emerging market economies, like these three, are also key global players — and investors may benefit by understanding the opportunities emerging markets present.

What Are Emerging Markets?

In essence, an emerging market refers to an economy that can become a developed, advanced economy soon. And because an emerging market may be a rapidly growing one, it may offer investment potential in certain sectors.

Investors tend to see these countries as potential sources of growth because their economies can resemble an established yet still-young startup company. The infrastructure and blueprint for success have been laid out, but things need to evolve before the economy can truly take off and ultimately mature. At the same time, owing to the challenges emerging market economies often face, there are also potential risks when investing in emerging markets.

Investors might bear the brunt of political turmoil, local infrastructure hurdles, a volatile home currency and illiquid capital markets (if certain enterprises are state-run or otherwise privately held, for example).

Emerging Market Examples

What constitutes an emerging market economy is somewhat fluid, and the list can vary depending on the source. Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) classifies 27 countries as emerging; Dow Jones classifies 22 as emerging. There is some overlap between lists, and some countries may be added or removed as their status changes. Greece, for example, is no longer considered a developed market but an emerging one.

China and India are two of the world’s biggest emerging economies, and historically they were included in the BRIC grouping of developing nations, along with Brazil and Russia. Increasingly, though, investors see China and India as pushing the bounds of their emerging market status.

China

China is the second-largest economy globally by gross domestic product (GDP). It has a large manufacturing base, plenty of technological innovation, and the largest population of any country in the world.

Yet China still has a few characteristics typical of an emerging market. For example, the gross national income per capita falls below the threshold established by the World Bank for a developed country: about $10,000 per year versus the higher standard of about $12,000 per year. With its Communist-led political system, China has embraced many aspects of capitalism in its economy but investors may experience some turbulence related to government laws and policy changes. Last, the Renminbi, China’s official currency, has a history of volatility.

India

India is another big global economy, and it’s considered among the top 10 richest countries in the world, yet India still has a low per-capita income that is typical of an emerging market and poverty is widespread.

At the same time, India was ranked near China as being among the more advanced emerging markets, thanks to its robust financial system, growing foreign investment, and strong industrials, especially in telecommunication and technology.

Characteristics of an Emerging Market Economy

As noted above, there isn’t a single definition of an emerging market, but there are some markers that distinguish these economies from developed nations.

Fast-Paced Growth

An emerging market economy is often in a state of rapid expansion. There is perhaps no better time to be invested in the growth of a country than when it enters this phase.

At this point, an emerging market has laid much of the groundwork necessary for becoming a developed nation. Capital markets and regulatory bodies have been established, personal incomes are rising, innovation is flourishing, and GDP is climbing.

Lower Per-Capita Income

The World Bank keeps a record of the gross national income (GNI) of many countries. For the fiscal year of 2021, lower-middle-income economies are defined as having GNI per capita of between $1,036 and $4,045 per year. At the same time, upper-middle-income economies are defined as having GNI per capita between $4,046 and $12,535. (By way of contrast, the U.S. is considered a high-income economy, with a GNI of $65,910)

The vast majority of countries that are considered emerging markets fall into the lower-middle and upper-middle-income ranges. For example, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines are lower-middle-income, while China, Brazil, and Mexico are upper-middle-income. Thus, all these countries are referred to as emerging markets despite the considerable differences in their economic progression.

Political and Economic Instability

For most EMEs, volatility is par for the course. Risk and volatility tend to go hand in hand, and both are common among emerging market investments.

Emerging economies can be rife with internal conflicts, political turmoil, and economic upheaval. Some of these countries might see revolutions, political coups, or become targets of sanctions by more powerful developed nations.
Any one of these factors can have an immediate impact on financial markets and the performance of various sectors. Investors need to know the lay of the land when considering which EMEs to invest in.

Infrastructure and Climate

While some EMEs have well-developed infrastructure, many are a mix of sophisticated cities and rural regions that lack technology, services and basic amenities like reliable transportation. This lack of infrastructure can leave emerging markets especially vulnerable to any kind of crisis, whether political or from a natural disaster.

For example, if a country relies on agricultural exports for a significant portion of its trade, a tsunami, hurricane, or earthquake could derail related commerce.

On the other hand, climate challenges may also present investment opportunities that are worth considering.

Currency Crises

The value of a country’s currency is an important factor to keep in mind when investing in emerging markets.

Sometimes it can look like stock prices are soaring, but that might not be the case if the currency is declining.

If a stock goes up by 50% in a month, but the national currency declines by 90% during the same period, investors could see a net loss, although they might not recognize it as such until converting gains to their own native currency.

Heavy Reliance on Exports

Emerging market economies tend to rely heavily on exports. That means their economies depend in large part on selling goods and services to other countries.

A developed nation might house all the needs of production within its own shores while also being home to a population with the income necessary to purchase those goods and services. Developing countries, however, must export the bulk of what they create.

Emerging Economies’ Impact on Local Politics vs. Global Economy

Emerging economies play a significant role in the growth of the global economy, accounting for about 50% of the world’s economic growth. Moreover, it’s predicted that by 2050 three countries will have the biggest economies: the U.S., China, and India, with only one currently being a developed economy.

But, while emerging markets help fuel global growth, some of those with higher growth opportunities also come with turbulent political situations.

As an investor, the political climate of emerging market investments can pose serious risks. Although there is potential for higher returns, especially in EMEs that are in a growth phase, investors need to consider the potential downside. For example, Thailand, Russia, and South Korea are emerging economies with high growth potential, but there is also a lot of political unrest in these regions.

Why Invest in Emerging Markets?

Emerging markets are generally thought of as high-risk, high-reward investments.

They are also yet another way to diversify an investment portfolio. Having all of your portfolio invested in the assets of a single country puts you at the mercy of that country’s circumstances. If something goes wrong, like social unrest, a currency crisis, or widespread natural disasters, that might impact your investments.

Being invested in multiple countries can help mitigate the risk of something unexpected happening to any single economy.

The returns from emerging markets might also exceed those found elsewhere. If investors can capitalize on the high rate of growth in an emerging market at the right time and avoid any of the potential mishaps, they stand to profit. Of course timing any market, let alone a more complex and potentially volatile emerging market, may not be a winning strategy.

Pros and Cons of Investing in Emerging Markets

Let’s recap some of the pros and cons associated with EME investments.

Pros

•  High-profit potential: Selecting the right investments in EMEs at the right time can result in returns that might be greater than most other investments. Rapidly growing economies provide ample opportunity for profits. But as noted above, it’s impossible to guarantee the timing of any investment.

•  Global diversification: Investing in EMEs provides a chance to hold assets that go beyond the borders of an investor’s home country. So even if an unforeseen event should happen that contributes to slower domestic growth, it’s possible that investments elsewhere could perform well and provide some balance.

Cons

•  High volatility: As a general rule, investments with higher liquidity and market capitalization tend to be less volatile because it takes significant capital inflows or outflows to move their prices.
EMEs tend to have smaller capital markets combined with ongoing challenges, making them vulnerable to volatility.

•  High risk: With high volatility and uncertainty comes higher risk. What’s more, that risk can’t always be quantified. A situation might be even more unpredictable than it seems if factors coincide (e.g. a drought plus political instability).
All investments carry risk, but EMEs bring with them a host of fresh variables that can twist and turn in unexpected ways.

•  Low accessibility: While liquid capital markets are a characteristic of emerging markets, that liquidity still doesn’t match up to that of developed economies.
It may be necessary to consult with an investment advisor or pursue other means of deploying capital that may be undesirable to some investors.

The Takeaway

While developed nations like the U.S. and Europe and Japan regularly make headlines as global powerhouses, emerging market countries actually make up the majority of the world’s economy — and some very exciting opportunities for investors.

China and India are two of the biggest emerging markets, and not because of their vast populations. They both have maturing financial markets and strong industrial sectors and a great deal of foreign investment. And like other emerging markets, these countries have seen rapid growth in certain sectors (e.g. technology).

Despite their economic stature, though, both countries still face challenges common to many emerging economies, including political turbulence, currency fluctuations and low per-capita income.

It’s factors like these that can contribute to the risks of investing in emerging markets. And yet, emerging markets can also present unique investment opportunities owing to the fact that they are growing rapidly.

Emerging market exchange-traded funds (ETFs) might invest in different assets within a single country or spread their investments throughout multiple countries. Bonds can also play a role in an emerging market portfolio. Many countries with developing economies have used the issuance of new debt to borrow money to build out their infrastructure. That means some emerging economies could offer bonds with attractive yields.

To learn more about the investment opportunities that are right for you, open an account with SoFi Invest®. SoFi has all the tools a new or experienced investor might need, including a cutting-edge trading platform and complimentary financial advisors at your fingertips.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.
Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Investors should carefully consider the information contained in the prospectus, which contains the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other relevant information. You may obtain a prospectus from the Fund company’s website or by email customer service at [email protected] Please read the prospectus carefully prior to investing. Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.
Advisory services are offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC an SEC-registered Investment adviser. Information about SoFi Wealth’s advisory operations, services, and fees is set forth in SoFi Wealth’s current Form ADV Part 2 (Brochure), a copy of which is available upon request and at adviserinfo.sec.gov .

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What Is a Limit Order?

A limit order allows investors to buy or sell securities at a price they specify or better, providing some price protection on trades.

When you set a buy limit order, for example, the trade will only be executed at that price or lower. For sell limit orders, the order will be executed at the price you set or higher. By using certain types of orders, traders can potentially reduce their risk of losses and avoid unpredictable swings in the market.

By contrast, a market order is simply a basic trade, when you buy or sell a stock at the market price.

The main caveat is that while a limit order specifies a desired price, it doesn’t guarantee the trade will occur at that price, or at all. When you set a limit order, the trade will only be executed if and when the security meets the terms of the order — which may or may not happen, depending on the market. So when you set a limit order, you could miss out on some opportunities.

Keep reading to learn how limit orders work, how they differ from stop orders, and when you might want to use a limit order.

Types of Limit Orders and How They Work

In addition to asking, What is a limit order? you might also ask, Are there different kinds of limit orders? The answer is yes. There are two types of limit orders investors can execute: buy limit orders and limit sell orders.

For buy limit orders, you’re essentially setting a ceiling for the trade — i.e. the highest price you’d be willing to pay for each share. For sell limit orders, you’re setting a price floor — i.e. the lowest amount you’d be willing to accept per share.

•  What is limit order to buy? If a trader places a buy limit order, the intention is to buy shares of stock. The order will be triggered when the stock hits the limit price or lower.

  For example, you may want to buy shares of XYZ stock at $15 each. You could place a buy limit order that would allow the trade to be carried out automatically if the stock reaches that purchase price or better.

•  What is limit order to sell? If a trader places a limit order to sell, the order will be triggered when the stock hits the limit price or higher. So you could set a sell limit order to sell XYZ stock once its share price hits $20 or higher.

As noted above, the main upside of using limit orders is that traders get to name a desired price; they generally end up paying a price they expect; and they can set an order to execute a trade that can be executed even if they are doing other things.

In this way, setting limit orders can help traders seize opportunities they might otherwise miss because limit orders can stay open for months or in some cases indefinitely (the industry term is “good ‘til canceled’ or GTC). The limit order will still execute the trade once the terms are met.

Limit orders can also be set for pre-market and after-hours trading sessions. Market orders, by contrast, are limited to standard trading hours (9:30 AM to 4 PM ET).

Remember: Even though limit orders are geared to a specific price, that price isn’t guaranteed. First, limit orders are generally executed on a first-come-first-served basis. So there may be orders ahead of yours that eliminate the availability of shares at your limit price.

Also, the price at which the order is executed could be higher than the buy limit price by the time it’s executed — or lower than the limit price, in the case of a sell order.

Also, time is a factor. In today’s market, computer algorithms execute the majority of stock market trades. In this high-tech trading environment, it can be hard as an individual trader to know when to buy and sell. By using certain types of orders, like limit orders, traders can potentially limit their losses, lock in gains, and avoid swings in the market.

Though limit orders are commonly used in day trading strategies, they can be useful for any investor who wants some price protection around their trades. For example, if you think a stock is currently undervalued, you could purchase it at the current market price, then set a sell limit order to automatically sell it when the price goes up. Again, the limit order can stay open until the security meets your desired price — or you cancel the order.

However, speculating in the market can be risky and having experience can be helpful when deciding how and when to set limit orders.

Limit Orders vs. Stop Orders

There is another type of order that can come into play when you’re trying to control the price of a trade: a stop order. A stop order is similar to a limit order in that you set your desired price for a stock, say, and once the stock hits that price or goes past it, a market order is triggered to execute the purchase or sale.

The terms of a limit order are different in that a trade will be executed if the stock hits the specified price or better. So if you want to sell XYZ stock for $50 a share, a sell limit order will be triggered once the stock hits $50 or higher.

A stop order triggers a market order once XYZ stock hits $50, period. By the time the order is executed, the actual stock price could be higher or lower.

Thus with a stop order there’s also no guarantee that you’ll get the specified price. A market order is submitted once the stop price is hit, but in fast-moving markets the actual price you pay might end up being higher or lower.

Stop orders are generally used to exit a position and to minimize losses, whereas limit orders are used to capture gains. But two can also be used in conjunction with each other with something called a stop-limit order.

Stop-Limit Orders

A stop-limit order is a combination of a stop order and a limit order. Stop-limit orders involve setting two prices. For example: A stock is currently priced at $30 and a trader believes it’s going to go up in value, so they set a buy stop order of $33.

When the stock hits $33, a market order to buy will be triggered. But with a stop-limit order, the trader can also set a limit price, meaning the highest price they’re willing to pay per share — say, $35 per share. Using a stop-limit order gives traders an additional level of control.

Stop-limit orders can also help traders make sure they sell stocks before they go down significantly in value. Let’s say a trader purchased stock XYZ at $40 per share, and now anticipates the price will drop. The trader doesn’t want to lose more than $5 per share, so they set a stop order for $35.

If the stock hits $35 — the stop price — the stock will be triggered to sell. However, the price could continue to drop before the trade is fully executed. To prevent selling at a much lower price than $35, the trader can set a limit order to only sell between $32 and $35.

When a Trader Might Use a Limit Order

There are several reasons why you might want to use a limit order.

•  Price protection. When a stock is going up or down very fast, you may not want to risk placing a market order and getting a bad price. Although it’s unlikely that the price will change drastically within a few seconds or minutes after placing an order, it can happen, and setting a limit order can set a floor or a ceiling for the price you want.

•  Convenience. Another occasion to use a limit order might be when you’re interested in buying or selling a stock but you don’t want to keep a constant eye on the price. By setting a limit order, you can walk away and wait for it to be executed. This might also be a good choice for longer-term trades, since in some cases traders can place a limit order with no expiration date.

•  Volatility. Third, an investor may choose to set a limit order if they are buying or selling at the end of the market day or after the stock market has closed. Company or world news could be announced while the market is closed, which could affect the stock’s price when the market reopens. If the investor isn’t able to cancel a market order while the market is still closed, they may not be happy with the results of the trade. A limit order can help prevent that.

Limit orders can also be useful when the stock being traded doesn’t have a lot of liquidity. If there aren’t many people trading the stock, one order could affect the price. When entering a market order, that trade could cause the price to go up or down significantly, and a trader could end up with a different price than intended.

When to Consider a Market Order vs. a Limit Order

A trader might want to use a market order if:

•  Executing the trade immediately is a priority

•  The stock is highly liquid

•  They’re only trading a small number of shares

•  The stock has a narrow bid-ask spread (about a penny)

A trader might want to use a limit order if:

•  They want to specify their price

•  They are trading an illiquid stock

•  They want to set a long-term trade (or even walk away for their lunch break and still have the trade execute)

•  They feel a stock is currently over- or undervalued

•  The stock has a large bid-ask spread

•  They are trading a larger number of shares

How to Set a Limit Order

When placing a limit order with your brokerage firm, the broker or trading platform might ask for the following information:

•  The stock or security

•  Is it a buy or sell order

•  Number of shares to buy or sell

•  Order type (limit order, market order, or another type of order)

•  Price

When setting up a limit order, the trader can set it to remain open indefinitely, (until the stock reaches the limit price), or they can set an expiration date.

For example, say a trader would like to purchase 100 shares of stock XYZ. The highest price they want to pay per share is $26.75. They would set up a limit buy order like this:

Buy 100 shares XYZ limit 26.75.

Is a Limit Order Bad?

Limit orders are not necessarily good or bad. As mentioned, they can offer advantages to investors who understand how to use them. For example, limit orders can offer more control and flexibility than using market orders. And they can work well in a number of different trading situations. If the stock being traded is highly volatile, for instance, a limit order can help traders retain control and avoid paying an unexpected price.

Each time a trader does research on a stock and decides to buy or sell shares, they also consider their goals and the current market conditions to decide whether to place a market or a limit order.

Pros and Cons of Using Limit Orders

Each type of order has pros and cons depending on the particular situation.

Pros:

•  The trader gets to name their price. One of the chief reasons traders rely on limit orders is to set baselines for profits and losses. They won’t end up paying a price they didn’t expect when they buy or get a price below their target when it’s time to sell.

•  The trader can set the order and walk away. Day trading can be time consuming and it requires a significant amount of knowledge. Investors who use limit orders don’t have to continuously watch the market to get the price they want.

•  Traders may pay less in fees. Commissions can take a bite out of your profits, something many investors would prefer to keep to a minimum. When trading illiquid stocks, sometimes the bid-ask spread is enough to cover broker fees.

•  Insulate against volatility. Volatility can cause you to make emotional decisions. Limit orders can give traders more control over their portfolio and ward off panic-buying or selling.

•  Ride the gaps. Stock prices can fluctuate overnight due to after hours trading. It’s possible to benefit from price differences from one day to another when using limit orders.
For example, if a trader places a buy limit order for a stock at $3.50, but the order doesn’t get triggered while the market is open, the price could change overnight. If the market opens at $3.30 the next morning, they’ll get a better price, since the buy limit order gets triggered if the stock is at or below the specified price.

Cons:

•  The order may never be executed. There may not be enough supply or demand to fulfill the order even if it reaches the limit price, since there could be hundreds or even thousands of other traders wanting to buy or sell at the specified price.

•  The stock may never reach the limit price. For example, if a stock is currently priced at $20, a trader might set a limit order to buy at $15. If the stock goes down to $16 and then back up to $20, the order won’t execute. In this case, they would miss out on potential gains.

•  The market can change significantly. If a trader sets a shorter-term limit order they might miss out on a better price. For example, if a stock a trader owns is currently priced at $150, the trader may choose to set a sell limit order at $154 within four weeks. If the company then makes a big announcement about a new product after that period, and the stock’s price spikes to $170, the trader would miss out on selling at that higher price.

•  It takes experience to understand the market and set limit orders. New investors can miss out on opportunities and experience unwanted losses, as with any type of investment.

What Happens If a Limit Order Is Not Filled?

A limit order can only be filled if the stock’s price reaches the limit price or better. If this doesn’t happen, then the order is not executed and it expires according to the terms of the contract. An order can be good just for a single trading day, for a certain period of time, or in some cases it’s possible to leave the limit order open-ended using a GTC (good ‘til canceled) provision.

So if you placed a buy limit order, but the stock does not reach the specified price or lower, the purchase would not be completed and the order would expire within the specified time frame.

And if you’re using a sell limit order, but the security never reaches the specified sell price or higher, the shares would remain in your trading account and the order would expire.

Limit Orders and Price Gaps

Price gaps can occur when stocks close at one price then open at a different price on the next trading day. This can be attributed to after-market or pre-market trading that occurs after the regular market hours have ended. After-hours trading can impact stock price minimally or more substantially, depending on what’s spurring trades.

For example, say news of a large tech company’s planned merger with another tech giant leaks after hours. That could send the aftermarket trading markets into a frenzy, resulting in a radically different price for both company’s stocks when the market reopens. Pricing gaps don’t necessarily have to be wide but large pricing swings are possible with overnight trading.

Limit orders can help to downplay the potential for losses associated with pricing gaps. Placing a buy limit order or limit sell order may not close the gap entirely. But it could help to mitigate the losses you may experience when gaps in pricing exist. Whether the gap is moving up or down can determine what type of limit order to place and where to cap your limit price.

The Takeaway

Limit orders can be an effective and efficient way for investors to set price caps on their trades, and also give them some protection against market swings. Limit orders offer other advantages as well, including giving traders the ability to place longer- or shorter-term trades that will be executed even if they’re not continuously watching the market. This can potentially protect investors against losses and potentially lock in gains.

That said, limit orders are complicated because they don’t guarantee that the trade will be executed at the set price. The stock (or other security) could hit the limit price — and there might not be enough supply or demand to complete the trade. There is also the potential for some missed opportunities, if the price you set triggers a trade, and subsequently the stock or other security hits an even better price.

Investors can also consider combining a limit order with a stop order. A stop-limit order can provide even more protection against potential losses.

If you aren’t quite ready to jump into that level of trading yet, but you want to start building a portfolio, you may want to start by purchasing small amounts of stocks by opening an account with SoFi Invest®. SoFi even allows investors to purchase fractional shares, so they can own a part of a favorite stock without committing to the price of an entire share.

SoFi Invest has no management fees and offers investors a range of options. You can own many different stocks rather than putting all of your money into one or two high-priced stocks.

When you open a SoFi Invest® account, you also get access to a team of financial advisors who can help you set goals and learn about the best ways to reach them.

Get started with SoFi Invest today.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
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For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
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