Volume is reported for all futures contracts. It is calculated by counting the number of contracts that have been bought and sold over a given time. You can track volume using different time intervals like daily or intraday.

When a futures contract is traded, whether bought or sold, it counts towards volume for that contract.

For example, a trader closes a short position in the E-mini S&P 500 (ES) futures contract by buying one contract in the ES, so volume will increase by 1.

Traders often use and interpret the rise or decline of volume in a futures contract to help make trading decisions. 

Volume can give important information to traders such as:

  • Indicate the price levels at which traders are more or less interested in trading a futures contract
  • During the roll, indicate to traders when to switch to trading the front month futures contract as volume decreases in the expiring contract
  • Identify the times of day when a futures contract is most liquid

Price Levels

When volume changes as price of a futures contract moves towards certain levels, this can indicate to a trader that a change in direction may occur. Some traders may use this information to indicate whether to buy or sell at those key levels.

­Contract Roll

During the futures rollover, traders pay attention to the contract that is taking the higher levels of volume. Traders use this information to determine when to start trading the next month contract. As volume decreases in the expiring contract, trading will shift to the next available month contract.

For example, say the June ES (E-mini S&P 500) futures contract is about to expire and September will become the new front month. On the Thursday of rollover week, watch how the June contract starts to lose volume and the September contract begins to pick up volme. When the September contract has more volume than the June contract,  it is time to switch to the September contract.

Active Periods

Traders typically prefer higher volume times to trade, as it means that more traders are actively interested in buying and selling. When volume is high, the bid-ask spread is typically smaller, orders are filled faster and less gaps may exist between ticks.

For example, markets can have lower volume between the hours of 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. ET, before major economic releases; conversely, market often see higher volume around the open and close of the trading day.

Traders also can look at average daily volume over a longer time period, such as a few weeks or months, to see if the markets currently are in a lower or higher volume than is typical.

Summary

What volume can’t show however, is whether traders are buying or selling, or opening or closing a position.

For example, if the ES contract is trading at 2375 and suddenly pushes down to 2360 while volume increases, the volume that comes into the market could be from traders opening new long positions at key levels of support. That could indicate a bullish sentiment. Volume also can be generated by liquidation of exiting long positions or opening of new short positions, a possible bearish indication.

A spike in volume at 2360 doesn’t necessarily mean that buyers are  coming into the market and that the price will bounce.

Volume data is readily available for each futures contract and for the market as a whole.  Although traders may use volume in different ways to interpret how to trade, volume can be an important factor to help inform your trading decisions.

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