Getting Started in Interest Rate Futures


Interest Rate Futures

Treasury Futures

Several years ago the 30-year Treasury bond was the primary interest rate product traded on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). During its prime, it was considered the only Treasury futures contract for experienced commodity traders to involve themselves with. However, the Federal Reserve’s failure to issue new 30-Year bond contracts on a regular basis has worked against the popularity of the contract. In the meantime, shorter maturities such as the 10-Year note benefited in terms of volume and open interest.

Similar to the other financial futures contracts, all interest rate products are on a quarterly cycle. This means that there are four differing expiration months based on a calendar year. Thos months are; March, June, September and December.

30-Year T-Bond Futures

Symbol: ZB

The 30-year bond is often referred to as the long bond due to its lengthy maturity and its spot on the infamous yield curve. You might also know it simply as “the bond” as other Treasury issues are known as Notes or Bills (to be discussed later).

The face value of a T-Bond at maturity is $100,000; therefore the contract size of one futures contract with the 30-year Treasury bond as an underlier is also $100,000. Knowing this, it is easy to see that a contract can be looked at as 1,000 points, or trading handles, worth $1,000 a piece. What is unlikely to be obvious is that each full point or handle can then be looked at as a fraction. In trading, the term handle is used to describe the stem of a quote. This usage began in reference to currency futures to describe a penny move. For example, if the Euro rallies from 131.00 to 132.00, some may say that it has moved a handle. In the case of the 30-year Treasury futures, a rally from 156’0 to 157’0 is equivalent to a price increase of one handle.

The discussion of the relationship between Treasury futures prices and interest rates is to extensive to be included here, but to clarify pricing here is a general explanation of the relationship between the current Treasury price relative to it’s par value. If a futures contract is trading in excess of its par value of 100’0, interest rates have gone down since the issuance of the underlying Treasury securities. If the futures contract is trading below par, interest rates have gone up.P&L Calculations in Interest Rate Futures

The long bond trades in fractions of a full point; specifically, ticks equivalent to 1/32 of a full point or $31.25 figured by dividing $1,000 by 32. Treasury bond futures are quoted in handles, and fractions of a handle. Further, by the number of full points (worth $1,000) and an incremental fraction of such. Thus a typical bond quote may be 152-24. This is read as 152 handles and 24/32nds. At this quote, the futures contract has a value of $152,750. This is calculated by multiplying 152 by $1000 and 24 by the tick value of $31.25.

If you are comfortable with the idea of adding and subtracting fractions you will be able to easily calculate profit, loss and risk in Treasury futures. For those that are “fractionally” challenged, you may want to trade Eurodollars which are valued in decimals and will be discussed subsequently. However, I am confident that everyone will quickly become proficient bond futures calculations after looking at the examples below.


Reading the contract size and point value likely isn’t going to help you to remember or even understand bond futures pricing but looking at a few examples should add some clarity to the details. If a commodity trader goes long a September bond futures contract at 155’22 and is later able to sell the at 156’24 would be profitable by 1’02 or 1 2/32. In dollar terms this is equivalent to $1,062.50 ((1 x $1,000) + (2 x $31.25)).

The multiplication is relatively standard but people tend to be unjustifiably intimidated by fractions. If you recall the concept of borrowing, you will be fine. In the example above, it wasn’t necessary to borrow. You could have simply subtracted the numerator (top number in fraction) of the buy price from the numerator of the sell price and multiplied the result by $31.25. Likewise, you would have subtracted the handle of the buy price from the handle of the sell price and multiplied the result by $1,000.

24/32 – 22/32 = 2/32, 2 x $31.25 = $62.50

156 – 155 = 1 x $1,000 = $1,000

Total Gain = $1,000 + $62.50 = $1,062.50 minus commissions and fees

The math isn’t always this convenient. There will be times in which you will need to borrow from the handle to bring the fraction to a level in which you can properly figure the profit or loss. For example, a trader that sells a September bond futures contract at 158’12 and buys the contract back at 156’27 may have a difficult time calculating her trading profit. In this case it is easy to see that the trade was profitable. We know this because the handle at the time of the sell was 118 and the buy was 116 but unless you have been doing this for a while it will take a little work to derive the exact figure.

The denominator of the sell price, 12, is much smaller than the denominator of the buy price, 27. Therefore we know that we must borrow from the handle to properly net the fractions. In this example, we could reduce the selling price handle to 157 and increase the fraction by 32/32nds. Thus, the new selling price is 157’44. This is a number that can be easily worked with.

44/32 – 27/32 = 17/32, 17 x $31.25 = $531.25

157 – 156 = 1 x $1,000 = $1,000

Total Profit = $1,531.25 minus commissions and fees

The purpose of these examples is to give you an idea of how T-Bond futures traders can calculate their trading results. Obviously, not all bond futures trades or traders will make money.

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