How to get started trading CME Case Shiller home prices contracts

After multiple inquiries, I thought that I'd pull together my responses of FAQs related to "how do I trade CME housing futures" into one blog (that I will update over time).  If anyone has ideas that would improve this list, please feel free to contact me (johnhdolan@homepricefutures.com). (This is actually a re-post from blog posted Dec 6, 2018, but I've transitioned it to new web platform).

Understanding Reference Obligations:

  • To trade any future it's important to know how the reference obligations (in this case the Case Shiller indices) are calculated.   There is a write-up of how the Case Shiller indices are calculated in Reports section.
  • There are many different home price indices that perform differently due to either geographic coverage (broader vs. more narrowly defined), inclusion in index (e.g. repeat-sales vs new sales, those with FHFA conforming mortgages vs all homes), seasonally adjusted (or not),  and/or calculation method (e.g. repeat-sales vs. hedonic).    Note that the CME contracts reference the Case Shiller NSA (non-seasonally adjusted) indices which are based on a repeat-sales methodology with geographically wide coverage areas.
  • Trades referencing other indices can be done but in OTC (over-the-counter) contracts.

Format of Futures Contract:  There is "An Introduction to Case Shiller Futures" in the Reports section that should help explain the structure of the contracts. Some key highlights include:

  • There are 11 regions (one for the Case Shiller 10-city index, and one for each of the ten components),
  • Each region has 11 expirations.
  • Each point is worth $250 so the notional value of a contract priced at 200 is $50,000.
  • Contracts expire on quarterly cycles of G (Feb), K (May), Q (Aug), and X (Nov) months.
  • Contracts settle on the index value released in the settlement month (the last Tuesday).

Margins/Fees:

  • The CME establishes minimum margins (both upfront and maintenance) that your broker might make larger.  That said, my sense is that margins have been running <5% of the notional value of a contract.
  • Each brokerage firm has their own fees for trades and other services (e.g. wiring funds).
  • Best to allow some time before first trade to open account.

Account Opening:

  • You need an account at a futures broker that allows their clients to trade the Case Shiller home price index contracts.
  • Their role will be to screen for suitability, and  KYC issues.   (I'm not aware of any licenses required by users to trade).
  • Any trade you execute will have the CME as counter-party.
  • I'm aware of two firms - Interactive Brokers and Insignia Futures -that allow trading in outright CS futures for individuals.  IB is a good platform for those comfortable placing orders electronically.  Insignia (contact Joe Fallico) is better if you need human involvement (but they also have an electronic platform).
  • Insignia allows trading in a broader range of orders to include: inter-city and calendar spreads, as well as options.
  • Please let me know of any other firms that will allow retail to trade these contracts and I will alert CME and post to my website.

Futures contracts:

  • I try to make sure that there is at least 1x1 (one lot bid vs. one lot offered) across all contracts out to about the 7th expiration (today X20) via quotes from me or others.
  • At present, many will be mine, but anyone can post a bid or offer.  My sense is that the 1x1 market helps in "bracketing" bid/ask discussions, as well as creating graphs.  On some contracts (typically the 10-city index, CHI, LAX, and SFR contracts) there have historically been quotes in longer-dated contracts.

Trading: Here's a few ideas on how to approach placing futures orders:

  • Since many markets today are quoted 1x1 I strongly advise not to place market orders for more than than the amount bid.  This is currently a thinly traded market with often limited depth to the bids or offers.
  • Please feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss trading more than one lot.  I may have interest at (or inside) posted levels for up to 10 lots.  Several of the 5-20 lot futures/option trades that took place over the last few years (particularly in options) started this way.
  • Note that my interest is as a trader.  I am not offering guidance or financial advice.  While the CME is the counter-party, I may be the person taking the opposite position of yours.
  • I'm happy to network/market/blog/tweet any trading axes for larger orders.   (Thin hub-and-spoke information model).   Feel free to sign up for blogs on my website (www.homepricefutures.com), tweets (@HomePriceFuture), or send me emails (johnhdolan@homepricefutures.com).  In the past, smaller trades (e.g. 5 lots) were useful for prompting discussion, and narrowing bid/ask spreads -key to bringing in traders who might be willing to trade larger sizes.
  • My sense is that a disproportionate share of trading seems to take place in the first and last hour of trading days, particularly on days when information that might have more of a direct impact on home prices is released (most notably the two days before and after Case Shiller #s are released.)
  • The minimum quote increment for futures is 0.2 (=$50), and for options is 0.1 ($25).
  • Some vendors describe the 10-city contract using the symbol HCI.  Some use CUS.
  • Calendar spreads may be quoted differently (i.e. with signs reversed) on different platforms.

Options:

  • Options (both puts and calls) can be traded on any region, for any 5-point strike, for any of the 11 expirations.
  • Given the 1000+ option permutations, I tend to only post live quotes on 10-20 contracts.  Those posts are concentrated in areas where I've seen the most interest, namely 9-18 month term puts where the strike is about equal to the spot index.
  • The Case Shiller options are options on the futures contracts -not options on the index.
  • Options are exercisable European-style (i.e. at settlement).
  • I'm open to proposals on many types of option strategy trades.
  • While there was a lot of option trading when the contracts were introduced in 2006, volume has collapsed.   That said, I believe that options may be a very useful fit for retail clients as total exposure (for buyers) is known upfront.

I hope that this is enough to answer many "how to get started" inquiries.  As noted above, please feel free to contact me if you have ideas: a) on how to improve this post, or b) any trading ideas.

Thanks,

John