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Cash future arbitrage explained: Definition, examples, and benefits

In the financial world, cash future arbitrage might sound complex, but it’s essentially a way for investors to make money by exploiting differences in prices between cash (current) markets and futures (future delivery) markets. 

Understanding this concept is crucial for investors because it opens doors to potentially lucrative opportunities. Imagine buying something cheaper in one market and selling it for a higher price in another— that’s the aspect of arbitrage. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what cash future arbitrage is, why it matters for investors, and how it can be a profitable strategy in finance.

What is cash future arbitrage?

Cash future arbitrage is a trading strategy where investors exploit price differentials between cash (spot) markets and futures markets to make a profit. This strategy is a combination of cash and futures arbitrage strategies.

In simple terms, it involves buying an asset in the cash market at a lower price and simultaneously selling it in the futures market at a higher price, or vice versa, to capitalize on the price difference. 

Cash future arbitrage strategy relies on the principle that prices in the cash and futures markets should theoretically converge over time. 

Arbitrageurs seek to profit from temporary differences in prices between these two markets by executing trades that take advantage of the price differential.

How cash future arbitrage works

Now you know that arbitrage between futures and cash markets occurs when investors take advantage of price differences between the two. 

In the case of cash future arbitrage, investors exploit these disparities by simultaneously buying and selling related assets in the cash and futures markets to lock in profits. 

Let’s break down how this works:

  • Identifying Price Differences: Arbitrageurs constantly monitor the prices of assets in both the cash and futures markets. They look for instances where the price of an asset in one market is significantly different from its price in the other market.
  • Executing Trades: When an arbitrage opportunity is identified, the arbitrageur buys the asset in the market where it is priced lower (the “cheap” market) and simultaneously sells it in the market where it is priced higher (the “expensive” market).
  • Closing the Position: After executing the trades, the arbitrageur holds the positions until the prices in both markets converge. Once the prices align, the arbitrageur sells the asset in the expensive market and buys it back in the cheap market, thereby locking in a profit.
  • Consideration of Costs: Arbitrageurs must also consider transaction costs, such as brokerage fees and taxes, which can impact the profitability of the arbitrage strategy. Additionally, they need to factor in financing costs, especially if there is a time gap between buying and selling in the two markets.

Now, let’s grasp the concept better through an example. Here’s a simple cash future arbitrage example.

Cash futures arbitrage example

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario involving a popular Indian stock, “ABC Ltd.”

In this scenario:

  • Spot Market: The current price of ABC Ltd. shares in the spot market is ₹1,000 per share.
  • Futures Market: The futures contract for ABC Ltd. with a delivery date one month from now, is trading at ₹1,020 per share.

Now, an arbitrage opportunity arises due to the price difference between the spot market and the futures market.

Here’s how an investor could capitalize on this opportunity:

  • Buying in the Spot Market: The investor purchases 100 shares of ABC Ltd. in the spot market for ₹1,000 each, spending a total of ₹100,000.
  • Selling in the Futures Market: Simultaneously, the investor sells one futures contract of ABC Ltd., which represents 100 shares, at ₹1,020 per share, earning ₹102,000.

After one month, If the spot price remains at ₹1,000, the investor delivers the 100 shares from the spot market to fulfil the futures contract obligation, receiving ₹100,000. 

The investor closes out the futures contract, spending ₹102,000 but also earning ₹102,000, resulting in no net gain or loss from the futures market transaction.

By executing this arbitrage strategy, the investor would make a profit of ₹2,000 (₹102,000 – ₹100,000) without taking on any significant risk. This profit is the result of exploiting the price difference between the spot and futures markets.

It’s important to note that in practice, arbitrage opportunities may not always be as straightforward due to transaction costs, market inefficiencies, and other factors. However, this example illustrates how cash futures arbitrage can be applied in the Indian market to generate profits from price disparities between the spot and futures markets.

Also, while this strategy is designed to be risk-free, it does carry some risks. For example, carrying costs can increase, or there could be changes in the asset’s price. Also, this strategy requires sufficient liquidity in both the spot and futures markets. Let’s dig a bit deeper and understand what risk this strategy possesses.

Risks of cash futures arbitrage

Here are some of the risks associated with cash futures arbitrage:

  • Execution Risk: Executing arbitrage trades requires precise timing and efficient order execution. Delays or errors in executing trades can result in missed opportunities or losses.
  • Market Risk: Fluctuations in market prices can affect the profitability of arbitrage positions. Sudden changes in supply and demand dynamics or unexpected events can lead to significant price movements, resulting in losses for arbitrageurs.
  • Transaction Costs: Costs related to executing trades can reduce or eliminate potential arbitrage profits.
  • Market Impact: Large arbitrage trades can affect market prices, reducing profitability.
  • Liquidity Risk: Thin trading volumes in either the cash or futures markets may make it difficult to enter or exit positions at desired prices, leading to higher transaction costs or inability to execute trades.
  • Regulatory Risk: Changes in regulations or government policies can affect the profitability and legality of arbitrage activities. Regulatory authorities may impose restrictions or introduce new rules that limit the scope or effectiveness of arbitrage strategies.

These risks highlight the importance of careful strategy and risk management in arbitrage trading. It’s also worth noting that the effectiveness of arbitrage strategies can be influenced by various factors, including market conditions and the trader’s ability to identify and respond to arbitrage opportunities.


Cash future arbitrage lets investors make money by taking advantage of price differences between current and future markets. Understanding this can open up chances for profit. But, it’s important to be careful because arbitrage has risks. 

By thoroughly analyzing and managing risks, investors can handle these challenges and hopefully make money. If you want to learn more about stock market trading and investing, StockGro is a great place. 


What factors influence cash future arbitrage opportunities?

Various factors such as interest rates, dividends, storage costs, supply-demand dynamics, and market sentiment can impact the pricing relationship between cash and futures markets, creating arbitrage opportunities.

Is cash future arbitrage risk-free?

While cash future arbitrage is often considered low-risk due to its reliance on market inefficiencies, there are still risks involved, including execution risk, liquidity risk, and regulatory changes that could affect profitability.

Who typically engages in cash future arbitrage?

Professional traders, hedge funds, and institutional investors with sophisticated trading strategies and access to advanced market data often participate in cash future arbitrage to capitalize on short-term pricing discrepancies.

Can retail investors participate in cash future arbitrage?

While cash future arbitrage primarily attracts institutional players due to its complexity and capital requirements, some retail investors with advanced knowledge and access to appropriate trading platforms may also participate, although caution is advised due to the associated risks.

Are there any restrictions on who can engage in cash future arbitrage in India?

Generally, cash future arbitrage is open to institutional investors, registered brokers, and qualified individuals who meet the regulatory requirements set forth by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)

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