Why Delivery?

Since delivery on futures contracts is the exception rather than the rule, why do most contracts even have a delivery provision? There are two reasons. One is that it offers buyers and sellers the opportunity to take or make delivery of the physical commodity if they so choose. More importantly, however, the fact that buyers and sellers can take or make delivery helps to assure that futures prices will accurately reflect the cash market value of the commodity at the time the contract expires—i.e., that futures and cash prices will eventually converge. It is convergence that makes hedging an effective way to obtain protection against an adverse change in the cash market price.*

* Convergence occurs at the expiration of the futures contract because any difference between the cash and futures prices would quickly be negated by profit-minded investors who would buy the commodity in the lowest-price market and sell it in the highest-price market until the price difference disappeared. This is known as arbitrage and is a form of trading generally best left to professionals in the cash and futures markets.

Cash settlement futures contracts are precisely that, contracts which are settled in cash rather than by delivery at the time the contract expires. Stock index futures contracts, for example, are settled in cash on the basis of the index number at the close of the final day of trading. There is no provision for delivery of the shares of stock that make up the various indexes. That would be impractical. With a cash settlement contract, convergence is automatic.