I just opened a futures trading account.
(Actually, it's fairly simple: I want to buy gold and silver, but storage is a bitch. As far as I can tell, buying the corresponding amount as futures contracts and periodically rolling them forward is not only cheaper but gets a significantly more favorable tax treatment (gains on actual gold bullion are taxed at the 28% 'collectables' rate; gains on futures are taxed 60/40 at regular long-term/short-term capital gain rates).
Clearly there must be a catch somewhere, but I haven't yet been able to come up with one.
- yes, even in 2003 they still do the open outcry shit that you see in "Trading Places" with all the consequent opportunities for screwups, and
- yes you can completely hang yourself with margin (initial margin on a single COMEX Gold contract [100oz == $33,000 at the moment] is only $2035, roughly 7%) if you're silly enough to actually use all of the rope that they give you, and
- yes, one has to be careful not to hold contracts all the way to expiration and end up having to take/make delivery (which would probably mean having to call up the Brinks folks to send an armoured truck on a little tour of lower Manhattan or something)
but aside from that it all seems pretty straightforward.
Still, it doesn't help that every time I mentioned this idea to my broker at SB, his response has tended to be along the lines of, "Mom! Dad! Don't touch it! It's EEEEVILLLLL!" and that, apparently, nearly everybody who tries this instantly loses all of their money. I guess we'll see.