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Contracts for difference: What is CFD trading?

Learn how CFD and commodities trading works in Australia.

In Australia, traders use CFDs to trade commodities, futures, forex, cryptocurrency, stock market indices and individual stocks. When you invest in a CFD, you don't actually buy the underlying asset as you would when directly trading shares. Rather, you're trying to profit from their price movements, whether up or down.

Learn how CFD trading works, how you can profit even if commodities are falling and why CFD trading is riskier than traditional share investing.

Pepperstone CFD Trading Offer

Pepperstone CFD Trading Offer

Enjoy cheap fees and incredibly quick order executions when you trade forex, commodities and crypto assets.

  • Choice of markets
  • Choice of platforms
  • Tight spreads
  • Algorithmic and copy trading features
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Disclaimer: Trading CFDs and forex on leverage is high-risk and losses could exceed your deposits.

Finder survey: What types of CFDs do Australians trade the most?

Response
Forex40%
Global stocks40%
Local stocks26.67%
ETFs23.33%
Indices23.33%
Cryptocurrencies20%
Commodities3.33%
Source: Finder survey by Pure Profile of 1145 Australians, December 2023

What is a CFD?

CFDs are derivative investments that allow traders to speculate on the price movements of certain assets, such as commodities, forex or shares. Traders profit if the price of the underlying asset moves in the direction formalised in the contract. So, rather than trading or owning the underlying asset, traders own the CFD contracts.

When you open a trade you can choose to either go long or go short. Going long means you expect the underlying asset (such as the share) to increase in value, and going short means you expect it to decrease. If you're correct in your assumption, you’ll be paid the difference in value and if incorrect, you’ll owe the difference. You can also lose a lot more than your initial capital because of leverage (more on this below).

In Australia, the most common form of CFD trading is in currencies (known as forex trading) and commodities such as iron ore, oil, gold and wheat.

How is CFD trading different to buying shares?

When you invest in shares, you are actually buying the underlying asset. That is, you are buying a share in a company. As a shareholder, you benefit from the capital growth of the shares’ value over time and you may get voting rights in the company. When you sell your shares, you’re selling the actual asset in that company.

But when you buy a share's CFD, you do not own the shares; you own the contract provided by the CFD provider. You’re simply speculating on whether you think the share price will increase or decrease without ever owning or trading it. The same is true when you buy physical gold compared to trading gold CFDs. Think of it more like speculation on the asset's price.

How is margin and leverage used in CFD trading?

Traders are only required to invest a small percentage of the trade’s value to open the CFD trade. This is known as the margin requirement, and can be as little as 5% of the full trade value or even less. You could think of this margin as the deposit.

For example, let’s pretend you want to trade Woolworths shares via CFDs, which are hypothetically valued at $10 per CFD. You decide to buy 100 of these CFDs, so the value of the trade is $10,000. With a margin of 5%, you are only required to pay $500 to open the trade.

Even though you only put forward 5% of the value of the trade, you’re entitled to benefit from 100% of the potential gains. This is what makes CFD trading attractive to so many people. Still, it’s important to remember that because you’re trading with leverage, the same applies if your trade was to lose. You’d be expected to pay the CFD provider for the entire loss, which could far exceed your initial 5% margin requirement. Plus, you could also be charged a commission on the trade by the CFD provider.

What is a stop-loss?

A stop-loss is a feature that helps to minimise a trader's risk when trading CFDs. Traders can set the stop-loss for a particular price, so when the CFD falls below that price the trade is closed. This helps minimise your losses by closing the trade at a certain point before it continues to decrease in value.

What are the benefits of CFD trading?

  • Big potential profits. Because CFDs are leveraged products, you can make greater profits out of smaller investments than you normally could with share trading.
  • Protection against loss. If you think the price of the stocks you own are going to fall in the future, you could offset losses to the value of your portfolio through CFDs instead of selling the shares.
  • Commodities. CFDs are used to speculate on the price movements of commodities markets such as gold, silver and oil.
  • Broad market access. CFDs allow you to speculate on thousands of financial products and global markets which you may otherwise not be able to access.
  • Profit from losses. By going long or short you can benefit from both rising and falling stock or commodity prices.
  • No expiry. Unlike other types of derivative products, CFD contracts don’t have a set expiry date which means you can end the contract to realise a profit or loss when you decide.

What are the risks of CFD trading?

  • Big potential losses. Because CFDs are leveraged, you could lose more than what you initially invested.
  • CFDs are complex. The complicated nature of CFDs means that only advanced traders should participate in the market.
  • Hidden caveats. Like any contract, CFDs could have hidden clauses that the trader is unaware of.
  • Sudden changes. Due to the quick price movements in the market, you could be winning one minute and losing the very next.

There are many risks when you trade CFDs as outlined by ASIC in August 2019.

Main types of CFDs

If you decide to open an account with a CFD provider, you should decide what type of CFD you want. In Australia there are 3 avenues to access CFDs:

  • Direct market access (DMA)
  • Market maker
  • Exchange-traded

Trading CFDs via market makers and DMAs are the most common methods in Australia and around the world, whereas exchange-traded CFDs are provided by the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

What is a DMA CFD?

DMA is the term used for electronic facilities, often provided by independent firms, that permit particular investors or financial firms to access liquidity to trade securities they want to buy or sell.

Typically, these authorised firms or investors are usually brokers, dealers and banks that act as market makers. Generally they're a broker or dealer holding a certain number of shares of a particular security (at its own risk) in order to facilitate trading in that security.

By using a DMA, the investor can manage its account and trade directly without the intermediation of brokers and dealers. This means that the trader can access the infrastructure of the sell side firms with lower costs and commission.

What are the pros and cons of using DMA as a CFD?

DMA has opened the door to the individual trader who wants to participate in CFDs themselves rather than handing the order and trade to brokers for trading. The individual trader now has the opportunity to bypass the middle man and send the trade directly to the execution desk to finalise and uphold the integrity of the trade.

The benefits you can get from DMA:

  • You can set your own trading goals and change them when you feel it is appropriate without wasting your time contacting a trading specialist.
  • You can take more or less risk depending on your past performance or on your trading skills and experience.
  • The electronic environment allows fast transactions and fewer price differences or discrepancies than you could experience if you placed an order with a broker or dealer.
  • Everything you do is based on your own decisions: You can use more or less liquidity and buy/sell only when it suits you.
  • It is a great resource for skilled and experienced traders. If you are a newbie, it's better to contact a trading specialist or financial adviser.

The cons of DMA:

  • If you are an inexperienced investor you could risk losing profits or even lose money as you might not be able to read trends in time.
  • If there's insufficient trading in the underlying market, you won't be able to open and close CFD positions.
  • There is a smaller offer range than with the market maker.

Compare DMA CFD accounts

Disclaimer: General information only. All forms of investments (and in particular, trading CFDs, commodities and forex) carry significant risk, including the risk of losing more than the invested amounts, market volatility and liquidity risks. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Such activities are not suitable for most investors.
Name Product Minimum Opening Deposit Minimum Opening Deposit Commission - ASX 200 Shares Available CFD markets Platforms
Pepperstone CFD
Finder Award
Pepperstone CFD
$0
$0
$5 or 0.07%
Australian Stocks, Commodities, Cryptocurrencies, ETFs, Forex, Global Stocks, Indices (CFDs only)
MetaTrader 4
MetaTrader 5
cTrader
TradingView
Pepperstone Trading Platform
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Get access to more than 60+ forex and CFD markets when you sign up with this award-winning Australian broker. Plus, access the new advanced TradingView charts platform.
Vantage CFD
$50
$50
No commission
Commodities, Cryptocurrencies, ETFs, Forex, Global Stocks, Indices (CFDs only)
MetaTrader 4
MetaTrader 5
TradingView
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Vantage has some of the lowest CFD trading fees in Australia including $0 commissions on all Gold trades. Plus you can find global trends and place trades through the new TradingView charts platform.
Plus500 CFD
$100
$100
No commission
Commodities, Cryptocurrencies, ETFs, Forex, Global Stocks, Indices, Options (CFDs only)
Plus500 Trading Platform
Disclaimer: CFD service. Your capital is at risk.
Trade CFDs on Australian and International shares, indices, cryptocurrencies, commodities and more.
IC Markets CFD (True ECN Account)
US$200
US$200
0.1% per side
Australian Stocks, Global Stocks, Indices, Commodities, Forex, Cryptocurrencies (CFDs only)
MetaTrader 4
MetaTrader 5
cTrader
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Trade 230+ different products with fast execution under 40 milliseconds on average.
Saxo Invested CFD
0
0
0.08% with $3 minimum
Bonds, Commodities, Cryptocurrencies, ETFs, Forex, Global Stocks, Indices, Options, (CFDs only)
SaxoTraderGO
SaxoTraderPRO
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Award-winning trading platfrom with extensive charting tools and reliable execution.
Blueberry Markets CFD Trading
US$100
US$100
$20 per month subscription plus 2% of trade size
Australian Stocks, Commodities, Cryptocurrencies, Indices (CFDs only)
MetaTrader 5
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk.
Bottom of the market fees on forex, CFDs and commodities with 24/7 quality customer service.
ACY Securities CFD
$50
$50
No commission
Australian Stocks, Bonds, Commodities, Cryptocurrencies, ETFs, Forex, Global Stocks, Indices, Metals (CFDs only)
MetaTrader 4
MetaTrader 5
Disclaimer: CFD Service. Your capital is at risk. Trade over 2,000 products across CFDs, forex, indices, metals, shares, commodities and cryptocurrency, starting from as low as $50 a trade.
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Trading CFDs and forex on leverage is high-risk and you could lose more than your initial investment. It may not be suitable for every investor. Refer to the provider’s PDS and consider the risks before trading.

What is a market maker CFD?

This is a trading company that creates its own market and determines the price range for the underlying asset on which the CFDs may be traded. It creates both the buy and sell price for a financial instrument or a commodity. So if you buy a CFD over a particular asset you are a price taker (not a price maker as in DMA).

However, the prices do not differ from the market price of the underlying asset. This means you have to deal through a broker or a dealer and do not have access directly to the market as with DMA.

What are the pros and cons of a market maker?

Pros

  • The assets gain more exposure as they reach a wider range of markets because of a higher degree of liquidity in the market.
  • If you are a newbie, you could get some advice from your broker or dealer on how to invest in these types of CFD.
  • Higher liquidity means that you can trade even if there's insufficient trading in the underlying market.

Cons

  • Higher brokerage and commission fees.
  • The risks are more or less the same as those of volatile markets.
  • You must accept the price of the trader (even when it sets a higher price than the market: the so-called extra margin or spread).
  • The broker has the right to re-quote the prices after submitting an order.

What is an exchange-traded CFD?

This model allows you to trade CFDs that are listed on the ASX and these CFDs can only be traded through brokers or dealers authorised to trade them. The ASX has also created standardised terms and conditions in order to reduce the risks, as this market is separate. As in the DMA environment, people who trade determine the prices and so are called price makers. The CFD price follows the market price of the underlying asset (even if they are 2 separate markets).

All the trades are processed, registered and cleared by ASX24, part of the ASX Group. This means that buyers and sellers do not deal directly, but through the ASX24. This reduces the so-called "counterparty risks".

A counterparty risk is the risk that the counterpart fails to fulfil its obligations. An example might be that you buy a CFD from XYZ company and then you sell it at a higher price. If your counterpart cannot pay the difference between the exit price and the entry price, you do not make any profit. As you don't deal directly with a broker or seller, the ASX guarantees the obligation.

What are the pros and cons of exchange-traded CFDs?

Pros

  • The counterparty risk is reduced consistently.
  • If you are a newbie, you can use the consulting services of your broker or dealer.

Cons

  • Higher brokerage and commission fees.
  • If you are an experienced trader you cannot trade directly. You need to open an account within the brokerage platform.

As you can see, there are a range of possible trading strategies using these different types of CFDs that can help you achieve your investment goals. Remember to consider your buying power and how the markets are performing before choosing which CFD to use.

Important information: Powered by Finder.com.au. This information is general in nature and is no substitute for professional advice. It does not take into account your personal situation. This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of futures, stocks, ETFs, CFDs, options or any specific provider, service or offering. It should not be relied upon as investment advice or construed as providing recommendations of any kind. Futures, stocks, ETFs and options trading involves substantial risk of loss and therefore are not appropriate for most investors. You do not own or have any interest in the underlying asset. Capital is at risk, including the risk of losing more than the amount originally put in, market volatility and liquidity risks. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Tax on profits may apply. Consider the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determination for the product on the provider's website. Consider your own circumstances, including whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money and possess the relevant experience and knowledge. We recommend that you obtain independent advice from a suitably licensed financial advisor before making any trades.

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