What is contracts for difference (CFD) trading?

Learn how CFD and commodities trading works in Australia.

Last updated:

Financial business stock market graph chart candle stick screen monitor.

CFDs are contracts between a buyer and seller that requires the seller pay to the buyer the difference between the current value of a share or commodity and its value when the contract is settled. If the difference is negative, then instead the buyer pays the seller.

Traders in Australia 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. So even if prices in a commodity are falling, CFD traders can still profit.

Plus500 CFD Trading Offer

Finder exclusive offer: Open a new trading account with Plus500 and receive a welcome bonus of AU$110 when you deposit your first $370 and enter the code “Special200”. T&C’s apply.

Access more than 2000 financial instruments with a Plus500 trading account including share market CFDs, forex, indices and commodities. Pay no sign up fees, no ongoing subscription fees and no commission on trades.

Promoted

What is a CFD?

CFDs are derivative investments that allow traders to bet 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 this below).

In Australia, the most common forms 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’re 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 a bet 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 normally could with share trading
  • Protection against loss. If 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 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 unable 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 mean 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. To find out more, you can read our full guide on the risks of CFD trading.

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 three 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 are:

  • 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 advisor.

The cons are:

  • 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

Updated January 17th, 2020
Name Product Minimum opening balance Commission - ASX200 Shares Platforms
Plus500 CFD
AU$100
No commission
Plus500 Web Trader
CFDs are complex financial products and traders are at high-risk of losing all of or more than their initial investment.
Finder exclusive offer: Open a new trading account and receive a welcome bonus of AU$110 when you deposit your first $370 and enter the bonus code “Special200”. T&C’s apply.
Trade Australian and international CFDs on shares, forex, indices, commodities and more.
eToro CFD
AU$50
No commission
eToro Trading Platform
CFDs are complex financial products and traders are at high-risk of losing all of or more than their initial investment.
Join the largest social trading network in the world.
AxiTrader CFD
$0
$0 for standard account, USD$7 per round trip for Pro account
MetaTrader4, MetaTrader4 Next Gen, Psyquation, AutoChartist, WebTrader, Axi-One ECN
IG Markets CFD
$0
0.08% with $7 minimum
MetaTrader 4
ProReal Time
CFDs are complex financial products and traders are at high-risk of losing all of or more than their initial investment.
Introductory offer: Build confidence by trading at lower minimum trade sizes for the first six weeks. Plus, receive a reduced commission on Australian shares CFDs. T&C's apply. Trade from over 15,000 markets with Australia's leading service for CFD trading and forex.
City Index CFD
$0
0.08% with $5 minimum
MetaTrader 4
At Pro
Advantage Web
CFDs are complex financial products and traders are at high-risk of losing all of or more than their initial investment.
Trade CFDs on indices, FX, global & Australian shares and commodities, plus access other markets such as metals, bonds and interest rates.
Saxo Capital Markets CFD
AUD$3,000
0.10% with $6 minimum
SaxoTraderGo
SaxoTrader
CFDs are complex financial products and traders are at high-risk of losing all of or more than their initial investment.
More than 9,000 CFDs including single stocks, stock indices and commodities
Pepperstone CFD
US$200
No commission
MetaTrader 4
MetaTrader 5
cTrader
CFDs are complex financial products and traders are at high-risk of losing all of or more than their initial investment.
Trade stock indices on the global market, via Pepperstone's MetaTrader 4 and cTrader client terminals.
FP Markets CFD (Professional Account)
AU$1,000
0.10% with $10 minimum
IRESS
CFDs are complex financial products and traders are at high-risk of losing all of or more than their initial investment.
Trade CFDs with FP Markets using the IRESSTrader platform. Trade CFDs on international equities, futures and forex.

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Trading in financial instruments carries various risks, and you can lose more than your capital. This article may contain general advice. You should always seek professional advice when deciding if a product is right for you.

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).

The prices, however, 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?

The pros are:

  • 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.

The cons are:

  • 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 two 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?

The pros are:

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

The cons are:

  • 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 you help you achieve your investment goals. Remember to consider your buying power and how the markets are performing before choosing which CFD to use.

The latest in investing

Related Posts

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder only provides general advice and factual information, so consider your own circumstances, or seek advice before you decide to act on our content. By submitting a question, you're accepting our Terms of Use, Disclaimer & Privacy Policy and Privacy & Cookies Policy.
Ask a question
Go to site