Commodities Trading Overview: Options, ETFs, and Mutual Funds

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Commodities Trading Overview: Options, ETFs, and Mutual Funds

Commodities are an essential part of most Americans’ everyday lives. A commodity is a fundamental good that is interchangeable with other items of the same sort in trade. Grain, gold, meat, oil, and natural gas are all examples of commodities.

Commodities may be an essential tool for investors to diversify their portfolios beyond standard assets. Because commodity prices tend to fluctuate in opposition to stock prices, some investors depend on commodities during moments of market instability.

Commodities trading used to take a large amount of time, money, and knowledge, and it was mostly confined to professional traders. Today, there are more ways to participate in commodities markets.

Key Takeaways

  • Commodities are traditionally classified into four major categories: metal, energy, livestock and meat, and agriculture.
  • Commodities may be an essential tool for investors to diversify their portfolios beyond standard assets.
  • Commodities are recognized to be dangerous investment propositions in the most fundamental sense since their market (supply and demand) is influenced by uncertainties that are difficult or impossible to foresee, such as unexpected weather patterns, diseases, and natural and man-made calamities.
  • Commodities may be purchased in a variety of methods, including futures contracts, options, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

A History of Commodities Trading

Commodity trading is an old profession with a longer history than stock and bond trading. Many civilizations’ emergence may be directly connected to their abilities to build intricate trade networks and promote commodity exchange.

Commodities are still traded throughout the globe in current times. A commodities exchange refers to both a physical site where commodities are traded and legal institutions designed to enforce the rules for exchanging standardized commodity contracts and associated investment products.

In recent years, certain commodity exchanges have merged or gone out of business. Although most exchanges handle a few distinct commodities, others specialize on a particular category. There are three exchanges in the United States: the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), and the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in Atlanta, Georgia. The London Metal Exchange is located in Europe (LME).The London Metal Exchange, as the name suggests, solely trades in metals.

Special Characteristics of the Commodities Market

The fundamental principles of supply and demand drive the commodities markets in the widest sense. Changes in supply have an influence on demand; a lack of supply means higher pricing. As a result, any substantial interruptions in a commodity’s supply, such as a widespread health problem affecting cattle, may cause a jump in the typically steady and predictable demand for livestock.

Prices may be affected by global economic growth and technical advancements. For example, the development of China and India as key manufacturing actors (demanding a larger amount of industrial metals) has contributed to the world’s decreasing supply of metals such as steel.

Types of Commodities

Commodities are traditionally classified into four major categories: metal, energy, livestock and meat, and agriculture.


Gold, silver, platinum, and copper are examples of metal commodities. During instances of market turbulence or bear markets, some investors may choose to invest in precious metals, notably gold, due to its reputation as a trustworthy commodity with actual, transferable value. Investors may also choose to buy precious metals as a hedge against excessive inflation or currency depreciation.

Crude oil, heating oil, natural gas, and gasoline are examples of energy commodities. Rising oil prices have historically resulted from global economic changes and decreasing oil outputs from existing oil wells throughout the globe, as demand for energy-related goods has increased at the same time that oil supplies have diminished.

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Investors interested in entering the commodities market in the energy sector should also be aware of how economic downturns, any production shifts imposed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and new technological advances in alternative energy sources (wind power, solar energy, biofuel, and so on) that aim to replace crude oil as a primary source of energy can all have a significant impact on market prices for commodities in the energy sector.

Lean pigs, pork bellies, live cattle, and feeder cattle are examples of livestock and meat commodities.


Corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, cocoa, coffee, cotton, and sugar are examples of agricultural commodities. Grain prices in the agriculture industry may be very volatile throughout the summer months or during any time of weather-related change. Population increase, paired with restricted agricultural supply, may give chances for agricultural investors to benefit from increasing agricultural commodity prices.

Using Futures to Invest in Commodities

A futures contract is one method to invest in commodities. A futures contract is a legal agreement to acquire or sell a certain commodities item at a defined price at a future date. When a futures contract is purchased, the buyer assumes the responsibility to purchase and receive the underlying commodity when the contract expires.

The seller of the futures contract assumes responsibility for providing and delivering the underlying commodity on the contract’s expiry date. Futures contracts are offered for every commodity category. Commodity futures markets typically attract two sorts of investors: commercial or institutional consumers of the commodities and speculative speculators.

Futures contracts are used by manufacturers and service providers as part of their budgeting process to normalize spending and decrease cash flow-related concerns. Manufacturers and service providers that depend on commodities for their manufacturing processes may invest in commodities markets to mitigate the risk of financial loss due to price fluctuations.

The aviation industry is an example of a major enterprise that requires vast volumes of fuel at constant costs in order to plan. Because of this need, airlines participate in futures contract hedging. Future contracts enable airlines to buy gasoline at fixed prices for a certain period of time. This manner, they may prevent any volatility in the crude oil and gasoline markets.

Futures contracts are often used by farming cooperatives. Without the capacity to hedge using futures contracts, any volatility in the commodities market has the potential to bankrupt firms that rely on price predictability to manage their operational expenditures.

Speculative investors also engage in commodity futures markets. Speculators are skilled investors or traders that buy assets for short periods of time and use specific tactics to benefit from price movements in the asset. Speculative investors attempt to benefit from fluctuations in the futures contract price. Because they do not depend on the real items they are speculating on to run their businesses (like an airline does on fuel), speculators often close out their bets before the futures contract expires. As a consequence, they may never really get the goods.

You may be needed to create a new brokerage account if you do not have a broker that also trades futures contracts. Investors are usually asked to sign a paper acknowledging that they understand the risks connected with futures trading. Depending on the broker, futures contracts will demand a different minimum deposit, and the value of your account will rise or fall in tandem with the value of the contract. If the contract’s value falls, you may face a margin call and be obliged to deposit additional money into your account in order to keep the trade open. Small price swings in commodities may result in enormous returns or significant losses due to the high degree of leverage; a futures account can be wiped out or doubled in a matter of minutes.

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Futures contracts provide several benefits as a means of engaging in the commodities market. Because it is a pure bet on the underlying commodity, analysis may be simplified. There is also the possibility of enormous earnings, and if you can create a minimum-deposit account, you can handle full-size contracts (that otherwise may be difficult to afford).Finally, taking long or short bets on futures contracts is simple.

Livestock and Meat

Direct investing in commodity futures contracts is dangerous since markets may be unpredictable, particularly for new investors. The disadvantage of having such a large potential for profit is that losses may be amplified; if a transaction goes against you, you might lose your original deposit (and more) before you have time to terminate your position.

Most futures contracts allow for the purchase of options. Futures options may be a low-risk entry point into the futures markets. Putting a deposit on something rather than acquiring it completely is one approach to think about buying alternatives. When you have an option, you have the right, but not the responsibility, to complete the transaction when the contract ends. As a result, if the price of the futures contract does not move in the direction you predicted, your loss is limited to the cost of the option you acquired.

Using Stocks to Invest in Commodities

Many investors who want to join the market for a certain commodity may buy stocks of firms that are tied to the commodity in some manner. Investors in the oil business, for example, may invest in oil drilling firms, refineries, tanker companies, or diversified oil corporations. Those interested in the gold industry might invest in stocks of mining businesses, smelters, refineries, or any company that deals with bullion.

Stocks are regarded to be less susceptible to unpredictable price changes than futures contracts. Stocks may be simpler to purchase, keep, trade, and monitor. Furthermore, investments might be targeted to a certain industry. Of course, investors must do some research to guarantee that a firm is both a smart investment and a commodities play.

Stock options may also be purchased by investors. Options on stocks, like options on futures contracts, entail a lesser investment than purchasing equities directly. As a result, although your risk when investing in a stock option is limited to the cost of the option, the price movement of a commodity may not precisely match the price movement of a company’s shares with a connected investment.

Because most investors already have a brokerage account, investing in equities to join the commodities market makes trading simpler. Investors may easily get public information about a company’s financial position, and equities are often extremely liquid.

There are certain drawbacks to investing in equities as a strategy to acquire access to the commodities market. Stocks are never a one-sided bet on commodities prices. Furthermore, the price of a stock may be changed by variables unrelated to the value of the associated commodity that the investor is attempting to watch.

Using ETFs and Notes to Invest in Commodities

For investors interested in joining the commodities market, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and exchange-traded notes (ETNs) offer further choices. ETFs and ETNs move like stocks and enable investors to benefit from commodity price swings without investing directly in futures contracts.

Commodity ETFs often use futures contracts to follow the price of a certain commodity or collection of commodities that compose an index. Investors may sometimes back the ETF with the real commodity stored in storage. ETNs are unsecured debt instruments that are intended to replicate the price fluctuations of a certain commodity or commodities index. The issuer guarantees ETNs.

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ETFs and ETNs allow investors to participate in the price fluctuation of a commodity or basket of commodities, but they typically do not require a special brokerage account. There are also no management or redemption fees with ETFs and ETNs because they trade like stocks. However, not all commodities have ETFs or ETNs that are associated with them.

Another downside for investors is that a big move in the price of the commodity may not be reflected point-for-point by the underlying ETF or ETN. In addition, ETNs specifically have credit risk associated with them since they are backed by the issuer.

Using Mutual and Index Funds to Invest in Commodities

While you cannot use mutual funds to invest directly in commodities, mutual funds can be invested in stocks of companies involved in commodity-related industries, such as energy, agriculture, or mining. Like the stocks they invest in, the shares of the mutual fund may be impacted by factors other than the fluctuating prices of the commodity, including general stock market fluctuations and company-specific factors.

However, there are a small number of commodity index mutual funds that invest in futures contracts and commodity-linked derivative investments, and therefore provide investors with more direct exposure to commodity prices.

By investing in mutual funds, investors get the benefit of professional money management, added diversification, and liquidity. Unfortunately, sometimes management fees are high, and some of the funds may have sale charges.

Using Commodity Pools and Managed Futures to Invest in Commodities

A commodity pool operator (CPO) is a person (or limited partnership) that gathers money from investors and then combines it into one pool in order to invest that money in futures contracts and options. CPOs distribute periodic account statements, as well as annual financial reports. They are also required to keep strict records of all investors, transactions, and any additional pools they may be operating.

CPOs will often hire a commodities trading adviser (CTA) to guide them on pool trading choices. Before providing financial advice, CTAs must be registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and undergo a background check.

Investors may choose to engage in a CPO because they will get expert guidance from a CTA. Furthermore, a pooled structure gives the management more money and more possibilities to invest. If investors pick a closed fund, they must all contribute the same amount of money.

The Bottom Line

Both rookie and professional traders have several possibilities for investing in financial products that provide access to commodities markets. While commodity futures contracts are the most direct means to participate in the industry’s price changes, there are other forms of investments with lower risk that can give enough prospects for commodities exposure.

Commodities are recognized to be dangerous investment propositions in the most fundamental sense because they may be impacted by uncertainties that are difficult, if not impossible, to foresee, such as odd weather patterns, diseases, and natural and man-made calamities.

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