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Getting Started With Commodities

Tom Cleveland trader
Updated 13 Feb 2024

The global economy runs on commodities. Whether it's the oil that fuels our cars or the precious metals that go into our gadgets, raw materials are always in demand. But for many investors, the world of commodities can seem complex and intimidating.


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Getting Started With Commodities

If you're interested in commodity trading and investing, the good news is that it's never been easier to get started. But before you do, it's essential that you have a solid understanding of the fundamentals.

What Is a Commodity?

A commodity is a raw material that can be grown, extracted or mined for use in the production process to manufacture finished goods. We impact the commodities market with our actions every single day. From the moment we sip a cup of coffee in the morning to the clothes we choose to wear, the car we drive and the groceries we buy.

Commodities are the building blocks of nearly everything we use in life, whether they are mined from beneath the earth’s surface or grown on the topsoil of the planet. Commodity trading has evolved over time to smooth out the financial bumps in the road from the producer/miner to the user/manufacturer, both of whom must make substantial capital commitments before fixing market prices.

Where Are Commodities Traded?

Commodities are traded on an exchange through futures contracts, stocks, and ETFs, while they can also be bought and sold in their physical states. 

A commodity exchange is an exchange, or market, where various commodities are traded. Trading on an exchange includes various types of derivatives and contracts based on these commodities, such as forwards, futures and options, as well as spot trades. Access to these exchanges can be direct or through brokers – the obvious path for individual traders.

The largest commodity exchanges in the world are:

  • CME Group
  • Tokyo Commodity Exchange
  • Euronext
  • Dalian Commodity Exchange China
  • Multi Commodity Exchange
  • Intercontinental Exchange
  • Africa Mercantile Exchange
  • Uzbek Commodity Exchange

Some exchanges specialize in a particular group of commodities, including:

  • Chicago Mercantile Exchange (energy and metals)
  • ICE Futures US (agricultural products)
  • Chicago Board of Trade (agricultural products)
  • LIFFE (agricultural products)
  • London Metal Exchange (non-precious metals)
  • ICE Futures Exchange (energy)
what are the major commodities

Are Commodities Regulated?

Yes, they are. Each commodity market has a primary regulator, much the same way as with regulatory oversight of stocks. In the United States, the primary regulatory body is the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), while the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) performs the same function in the UK. Other well-known regulatory bodies from around the world include ASIC (Australia), BaFIN (Germany), FMA (New Zealand), FINMA (Switzerland) and FSA (Japan).

Types of Commodities

There are no hard and fast rules for categorizing commodities. The classifications are general, each comprising a multitude of items. An EFT may include a group classification, but a trade in the futures market could be for a specific commodity or index, i.e., for a specific commodity or basket of commodities. 

Tradable commodities fall into a number of categories, including grains, softs, livestock, energy, metals, and ‘other.’

  • Softs (cocoa, coffee, cotton, orange juice, sugar)
  • Livestock (feeder cattle, live cattle, lean hogs, pork bellies)
  • Energy (brent crude oil, WTI crude oil, gasoline, heating oil, natural gas)
  • Metals (steelcopper, iron, gold, nickel, palladium, platinum, silver, aluminum)
  • Other (lumber, rubber, wool)

Traders often encounter the use of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ when describing commodity types.

  • A hard commodity is any commodity that must be mined (goldsilver) or extracted (rubber, oil).
  • A soft commodity describes anything of an agricultural nature (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice).

To confuse matters even further, the word “raw” is often used, as well, more as a broad definition of any raw material used in the production of something else.

Oil is the most valuable traded commodity. Energy is known as the ‘Mother of All Markets’ and constitutes in excess of $1.3 trillion – roughly 3.6% – of global GDP. Oil tops the list of products, which can be further broken down into various crude oil qualities, heating oil, and its cousin, natural gas

Commodity Risks

Everything from the weather to competition and to inventories on hand can unduly cause extreme market fluctuations in price. Here are some of the macro risks to watch out for:

Volatility: Commodity trading is known to have a high-risk profile, which means that there is a high potential for reward but also a high potential for loss as well.

Geopolitical Events: Geopolitical risks can significantly impact the price of commodities. For example, the recent tensions in the Middle East resulted in an initial surge in the price of gold.

Macroeconomic Conditions: The global economy can also impact commodity prices. For example, if an economy goes through a downturn and demand for certain products declines, the commodity or commodities used in those products may also come under pressure. 

Weather: Some commodity prices may be impacted by weather events. For example, extreme heat waves and droughts have the potential to impact the global food supply and send wheat prices soaring.

Inventories: Elevated inventory levels indicate an oversupply and can lead to downward pressure on the price of a commodity. ON the other hand, low inventory levels suggest potential scarcity, pushing prices higher. 

how to start commodity trading

Trading Commodities Online

You now have a basic understanding of the global commodities market, the types of commodities that are traded, and the exchanges that are at the core of the commodity market.

To begin trading commodities, you will need a brokerage account that allows you to buy and sell commodities on their platform (some may only offer stocks or forex etc).

Searching for the right broker can be tough. However, we have done the legwork for you. Below is a list of the top brokerage accounts that allow you to trade commodities: 

What Is the Best Way to Trade Commodities?

The best way to trade commodities is to match your trading personality and tolerance for risk with a method that does not cause you to lose sleep at night. 

Depending upon your tolerance for risk and favored commodity, there are six ways you can trade commodities:

  • Traditional stock ownership of a commodity producer
  • Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
  • Mutual, managed, or index funds
  • Contracts for Difference (CFDs)
  • Options on Futures
  • Futures Contracts
Tom has over 30 years of experience in the payments industry, including serving as CFO for various Visa International entities from 1980 until 1999, retiring with the title of Group EVP and Treasurer.