What Is the Difference Between Futures and Commodities?

Categories: Gold and Commodities Trading  

Tags: futures and commodities  

Publish date: 2023-11-10

Mastering Futures and Commodities: Key Differences Unveiled

When it comes to investing or trading in financial markets, understanding the fundamental difference between futures and commodities is crucial. Both terms are frequently used, but they represent distinct aspects of the financial landscape. In this article, we will delve into the definitions, characteristics, and key differences between futures and commodities. Additionally, we'll explore whether commodities are traded as futures and highlight the most commonly traded commodity futures.

Table of Contents

Understanding Commodities
Exploring Futures Contracts
Key Differences Between Futures and Commodities
Are Commodities Traded as Futures?
      Trade Commodities CFDs with FXCM
Most Commonly Traded Commodity Futures
Pros and Cons of Trading Futures
      Advantages of Trading Futures:
      Risks and Challenges:
Pros and Cons of Investing in Physical Commodities
      Advantages of Investing in Physical Commodities:
      Challenges and Considerations:
Final Thoughts

Understanding Commodities

Commodities are physical assets that can be bought, sold, or traded. These tangible goods are often classified into categories based on their nature, including agricultural commodities (wheat, soybeans), energy commodities (crude oil, natural gas), and metals (gold, silver). Commodities have been vital throughout human history, serving as the building blocks of trade and commerce.

Examples of commodities include the grains that form the basis of our food supply, the fossil fuels that power our industries and transportation, and the precious metals that have been used as stores of value for centuries. These tangible assets are often affected by supply and demand dynamics, weather conditions, geopolitical events, and technological advancements.

Understanding Commodities

Exploring Futures Contracts

Futures contracts, on the other hand, are financial derivatives derived from underlying commodities. These contracts facilitate the buying or selling of commodities at a future date, with the agreed-upon price set at the time the contract is established. Futures are widely used for both hedging and speculation in financial markets.

Futures contracts serve various purposes, such as providing a mechanism for producers and consumers of commodities to hedge against price fluctuations. For example, a wheat farmer might use a futures contract to lock in a future selling price, protecting against potential price declines. Conversely, a bread manufacturer may use the same contract to secure a future buying price, guarding against possible price increases.

Key Differences Between Futures and Commodities

Now, let's explore the key differences between futures and commodities:

  1. Futures as Derivative Contracts:
  • Futures contracts are financial instruments derived from underlying commodities, whereas commodities themselves are tangible assets.
  • Futures contracts derive their value from the expected future price of the commodity, providing exposure to price movements without the need to physically own the asset.
  1. Commodities as Physical Assets:
  • Commodities are the actual physical goods, whether it's a bushel of wheat, a barrel of crude oil, or an ounce of gold.
  • When trading commodities, it involves the physical exchange and delivery of the asset, which may require storage and transportation.
  1. Trading and Speculation:
  • Commodities are bought and sold in their physical form for consumption or use.
  • Futures contracts are primarily used for trading and speculation in financial markets, offering opportunities for profit without ever taking possession of the physical commodity.
  1. Delivery vs. Settlement:
  • When trading commodities, the transactions may lead to the actual delivery of the commodity.
  • Futures contracts often settle in cash, where the gains or losses are realized through monetary payments based on the price difference between the contract's initiation and its termination.

Are Commodities Traded as Futures?

Yes, commodities are frequently traded as futures. In fact, futures contracts have become an integral part of commodity markets. These contracts offer a practical way for producers, consumers, and investors to manage risk, speculate on price movements, and gain exposure to the commodity markets without the need for physical ownership.

Futures contracts on commodities are widely traded. They are consistent with the primary goal of commodity markets, which is to enable trade between raw material suppliers, large enterprises, and governments seeking tangible goods. When it comes to pricing and delivery, futures provide both parties with some predictability.

Commodity futures trading can also be done by speculators. They typically seek to acquire or sell futures contracts in order to realize a capital gain before the contract's maturity date. There is no necessity to retain a future for the whole contract duration, and any profits or losses can be turned into realized P&L by trading futures during open exchange hours.

Speculative investors typically choose to trade "non-deliverable" futures contracts, which settle any price difference at maturity with a cash transfer. Businesses, on the other hand, tend to employ "deliverable futures," which need physical delivery of raw materials, for their day-to-day operations.

Commodity futures trading on an exchange is usually reserved for more seasoned investors. The method necessitates a hefty initial margin deposit and necessitates acquiring a thorough grasp of the process, including the dangers involved.

Futures trading also involves the use of leverage to take on more exposure than the initial cash deposit, which increases risk as well as the impact of price swings on profit and loss.

Brokers have designed more user-friendly instruments that allow clients to access the commodity sector without assuming all the risks and administrative responsibilities associated with exchanging futures. Some investors choose commodity stocks, commodity ETFs (exchange-traded funds), or commodity CFDs (Contracts for Difference), although CFDs carry significant risk.

Trade Commodities CFDs with FXCM

FXCM, a leading online broker, offers a robust and accessible platform for trading Commodity CFDs, providing traders with a range of opportunities to potentially profit from commodity price movements. By leveraging the benefits of CFD trading, such as leverage and short selling, and effectively managing risks, you can unleash the full potential of commodity trading with FXCM.

Commodity futures markets

Most Commonly Traded Commodity Futures

Commodity futures markets cover a wide range of products, but some commodities are more actively traded than others. The most commonly traded commodity futures include:

  • Brent Crude: A major trading benchmark for crude oil, particularly in Europe.
  • WTI Crude: Another crucial benchmark, primarily used in the United States.
  • Natural Gas: A key energy commodity used for heating and electricity generation.
  • Gold: A precious metal known for its value and use as a hedge against economic uncertainty.
  • Silver: Another precious metal with diverse industrial and investment applications.
  • Copper: Widely used in the construction and manufacturing industries.
  • Coffee: A popular agricultural commodity with global demand.
  • Sugar: Another agricultural commodity with strong demand for food and beverage production.
  • Cocoa: A staple in the production of chocolate and other products.
  • Cotton: Used extensively in the textile industry.

These commodities represent a diverse array of industries and sectors, making them attractive options for investors and traders looking to participate in the commodity markets.

Pros and Cons of Trading Futures

Now that we've explored the key differences between futures and commodities, let's consider the advantages and disadvantages of trading futures:

Advantages of Trading Futures:

  • Leverage: Futures contracts allow traders to control a more substantial position with a relatively small amount of capital. This potential for leverage can amplify both profits and losses.
  • Diversification: Futures provide an opportunity to diversify investment portfolios by gaining exposure to various commodities and asset classes.
  • Hedging: Futures contracts are widely used for risk management, allowing businesses to protect themselves against adverse price movements in the commodities they rely on for production.
  • Liquidity: Many futures markets are highly liquid, making it easier to enter and exit positions without significant price impact.

Risks and Challenges:

  • High Volatility: The futures markets can be highly volatile, leading to substantial price swings in a short period. This volatility can result in significant losses.
  • Lack of Physical Ownership: Futures trading is based on financial contracts rather than physical ownership of commodities. This means that traders do not have any claim to the actual assets.
  • Margin Requirements: Futures trading typically involves margin deposits, which require traders to allocate a portion of their capital to cover potential losses. This can limit the capital available for other investments.
  • Complexity: Futures markets can be complex, and successful trading often requires a deep understanding of market dynamics and risk management strategies.

Futures trading is generally more suited to experienced investors who are well-versed in the intricacies of the financial markets and have the risk tolerance to handle the potential price swings.

Investing in Physical Commodities

Pros and Cons of Investing in Physical Commodities

While investing in physical commodities offers distinct advantages, it also comes with its own set of challenges:

Advantages of Investing in Physical Commodities:

  • Hedging Against Inflation: Physical commodities like gold and real estate can act as hedges against inflation, preserving the real value of investments.
  • Tangible Assets: Investors directly own tangible assets, providing a sense of security and ownership.
  • Diversification: Investing in physical commodities can diversify a portfolio, reducing overall risk.
  • Long-Term Stability: Some commodities, such as real estate, have historically offered long-term stability and potential income through rent.

Challenges and Considerations:

  • Storage Costs: Owning physical commodities can come with storage costs. For example, storing gold or silver may require safe deposit boxes, and real estate ownership entails maintenance and property taxes.
  • Market Volatility: While some commodities are known for stability, others can be susceptible to significant price fluctuations.
  • Market Access: Investing in certain physical commodities may require specialized knowledge, market access, and a significant initial capital outlay.
  • Illiquidity: Selling physical commodities may not be as quick and straightforward as selling financial assets, potentially leading to illiquidity.

Investing in physical commodities is often favored by those with a long-term investment horizon, as these assets can provide a hedge against economic uncertainty and inflation.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the difference between futures and commodities is essential for making informed investment choices. Whether you are an active trader looking for speculative opportunities or a long-term investor seeking stability and preservation of wealth, both futures and physical commodities offer valuable avenues for participation in the financial markets.

Investors and traders should carefully assess their objectives, risk tolerance, and investment horizon when considering these options. Futures offer the potential for significant profits but come with high volatility and complex market dynamics, this could also result in significant losses. Investing in physical commodities can provide tangible ownership and stability but may require management and potential storage costs.

In the ever-evolving landscape of finance, the choice between futures and commodities ultimately depends on individual preferences and financial goals. By understanding the distinctions and considering the pros and cons of each, individuals can tailor their investment choices to best align with their objectives and risk tolerance, enabling them to navigate the multifaceted world of finance with confidence.


What exactly are commodities?

Commodities are physical assets that can be traded or used for various purposes. They include categories such as agricultural products (e.g., wheat, coffee), energy resources (e.g., crude oil, natural gas), and metals (e.g., gold, silver).

What are futures contracts, and how do they differ from commodities?

Futures contracts are financial derivatives that derive their value from underlying commodities. Unlike commodities, which are tangible assets, futures are essentially agreements to buy or sell commodities at a future date, often used for speculation and risk management.

How are commodities and futures different in terms of trading and ownership?

Commodities are physically bought and sold in their tangible form, often requiring storage, transportation, and actual ownership. In contrast, futures trading is based on financial contracts without the need for physical possession, making it more accessible for trading and speculation.

Can I trade commodities as futures?

Yes, commodities are commonly traded as futures. Futures contracts provide a practical way for individuals and businesses to gain exposure to commodity markets, speculate on price movements, and manage risk without the need for physical ownership.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of trading futures and investing in physical commodities?

Trading futures offers benefits such as leverage and diversification but comes with high volatility and complexity. Investing in physical commodities can act as a hedge against inflation and provide tangible ownership but may involve storage costs and potential illiquidity. The choice between the two depends on individual objectives and risk tolerance.

[Disclaimer] The content provided in the above articles represents individual viewpoints and should not be construed as investment advice. These perspectives are offered solely for the purpose of exchanging knowledge and insights. No explicit or implicit guarantee is provided concerning the accuracy or comprehensiveness of the information presented above. Individuals who base their decisions on the information, concepts, or data provided in these articles do so at their own discretion and assume full responsibility for any associated risks.