Sunday, October 7, 2007

Trading Oil and Gas Contracts Using CFDs

Many traders do not realise that Contracts for Difference can be used not just for stockmarket trading, but also in the forex and commodities markets, and one of the most liquid and exciting markets is crude oil and natural gas. CFDs are usually modelled in the same way as futures contracts, and consequently there are several contracts from which to choose in each category.

It is well known that the crude oil market is normally priced either as either Brent crude or US crude. The current spread between the two is about $3.5, Brent being higher, but this varies according to supply and demand, liquidity and other geopolitical issues.

Different contracts

Within each market, several expiration months are quoted and at the time of writing (June 2007) July, August and September CFDs are available. The difference in prices between the various contracts reflects the cost of carry and other seasonal factors as it would for all commodities.

What this means is that you do not pay financing interest on these CFDs, because all positions are rolled over into expiry and the contract values already price in the cost of carry.

What can you trade?

It is possible to trade various many different CFDs related to oil prices. These include:

Heating oil, for which there is a liquid US-based quote with several expirations

UK Oil and Gas sector CFDs

US Oil and Gas sector CFDs

Individual oil share CFDs including such varied names as Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil, Total-Fina, Exxon Mobil and many smaller oil company stocks around the world

US Natural Gas CFDs with various expirations

Calculating the margin on a US crude contract

As we analyse the US crude oil market every day in our US report, it is worth looking at this contract to calculate what margin is required on a trade.

The current most liquid contract is the July 2007 CFD, priced at $65.86 to $65.92

The margin requirement on most commodities is 3% of the total contract value.

The tick size is 0.01.

The contract value is calculated by this formula:

((Quantity) x (Price))/ Point= initial margin

Therefore if you were to buy 10 US Crude Oil CFDs at $65.92

(10 x 49.50)/ 0.01 x 0.03 = $1,978 initial margin.

The exposure per tick is worth $10.

For online traders, CFDs are an excellent way to gain exposure to the oil market as a speculative play, for hedging purposes, or when searching for good arbitrage possibilities. The markets are liquid and spreads are very attractive.

Mike Estrey is the Head of Research for Blue Index, specialists in Online CFD Trading, Contracts for Difference and Online Forex Trading.