Commodities: An Overview

Commodities are products traded solely on the basis of price. The products are undifferentiated products, goods or services that are not traded based on quality and features, only on price. Historically, commodities were items of value, of uniform quality that were produced in large quantities by many different producers. The items from each different producer were considered equivalent. Commodities are defined by an underlying contract and standard, rather than the quality of the product.


Chicago was the birth place of the first commodities market, way back in the 1840s. Farmers would bring their wheat to the market and exchange it for good, hard cash. Futures contracts developed from there. A farmer would contract with a dealer to sell a set amount of produce to him at a set date for a set price. It was comforting for both parties since the farmer knew how much he was going to get paid and the dealer knew exactly how much he was going to pay for these commodities.

This practice of commodities trading evolved over the years that ensued. The farmer would decide not to sell and cede the contract to another farmer to fulfil, or the dealer might decide that he did not want the produce anymore and then on-sell the contract to another dealer. Naturally supply and demand entered the equation. If the harvests were poor, the produce would fetch a much higher price and if the crops were abundant, a leaner price prevailed.

Before long, speculators were in on the act. They started trading the futures contracts in the hope of buying the commodities at a low price and selling these for a handsome profit.

What defines a successfully tradable commodity?

To successfully trade, commodities must:

?Be standardized. If the commodities industrial or agricultural, it must be unprocessed.

?Have an adequate shelf-life, if these are agricultural.

?There should be sufficient fluctuation in supply and concomitantly price. The reason for this is that without the risk factor, profits are meagre and unappetising.

Examples of commodities are: electricity, wheat, chemicals, metals, pork bellies, RAM chips, labour and currency.

Difference between commodities and stocks

The main difference between stocks and futures contracts from a trading perspective is that, unlike stocks, which you could keep for a very long time, commodities are held for a very short time only. Futures contracts are used to hedge commodity price-fluctuation risks or to take advantage of price movements, instead of trading the actual cash commodities.

How are commodities traded?

Commodity Future and option trading take place at exchanges such as the Chicago Board of Trade, Euronext.liffe, London Metal Exchange and the New York Mercantile Exchange, and other online trading systems. At the exchanges, areas are provided, each designated for a different futures contract. Those trading on the floor must be members of the exchange and registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Those traders, who are not members, work through brokerage firms who are.

To conclude

Commodity future option trading is both complex and risky, so the shoe may not necessarily fit just anybody?s foot. If you are considering commodity future option trading, you should evaluate how much you are prepared to lose should push come to shove. Choose a trading method that you are comfortable with and that is best suited to achieving your objectives. The bottom line in commodity future option trading is that, if you exercise good judgment and manage your risks effectively, commodities trading are likely to richly reward your efforts!

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