1. Introduction to Commodities
  2. Commodities: Cocoa
  3. Commodities: Coffee
  4. Commodities: Copper
  5. Commodities: Corn
  6. Commodities: Cotton
  7. Commodities: Crude Oil
  8. Commodities: Feeder Cattle
  9. Commodities: Gold
  10. Commodities: Heating Oil
  11. Commodities: Live Cattle
  12. Commodities: Lumber
  13. Commodities: Natural Gas
  14. Commodities: Oats
  15. Commodities: Orange Juice
  16. Commodities: Platinum
  17. Commodities: Rough Rice
  18. Commodities: Silver
  19. Commodities: Soybeans and Soybean Oil
  20. Commodities: Sugar
  21. Commodities: Wheat
  22. Understanding Commodities Trading

A commodity is a basic good used in commerce that's interchangeable with other commodities of the same type. While the quality of a given commodity may differ slightly, it's essentially uniform across producers. One troy ounce of gold, for example, is basically the same product – regardless of the producer.

Commodities play an important role in our daily lives, and many items we use every day are produced using some type of commodity, whether it’s the cotton in the clothes we wear, the metals in our electronics or the foods on our plates.

Globally, the commodities markets are massive and trade in the trillions of dollars every day. There’s a lot of diversity in the commodities markets and investors can trade in four broad categories:

Category

Examples

Agriculture (or “Ag”)

Cocoa, coffee, corn, cotton, orange juice, soybeans, sugar, wheat

Livestock

Feeder cattle, live cattle

Metals

Copper, gold, platinum, silver

Energy

Crude oil, gasoline, heating oil, natural gas

There are numerous ways to invest in commodities, including exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, options and hedge funds. Investors can also gain exposure by investing in mining and other commodity-related companies through stocks.

The most popular way to invest in commodities, however, is through a futures contract – an agreement to buy or sell the underlying commodity at a specified future date and price. Each futures contract represents a specific amount of a given commodity. The most widely traded commodity future contract, for example, is crude oil, which has a contract unit of 1,000 barrels. Each futures contract of corn, on the other hand, represents 5,000 bushels – or about 127 metric tons of corn. 

It’s important to note that futures contracts have specific expiration dates, and if you don’t exit your position before that date, you’ll either have to deliver the physical commodity (if you’re in a short position) or take delivery (if you’re long). It’s estimated that only 2% of all futures contracts are actually delivered. That’s because most traders don’t want to store, insure and deliver such huge quantities of commodities. If you do end up with a long position after expiration, you may be able to “retender” the delivery by establishing a short position on the business day following assignment and paying a retender fee – which might run several hundred dollars, plus a set fee (e.g., $30) per contract. Still, the vast majority of traders exit their positions before expiration.

A contract month is the month in which a futures contract expires. While some commodities trade every month of the year, others trade during certain months only. Each month is represented by a single letter, as shown here:

Month

Code

 

Month

Code

January

F

July

N

February

G

August

Q

March

H

September

U

April

J

October

V

May

K

November

X

June

M

December

Z

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To avoid confusion, a contract name always includes the commodity’s ticker symbol, followed by the contract month and the two-digit year.  The complete contract name for the July 2017 Crude Oil contract, for example, would be “CLN17”:

Ticker Symbol

Contract Month

Year

CL

N

2017

CLN17

 

In this tutorial, we’ll introduce 20 commodity futures contracts – the most popular way to invest in commodities – along with contract specifications, production information and price drivers for each. Please note that all trading hours are shown in Eastern Time.

 


Commodities: Cocoa
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