How to trade oil

How the oil market works

Oil is a hugely popular commodity among traders. With supply and demand constantly in flux, volatility is never far away – and liquidity is rarely hard to find. Find out how to get started trading oil here, with a quick introduction followed by detailed instructions.


Luckily, you don’t need to handle large amounts of crude in order to trade the oil markets. That’s because most oil and gas trading is handled via futures.

What are oil futures?

Oil futures are contracts in which you agree to exchange a set amount of oil at a set price on a set date. They are traded on futures exchanges, and are the most commonly used method of buying and selling oil.

While oil importers and exporters use futures to insure against the adverse effects of oil price volatility, traders can use them to speculate on oil without buying or selling the commodity itself. That’s because the prices of oil futures will move as the value of oil goes up or down.

So instead of buying oil, storing it, waiting for its price to increase and then selling it on and arranging for it to be delivered, you can buy a futures contract and then sell the contract before it expires. In doing so, you’re taking advantage of the same increase in price without the same logistical effort.

Oil options

An oil option is similar to a futures contract, but with one key difference. With an oil option, you have a right to buy a set amount of oil before a set date at a set price – but no obligation to trade if you don’t want to. Options also provide a method of trading on the price movements of oil without having to take any delivery of the commodity itself.

Where are oil futures traded?

Oil futures are traded on exchanges, just like shares. But unlike shares, they are traded in the form of oil benchmarks. Oil doesn’t come out of the ground in the same form all around the world, and oil benchmarks enable traders to quickly identify the quality and drilling location of the oil they are buying and selling.

The two most popular oil benchmarks are Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate (WTI), traded on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) and New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). You can trade both of these benchmarks with Plus500, alongside various other oil and gas benchmarks: including Heating Oil, Natural Gas and No Lead Gasoline.

What are oil spot prices?

Oil spot prices show the cost of buying or selling oil and taking delivery immediately – or on the spot – instead of at a set date in the future. So while futures prices reflect how much the markets believe oil will be worth when the future expires, spot prices show how much it is worth right now.

Three ways of trading oil

There are three main ways of speculating on oil price movement: futures and options, CFD trading, or investing via equities and ETFs.

Buy futures and options

To trade futures and options, you’ll need to use the right exchange for the oil benchmark you wish to trade. Most exchanges have criteria for who is allowed trade on them, so the majority of futures speculation is undertaken by professionals instead of individuals. If you want to trade options, you’ll need an options broker.

Trade via CFDs

CFDs enable you to trade on the changing prices of futures and options, but without buying and selling the contracts themselves. And instead of trading on a commodities exchange, you create an account with a leveraged provider. This brings several benefits for oil traders:

  • You can trade on the spot prices of oil benchmarks, as well as futures and options
  • You can go both long and short on a huge variety of oil markets, on a single platform
  • You don’t have to be a professional to get started

Oil investment

Instead of trading individual markets, you can get exposure to oil via the shares of oil companies and oil exchange traded funds (ETFs). The prices of oil companies are heavily influenced by the price of oil, and can sometimes offer good value compared to trading oil itself. You can use ETFs to invest in oil benchmarks, or a basket of oil stocks.

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