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What is CFD trading and how does it work?

A contract for difference is a financial derivative product that pays the difference in settlement price between the opening and closing of a trade. CFD trading​ enables you to speculate on the rising or falling prices of fast-moving global financial markets (or instruments) such as shares, indices, commodities, currencies and treasuries.​

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CFD meaning

The meaning of CFD is 'contract for difference', which is a contract between an investor and an investment bank, usually in the short-term. At the end of the contract, the parties exchange the difference between the opening and closing prices of a specified financial instrument, which can include forex, shares and commodities. Trading CFDs means that you can either make a profit or loss, depending on which direction your chosen asset moves in.

What are contracts for difference?

Contracts for difference are financial derivative products that allow traders to speculate on short-term price movements. Some of the benefits of CFD trading are that you can use margin trading, and you can go short (sell) if you think prices will go down or go long (buy) if you think prices will rise. You can also use CFD trades to hedge an existing physical portfolio. With a CFD trading account, our clients can choose between holding positions in the long-term and quick day trading​ strategies.

How does CFD trading work?

When you trade CFDs, you don’t buy or sell the underlying asset (e.g. a physical share, currency pair or commodity). We offer CFDs on thousands of global markets and you can buy or sell a number of units for a particular product or instrument depending on whether you think prices will go up or down. Our wide range of products includes sharestreasuriescurrency pairscommodities and stock indices, such as the Singapore Free.

For every point the price of the instrument moves in your favour, you gain multiples of the number of units you have bought or sold. For every point the price moves against you, you will make a loss. Please remember that for retail clients you could lose up to the amount of your deposit.  

What is margin and leverage?

Contracts for difference (CFDs) is a leveraged product, which means that you only need to deposit a small percentage of the full value of the trade in order to open a position. This is called ‘trading on margin’ (or margin requirement). While trading on margin allows you to magnify your returns, your losses will also be magnified as they are based on the full value of the position. This means you could lose more than your deposits.

Learn more about CFD margins and how to calculate CFD margins.

What are the costs of CFD trading?

Spread: As in all markets, when trading CFDs you must pay the spread, which is the difference between the buy and sell price. You enter a buy trade using the buy price quoted and exit using the sell price. As one of the leading CFD providers globally, we understand that the narrower the spread, the less you need the price to move in your favour before you start making a profit or loss. Our spreads are therefore always competitive so you can maximise your ability to net a potential profit.

Holding costs: At the end of each trading day (5pm New York time), any positions open in your account may be subject to a charge called a 'holding cost'. The holding cost can be positive or negative depending on the direction of your position and the applicable holding rate.

Market data fees: To trade or view our price data for share CFDs you must activate the relevant market data subscription for which a fee will be charged. View our CFD market data fees.

Commissions (only applicable for shares): You must also pay a separate commission charge when you trade share CFDs. Commissions on NZ-based shares on the CMC Markets CFD trading platform start from 0.10% of the full exposure of the position, and there is a minimum commission charge of $7.

Example 1 - Opening a share CFD trade

A 12,000 unit trade on NZ Company ABC at a price of $1.00 would incur a commission charge of $10.80 to enter the trade:

12,000 (units) x 100 cents (entry price) = $12,000 x 0.09% = $10.80

Example 2 - Opening a share CFD trade

A 5,000 unit trade on NZ Company ABC at a price of $1 or 100 cents would incur the minimum commission charge of $7 to enter the trade:

5,000 (units) x $1 (entry price) = $5,000 x 0.09% = $4.50 (As this is less than the minimum commission charge for NZ share CFDs, the minimum commission charge of $7 would be applied to this trade.)

Please note: CFD trades incur a commission charge when the trade is opened as well as when it is closed. The above calculation can be applied for a closing trade, the only difference is that you use the exit price rather than the entry price.

Learn more about CFD commissions and trading costs.

What instruments can I trade?

When you open a CFD trading account with us, you can take a position on thousands of instruments, including CFD forex trading. Our spreads start from 0.7 points on forex CFDs including the EUR/USD and AUD/USD currency pairs. See our range of markets​. There is also the option to trade CFDs over traditional share trading, which means that you do not have to take ownership of the physical share.

Example of a CFD trade

Buying a company share in a rising market (going long)

You think the company’s price is going to go up so you decide to buy 1,000 CFDs, or ‘units’ at $10.00. A separate commission charge of $9 would be applied when you open the trade, as 0.09% of the trade size is $9 (1,000 units x $10.00 = $10,000 x 0.09%).

Company ABC has a margin rate of 20%, which means you only have to deposit 20% of the total value of the trade as position margin. Therefore, in this example your position margin will be $2000 (1,000 units x $10.00 = $10,000 x 20%)

Remember that if the price moves against you, losses will be based on the full value of the position.

Outcome A: a profitable trade

Your prediction was correct and the price rises over the next week to $11.00 / $11.02. You decide to close your buy trade by selling at $11.00 (the current sell price). Remember, commission is charged when you exit a trade too, so a charge of $9.90 would be applied when you close the trade, as 0.09% of the trade size is $9.90 (1,000 units x $11.00 = $11,000 x 0.09%).

The price has moved $1.00 in your favour, from $10.00 cents (the initial buy price) to $11.00 cents (the current sell price). Multiply this by the number of units you bought (10,000) to calculate your profit of $1,000, then subtract the total commission charge ($9 at entry + $9.90 at exit = $18.90) which results in a total profit of $981.10

Outcome B: a losing trade

Unfortunately, your prediction was wrong and the price of Company ABC drops over the next week to $9.30 / $9.32. You think the price is likely to continue dropping so, to limit your losses, you decide to sell at $9.30 (the current price) to close the trade. As commission is charged when you exit a trade too, a charge of $8.37 would apply, as 0.09% of the trade size is $8.37 (1,000 units x $9.30 = $9,300 x 0.09%).

The price has moved 70 cents against you, from $10.00 (the initial buy price) to $9.30 (the current sell price). Multiply this by the number of units you bought (1,000) to calculate your loss of $700, plus the total commission charge ($9 at entry + $8.37 at exit = $17.37) which results in a total loss of $717.37.

View more in-depth CFD trading examples​.

Short-selling CFDs in a falling market

CFD trading enables you to sell (short) an instrument if you believe it will fall in value, with the aim of profiting from the predicted downward price move. If your prediction turns out to be correct, you can buy the instrument back at a lower price to make a profit. If you are incorrect and the value rises, you will make a loss. This loss can exceed your deposits.

Hedging your physical portfolio with CFD trading

If you have already invested in an existing portfolio of physical shares with another broker and you think they may lose some of their value over the short term, you can hedge your physical shares using CFDs. By short selling the same shares in CFDs, you can try and make a profit from the short-term downtrend to offset any loss from your existing portfolio.

For example, say you hold $5,000 worth of physical ABC Corp shares in your portfolio; you could short sell the equivalent value of ABC Corp with CFDs. Then, if ABC Corp’s share prices fall in the underlying market, the loss in value of your physical share portfolio could potentially be offset by the profit made on your short sell CFD trade. You could then close out of your CFD trade to secure your profits as the short-term downtrend comes to an end and the value of your physical shares starts to rise again.

Using CFDs to hedge physical share portfolios is a popular strategy for many investors, especially in volatile markets.

Attend one of our regular CFD trading webinars or seminars​ and improve your CFD trading skills.


How can I trade CFDs?

You can trade CFDs by opening a live CFD account, or alternatively, you can practise risk-free with virtual funds on a CFD demo account. We offer a wide range of financial markets to trade on, including forex, indices, commodities, shares, ETFs and treasuries.

How long can you hold CFD contracts for?

On most instruments, you can hold CFD contracts for as long as you wish, depending on your trading strategy. This can be any duration between a matter of seconds to several months. However, there are extra costs to take into consideration when carrying overnight positions. Learn more about CFD holding costs.

Is CFD trading good for beginners?

CFD trading is suitable for all levels of trading experience, from beginner to professional. We have a vast range of resources to help beginners get started and you can also open a demo CFD trading account to practise risk-free with virtual funds.

Can you lose more than you invest in CFDs?

You can lose more capital than you deposit on a trade when trading CFDs with leverage, because leverage acts as a double-edged sword, meaning that profits and losses are based on the full value of the trade, depending on whether the market moves in your favour. Read about the risks of CFDs and how to combat them in our risk-management guide, such as using stop-loss orders.