How to Start Trading Commodities Online

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Trading commodities online is a relatively simple process, but it is not an activity that you should pursue without doing lots of homework.

The traditional method of calling a commodity broker to place orders and waiting for a call back to give you a filled order price is less efficient than online trading. Therefore, if you want to trade commodities online, there are some important factors to keep in mind.

Choosing a Commodity Broker

An important task for trading online is to pick a commodities broker. Almost all commodities brokers offer online trading, but there are some that specialize in online trading. TradeStation.com is an online broker platform that offers versatile trading when it comes to charts, quotes, strategy analysis, and order entry.

Other online brokers, such as Interactive Brokers and Options Express, offer excellent products, good service, and low commission rates.

Commodities Account Paperwork

Every commodity broker requires documentation to open an account. The forms require disclosure of financial information and identify the risks involved in trading commodities.

Financial data is critical because commodities are highly leveraged assets (borrowed money for funding). As such, there is always a chance that one can lose more money than initially invested. Therefore, a broker will require information on income, net worth, and creditworthiness to determine if they want to work with you.

Sufficient income, trading experience, and credit are critical elements when a broker considers your suitability. Not everyone who completes the account forms is suitable to open a commodities account. A broker may use discretion on whether a potential customer is an acceptable risk and is suited for commodities trading.

Before You Start Trading Commodities Online

Once you select an online commodity broker, and you receive approval for trading, the next step is to fund the account. While many brokers have minimum limits, it is up to the individual to determine the amount of funding over the required minimum when you open an account. One's comfort level and risk tolerance are important considerations when funding an account.

Before you commence trading with actual money, it is important to develop a well-researched trading plan. Many commodity brokers offer simulations to practice with before you put capital to work. Training and simulations will familiarize you with placing orders and could save you from making critical order entry errors.

Simulations also help you develop a feel for trading, and help you conceive a plan for approaching the markets in which you want to trade.

When you begin trading commodities online, choose your trades wisely and avoid overtrading. Start small and work with one at a time. If you find yourself placing many trades from the start, you might be getting in too fast, increasing the probability of failing and losing money.​

Advice for New Online Commodities Traders

It is important to understand what the futures and options markets are comprised of. They are derivatives of the actual commodities market, where the physical delivery of the commodities takes place. A derivative is simply security that is based on an underlying asset, in this case, physical commodities.

Therefore, it is important to learn all you can about the underlying supply and demand fundamentals for that commodity and the derivatives that are being traded. There is a wealth of information available for free from the commodity exchanges and trade organizations. Government agencies supply commodity data free of charge.

In the energy markets, the API and EIA (American Petroleum Institute and Energy Information Administration) are excellent sources of information. In grains, soft commodities, and animal protein markets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues weekly and monthly reports that include invaluable data and analysis.

Understanding commodities will require paying particular attention to supply and demand. It would also be beneficial to learn how to conduct fundamental analyses, a process of using supply, demand and trading data with charts to project future pricing.

The futures and options markets in commodities are laden with risk. There is a tremendous amount of leverage in these instruments. While the opportunity exists to make huge gains, the potential for rewards is accompanied by high risk.

Trading Futures and Margin Calls

Trading in futures requires a good-faith deposit or margin (a balance that must be maintained—the maintenance margin). Commodities are a very volatile market. Margin calls requiring additional capital are likely—in the event that the value of your investments drops too much, your broker may initiate a margin call.

A margin call happens when a broker requires you to put more capital into your account because values have fallen below the minimum required equity balance you have to maintain.

A trader that stays at this level of trading is "trading on margin", a very risky and costly way to trade. If you do not have the capital to support the financial hits, it can require borrowing more money every time you lose money. Many traders lose a tremendous amount of money trading on margins.

Some Final Thoughts

Exercise caution in the commodity markets, do your homework and approach these volatile instruments with care and trepidation. While fortunes can come from commodities trading, the potential for losses is just as great.

Online trading has increased the speed and efficiency of execution. Remember to approach online trading as a business—with a plan, discipline, and precision. Mistakes can be very expensive, so work to keep your trading to a minimum.

The most successful traders are masters of efficiency. Mastering online trading requires a level of expertise that comes from hard work and study. Make sure you use all of the information that is at your disposal. The platforms want you to succeed because a successful customer makes them successful as well.

Lastly, avoid trading on margin unless you enjoy the risk, and can afford the losses.