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What is spread trading in commodities?

Understanding Spread Trading in Commodities

In the realm of trading and investment, different strategies and concepts exist that allow investors and traders to profit from the market. One such strategy is spread trading in the commodity markets. For both novice and experienced traders, understanding such a strategy is crucial to maximizing profits and mitigating the risks inherent in the market. This article provides a detailed and comprehensive exploration of the concept of spread trading in commodities.

Defining Spread Trading

Spread trading, also known as relative value trading, is a strategy that involves buying one security and selling a related security as a unit. The strategy is based on the relationship between the two securities; the trader is not concerned about the direction in which the individual securities move, rather, their concern is the difference between the securities’ prices.

In the context of the commodity market, spread trading involves the simultaneous purchase and sale of two related commodity contracts. These contracts can be separated by time (such as different delivery dates for the same commodity), by the grade of the commodity (like different qualities of crude oil), or by related commodities (such as gold and silver).

Types of Commodity Spreads

Intra-Commodity Spreads

Also known as “calendar spreads”, intra-commodity spreads involve contracts on the same commodity but with different delivery months. For example, a trader might buy a gold futures contract for December delivery and simultaneously sell the same amount of gold for June delivery. The expectation here is that the spread or difference in contract prices will change, and the trader will profit from this change.

Inter-Commodity Spreads

Inter-commodity spreads include the simultaneous purchase and sale of two different but related commodities. An example would be buying a contract for wheat and selling a contract for corn. Both of these commodities are related because their prices are influenced by similar factors, such as weather patterns and demand from the food industry.

Quality Spreads

Quality spreads, also known as “differential spreads,” involve different grades or types of a commodity. For instance, a trader might buy a futures contract for West Texas Intermediate crude oil and sell a contract for Brent crude. Both are types of crude oil, but they differ in their physical properties and which regions tend to use them.

The Benefits and Risks of Commodity Spread Trading


Spread trading in commodities has several advantages over outright positioning, where a trader buys or sells a single futures contract hoping for a favorable price move. Lower Margin: Spread trades often require less margin than outright futures positions because the risk is typically lower, which can make it more accessible to beginners or those with less capital to trade with.

Less Risk: Spread trading can be less risky than other strategies because the trader is both long and short. This means that they can potentially profit from volatile price moves in either direction, limiting the risk of significant loss.


No trading strategy is without risk, and spread trading is no exception. Particularly in spread trading in the commodity market, the relationship between the two contracts in the spread can change unexpectedly. Factors such as changes in supply and demand, government policy, or global events might affect one commodity more than the other, disrupting the spread and potentially leading to losses.

End Note

Spread trading in commodities is a strategy that involves trading two related contracts simultaneously with the aim of profiting from changes in the spread between them. It has the potential for lower risk and margin requirements than some other strategies, but like all trading, it is not without potential pitfalls. To effectively utilize spread trading as a strategy, a solid understanding of the commodities in question, market trends, and thorough research and analysis are essential.