CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 76% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 76% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

What Is CFD Trading? CFDs Explained

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A CFD stands for contract for difference. CFD trading allows you to take a position on the price of an instrument without actually owning the underlying asset. One of the most unique aspects of CFDs is that they enable you to profit from falling markets as well as rising ones.

What Is CFD Trading?

CFD trading is the method of speculating on the underlying price of an asset, such as shares, indices, commodities, forex and more.

A CFD – short for ‘contract for difference’ – is the type of derivative that enables you to trade the price movements of these financial markets with us. With this form of trading, you don’t own the underlying asset – you’re only getting exposure to its price movements.

XTB is one of the world’s leading CFD brokers. On our trading platform, xStation, you can trade over 2100 instruments, including commodities, indices, forex, stock and ETF CFDs.

What Are CFDs?

Let’s first address the most basic question: what is a CFD? The term CFD stands for contracts for difference. 

A contract for difference creates, as its name suggests, a contract between two parties (typically described as ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’) on the movement of an asset price.

There are several key features of CFDs that make them a unique and exciting product:

  • CFDs are a derivatives product
  • CFDs are leveraged
  • You can profit and incur losses from both rising and falling prices

Why Are CFDs a ‘Derivatives’ Product?

The term ‘derivatives product’ simply means that when trading CFDs, you don’t actually own the underlying asset. You’re simply speculating on whether the price will rise or fall. When you trade a CFD, you are agreeing to exchange the difference in the price of an asset from the moment the contract is opened, to the moment it’s closed.

Let’s take stock investing as an example. You’d like to purchase 10,000 shares of Barclays and its share price is 280p, which means that the total investment would cost you £28,000, not including the commission or other fees your broker would charge for the transaction. In exchange for this, you receive a stock certificate, legal documentation that certifies ownership of shares. In other words, you have something physical to hold in your hands until you decide to sell them, preferably for a profit.

With CFDs, however, you don’t own those Barclays shares. You’re simply speculating from the same movements in share price.

What Is Leverage in CFD Trading?

Leverage means you gain a much larger market exposure for a relatively small initial deposit. In other words, your potential return or loss on your investment is significantly larger than in other forms of trading.

Let’s go back to the Barclays example. Those 10,000 shares of Barclays are at 280p, costing you £28,000 and not including any additional fees or commissions.

With CFD trading, however, you only need a small percentage of the total trade value to open the position and maintain the same level of exposure. Let’s suppose that XTB gives you 5:1 (or 20%) leverage on Barclays shares. This means that you would only need to deposit an initial £5,600 to trade the same amount.

If Barclays shares rise 10% to 308p, the value of the position is now £30,800. So with an initial deposit of just £5,600, this CFD trade has made a profit of £2,800. That’s a 50% return on your investment, compared to just a 10% return if the shares were bought physically.

The important thing to remember about leverage, however, is that while it can magnify your profits, your losses are also magnified in the same way. So if prices move against you, you may be closed out of your position by a margin call or have to top up your funds to keep it open. This is why it’s important to understand how to manage your risk.

If Barclays shares fall 10% to 252p, the value of the position is now £25,200. So with an initial deposit of just £5,600, this CFD trade has made a loss of £2,800. That’s a -50% loss on your investment, compared to just a -10% loss if the shares were bought physically.

What Is ‘Trading on Margin’ with CFDs?

Trading on margin is simply another term to describe leveraged trading, because the amount of money required to open and maintain a leveraged position is called the ‘margin’.

Range of CFDs at XTB

We offer contracts for difference (CFDs) on over 2100 global markets and multiple asset classes, all with the ability to utilise leverage and go both long or short. This includes:

  • FX
  • Indices
  • Shares
  • Currencies
  • Commodities

How Do CFDs Work?

Now that you know what CFDs are, let’s take a closer look at how CFDs work. To understand how CFDs work, it’s important to have a good grasp of the following concepts, and how they apply to CFD trading:

  • Spread and commission
  • Deal size
  • Duration

Spread and Commission

CFDs are quoted in two prices: the buy price and the sell price, and allow you to profit from both rising and falling prices.

  • If you believe the price of an asset is going to rise, you go long or ‘buy’ and you’ll profit from every increase in price.
  • If you believe the price of an asset is going to fall, you go short or ‘sell’ and you’ll profit from every fall in price.

Of course, if the markets don’t move in the direction you expect, you’ll suffer a loss.

So, if you believe, for example, that Apple’s share price will fall in value, you simply go short on Apple share CFDs and your profits will rise in line with any fall in price below your opening level. However, should Apple’s share price actually rise, you would suffer a loss for every rise in price. How much you profit or lose will depend on your position size (lot size) and the size of the market price movement.

The ability to go long or short, along with the fact that CFDs are a leveraged product, makes CFDs one of the most flexible and popular ways of trading short term movement in financial markets today.

Deal Size

Trading CFDs is more similar to traditional trading than other derivatives, such as spread bets or options. This is largely due to the fact that CFDs are traded in standardised contracts, or lots. The size of an individual lot depends on the underlying asset being traded, often mimicking how that asset is traded on the market.

Duration of the Trade

More often than not, CFD trades have no fixed expiry. A position can be closed simply by placing a trade in the opposite direction to the one that opened it.

Creating your CFD trading strategy

Much of the trading strategies you choose when trading CFDs depends on a multitude of aspects including:

  • The time you have available to dedicate to trading - for example, if you have only evenings spare to research potential trades, its likely you will employ a strategy that focuses on longer time frames as you won’t have the ability to check prices regularly throughout the day
  • The markets you understand - it’s always a prudent tip to only trade markets you understand as opposed to entering trades blindly. What works in some markets, may not work in others.
  • The risk appetite you have - of course the more willing to take on risk you have, the more aggressive your strategy might be or the opposite if you want to take on less risk
  • The amount of capital you have to invest - this might affect how much your strategy can absorb price swings against you before your trades are affected by low margin
  • Technical Analysis vs Fundamental Analysis - many traders tend to pick between these two popular types of analysis when choosing their strategies whilst others may create a hybrid strategy which involves both. Learn more about Technical Analysis and Fundamental Analysis


A contract for difference (CFD) allows traders to speculate on the future market movements of an underlying asset, without actually owning or taking physical delivery of the underlying asset. CFDs are available for a range of underlying assets, such as shares, commodities, and foreign exchange.

Trading CFDs can be risky, and the potential advantages of them can sometimes be overshadowed by the associated counterparty risk, market risk, client money risk, and liquidity risk. CFD trading can also be considered risky as a result of other factors, including poor industry regulation, potential lack of liquidity, and the need to maintain an adequate margin due to leveraged losses.

Most traders do not consider CFDs appropriate for a long term investment. Because CFDs incur high fees if held for long periods of time, traders usually consider them only as short term trading instruments.

CFD trading is legal in the UK, but the financial regulator has been vocal about the large number of consumers who lose money when participating in this activity. The FCA says that where CFDs and CFD-like options are sold to retail clients, providers must limit leverage to between 30:1 to 2:1.

CFDs are attractive to day traders who can use leverage to trade assets that are more costly to buy and sell. CFDs can be quite risky due to low industry regulation, potential lack of liquidity, and the need to maintain an adequate margin due to leveraged losses.

XTB as a group has more than 650,000 active CFD clients, which makes XTB one of the worlds biggest retail brokers.

This content has been created by XTB S.A. This service is provided by XTB S.A., with its registered office in Warsaw, at Prosta 67, 00-838 Warsaw, Poland, entered in the register of entrepreneurs of the National Court Register (Krajowy Rejestr Sądowy) conducted by District Court for the Capital City of Warsaw, XII Commercial Division of the National Court Register under KRS number 0000217580, REGON number 015803782 and Tax Identification Number (NIP) 527-24-43-955, with the fully paid up share capital in the amount of PLN 5.869.181,75. XTB S.A. conducts brokerage activities on the basis of the license granted by Polish Securities and Exchange Commission on 8th November 2005 No. DDM-M-4021-57-1/2005 and is supervised by Polish Supervision Authority.

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