The Courier

What are CFDs? An in-depth guide to Forex Trading with contracts for difference

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Picture supplied by PropCompanies.

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Contracts for Difference (CFDs) in forex let traders speculate on the price movements of currency pairs without owning the actual currencies. These financial derivatives mirror the price changes of forex pairs, enabling traders to profit from both rising and falling markets. CFD trading on forex involves analysing the potential direction of currency pair prices and executing trades accordingly.

What is Forex?

Forex, short for foreign exchange, is the global market for trading currencies. It is the largest financial market in the world, operating 24 hours a day, five days a week. Forex trading involves buying one currency while selling another, aiming to profit from changes in their relative values.

Trades can take a long or short position, speculating on currencies' strengthening or weakening. This market is primarily over-the-counter (OTC), meaning transactions occur directly between parties, unlike exchange-traded markets (e.g., stock markets). Forex offers significant liquidity and the opportunity to trade on a wide range of currencies worldwide.

What is CFD trading?

CFD trading is a method where individuals bet on the future movement of asset prices without actually owning the assets. It's a versatile approach that applies to various markets, including forex, stocks, and commodities. Traders open positions based on whether they believe an asset's price will rise or fall. Leveraged products mean traders can control large positions with a relatively small amount of capital, leading to higher potential returns but also increased risk.

The key benefits include access to global markets, the ability to go long or short, and no ownership of the underlying asset. However, the risks include rapid price fluctuations and the potential for significant losses, especially when using leverage.

What are CFD brokers?

CFD brokers are intermediaries that provide retail clients with the platforms and tools needed to execute trades in financial markets through Contracts for Difference (CFDs). These brokers facilitate access to a wide range of markets, including forex, stocks, and commodities. Additionally, CFD brokers offer additional services like market and technical analysis tools, educational resources, and customer support, helping traders to understand market dynamics and make informed trading decisions.

To learn more about online brokers for Australian traders, you can read a comprehensive guide to The The Best Forex Brokers in Australia for 2024. Alternatively, if you are located over the ditch, you can check out The Best Forex Brokers in New Zealand.

About CFD trading platforms

CFD trading platforms are software applications that traders use to execute trades in the financial markets. These platforms vary in features, usability, and the range of assets they support. Some of the most widely recognised platforms include MetaTrader 4, MetaTrader 5, cTrader, and TradingView, as well as proprietary platforms like the Pepperstone mobile app and eToro for copy trading.

  • MetaTrader 4 (MT4) is renowned for its user-friendly interface, robust charting tools, and automation capabilities through the use of Expert Advisors (EAs). It's particularly popular for forex trading.
  • MetaTrader 5 (MT5), the successor to MT4, offers all the beloved features of its predecessor but with added capabilities like more timeframes, technical indicators, and improved charting tools. MT5 caters to both forex and stock traders.
  • cTrader is celebrated for its intuitive design and advanced order capabilities. It provides traders with detailed charting tools, level II pricing, and fast entry and execution.
  • TradingView is a cloud-based platform known for its social networking features, sophisticated charting tools, and wide range of markets. It allows traders to share strategies and insights.
  • Proprietary Platforms such as the eToro or Pepperstone mobile apps provide unique features.

Each platform has unique strengths, catering to CFD traders' diverse needs and preferences, from beginners to experienced professionals. You can learn more about the Best CFD Trading Platforms for Australian Traders here, or take a deep dive into the Best Forex Trading Apps in Australia.

Picture supplied by PropCompanies.
Picture supplied by PropCompanies.

CFD Trading vs Forex trading

The terms 'CFD trading' and 'forex trading' are often used interchangeably, but they refer to different aspects of the financial markets. In essence, forex trading involves buying and selling actual currencies. It's a straightforward exchange of one currency for another. Forex CFD trading, on the other hand, refers to using contracts for differences (CFDs) to speculate on the price movements of currency pairs without owning the actual currencies. Unlike forex trading, CFDs allow you to profit from rising and falling markets.

CFD trading is not legal in the US, so forex trading exclusively refers to trading actual currencies (aka spot trading). Conversely, in Australia, the term forex trading often encompasses CFD trading on forex markets, reflecting CFDs' popularity and legal acceptance as a trading instrument. This distinction highlights the importance of understanding local regulations and market practices, which can significantly influence the definition and execution of forex trading.

How Ccontracts for difference (CFDs) work

Contracts for Difference, aka CFDs, allow traders to speculate on an asset's price movements without owning the asset itself. Essentially, a CFD is an agreement between a trader and a broker to exchange the difference in price of an underlying asset from the time the contract is opened to when it is closed. If the asset's price moves in the direction the trader predicts, they profit; if it moves in the opposite direction, they incur a loss.

  1. Opening a position: To initiate a CFD trade, a trader selects an asset (like a stock, currency pair, commodity, or index) offered by their broker and decides whether they think the asset's price will increase (going long) or decrease (going short).
  2. Leverage: CFD trading is marked by the use of leveraged products, allowing traders to open positions with a margin-a smaller deposit relative to the full trade value. This leverage can magnify both profits and losses, introducing a higher level of risk.
  3. Price movement: The outcome of a CFD trade hinges on the asset's price movement between the opening and closing of the position. The difference in price, multiplied by the number of units traded, determines the profit or loss.
  4. Closing a position: A trader closes their CFD position by making a trade in the opposite direction to their opening move, based on the current market price. The financial difference between the open and closed trades is then reconciled in cash through the trading account.
  5. Costs and charges: Trading CFDs involves several costs, such as the spread (the difference between the buying and selling prices), potential overnight financing charges for positions held open beyond a day, and any applicable commission or trading fees from the broker.
Picture supplied by PropCompanies.
Picture supplied by PropCompanies.

How do Forex CFDs work?

Forex CFDs allow traders to speculate on the changing values of currency pairs without physically exchanging money. Traders predict whether the value of one currency will rise or fall against another and trade accordingly. Profits or losses are determined by the difference in price from when the position is opened to when it is closed.

Forex CFDs offer the flexibility to trade on margin, meaning traders can control large positions with relatively little capital. In Australia, under ASIC regulation, the maximum leverage available for major forex pairs is 30:1. This leverage allows for significant market exposure, increasing both potential profits and risks due to the amplified effect of price movements on traded positions.

Leveraged products explained

Leverage is a crucial concept in forex trading, especially for retail investors engaging with leveraged products. It allows traders to control a large position with a relatively small amount of capital, amplifying potential profits but also increasing the risk of losses. When a trader opens a position in a CFD account, they only need to deposit a fraction of the total trade's value, known as the margin.

Margin requirements are set by the broker and determine how much capital the trader must have in their account to open and maintain a position. A margin call is issued if the market moves against the trader's position and the account balance falls below this margin requirement. A margin call requires the trader to deposit additional funds into their account to meet the margin requirements and keep the position open.

For retail investors, leverage is a double-edged sword. While it can significantly increase the return on investment, it also raises the potential for high losses, especially in volatile markets. Understanding how leverage works and the risks associated with leveraged products is essential for anyone trading CFDs or engaging in forex trading.

What is an example of a CFD in forex?

An example of a CFD in forex involves a trader who believes the GBP/USD pair will increase in value. They decide to enter a long position for a GBP/USD CFD at 1.1500. If the GBP/USD price rises to 1.1550, and the trader closes the position, the 50 pips increase represents the profit. Conversely, if the price falls, that difference would be a loss. The trader does not own any British pound or US dollars; instead, they speculate on the price movement between these two currencies.

  • A long position is when a trader buys an asset expecting its price to rise over time. When you go long, you hope to sell the asset at a higher price to make a profit.
  • A short position, on the other hand, is when a trader sells an asset they do not currently own, expecting its price to fall.

How do Crypto CFDs Work?

Crypto CFDs function by allowing traders to speculate on the price movement of cryptocurrencies without owning the actual digital coins. Traders can take positions based on their prediction of whether the price of a cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, will rise or fall.

Like forex CFDs, crypto CFDs are traded on margin, typically much lower, such as 2:1 in Australia. This margin for crypto is far lower than that of other CFD products as volatility tends to be very high. This reduced leverage is a precaution against the rapid and significant price movements common in the cryptocurrency market, which can significantly affect the potential for profit or loss.

Picture supplied by PropCompanies.
Picture supplied by PropCompanies.

Other CFD asset classes

Traders can access a broad range of asset classes beyond forex and cryptocurrencies. These include stocks, allowing speculation on company share price movements; futures contracts, offering the ability to bet on the future price of assets like commodities or indices; indices themselves, which track the overall movement of market segments; ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds), providing exposure to various sectors or commodities through a single trade; commodities, where traders predict the price changes of physical goods such as gold or oil; and bonds, allowing speculation on the price movements of government or corporate debt instruments.

Each asset class offers distinct opportunities and challenges suitable for different trading preferences and strategies, from short-term gains to long-term investments.

Popular Forex trading strategies

In the forex market, traders employ a variety of strategies to navigate price movements and enhance their trading outcomes. Here's an overview of popular forex trading strategies:

  • Price Action Trading focuses on reading and interpreting chart patterns without using indicators. Traders make decisions based on the price movements and trends observed in the forex market.
  • Range Trading Strategy involves identifying stable high and low points where prices fluctuate within a predictable range. Traders buy at the low end of the range and sell at the high end, capitalising on this pattern.
  • Trend Trading Strategy is based on the principle that prices move in trends over time. Traders use this strategy to determine the direction of the market trend and make trades in alignment with this direction.
  • Position Trading is a long-term strategy where traders hold positions for weeks, months, or even years, aiming to profit from large price movements.
  • Day Trading Strategy involves opening and closing positions within the same trading day. This strategy avoids overnight risks and targets small, daily price movements.
  • Scalping is a short-term strategy that aims to make quick, small profits by entering and exiting trades within minutes, exploiting minor price gaps and fluctuations.
  • Swing Trading captures gains in a stock within an overnight to several weeks' timeframe. Traders seek to identify the 'swing highs' and 'lows' at which they can enter or exit the market.
  • Carry Trade Strategy involves borrowing from a currency with a low-interest rate and investing in a currency with a high-interest rate, profiting from the interest rate differential.
  • Breakout Strategy focuses on identifying the point where the price moves outside a defined range with increased volume. Traders enter the market on the assumption that the breakout will lead to a significant price movement.
  • News Trading capitalises on market volatility around news releases. Traders analyse how news announcements affect prices and make trades based on anticipated movements.
  • Retracement Trading is based on the idea that prices will temporarily retrace a portion of a larger trend, and then continue in the original direction. Traders look for these retracement opportunities to enter the market.
  • Grid Trading places orders at regular intervals above and below a set price, creating a grid of orders at incrementally increasing and decreasing prices. This strategy profits from the natural market volatility.

Each strategy has its own advantages and risks. Traders choose their approach based on their risk tolerance, investment time horizon, and the specific dynamics of the forex market.

What are the benefits of trading CFDs in Forex?

The benefits of trading CFDs in forex include leverage, flexibility to profit from both rising and falling markets, 24 hour trading hours, access to global markets, and the ability to manage risks effectively.


Trading CFDs in forex allows for significant leverage, meaning traders can control a large position with a relatively small amount of capital. Leverage can amplify potential profits but also increase potential losses.


CFD trading enables traders to speculate on price movements in both directions. Whether the market is rising or falling, there are opportunities to profit by going long (buying) when expecting prices to rise or going short (selling) when anticipating a decline.

Global Market Access

The forex market is vast and operates 24 hours a day during the trading week. It offers traders from around the world the chance to trade with a wide range of currencies. CFD trading platforms provide easy access to this global market.

Risk Management

CFDs offer tools for managing risk, such as stop-loss orders. These orders can help traders limit their potential losses by automatically closing a trade at a predetermined price level.

These features make CFD trading in forex a versatile option for traders looking to capitalise on price movements in the currency markets.

What are the risks of trading CFDs in the Forex market?

The risks of trading CFDs in the forex market include high leverage, market volatility, the risk of overtrading, and the complexity of understanding CFDs.

High leverage

While leverage can magnify profits, it also increases the potential for significant losses, even exceeding the initial investment. Traders must use leverage cautiously to manage their risk exposure effectively.

Market volatility

The forex market is known for its rapid price movements, which can lead to significant fluctuations in CFD positions. This volatility can result in significant gains or losses in a short period.

Risk of overtrading

The ease of entering and exiting positions in the CFD market, combined with access to high leverage, may lead to overtrading. Overtrading can significantly increase transaction costs and the risk of substantial losses.


Understanding how CFDs work, including their pricing, the impact of leverage, and the details of contract expiry, requires good financial knowledge. Inadequate understanding can increase the risk of making poor trading decisions.

These factors contribute to the high-risk nature of trading CFDs in the forex market. Traders must approach this market cautiously, armed with a solid strategy and a clear understanding of the risks involved.

How to start trading Forex CFDs

To start trading forex CFDs, follow these steps for a clear and structured approach:

1. Educate yourself: Before entering the forex CFD market, it's crucial to understand the basics of forex trading, how CFDs work, and the risks involved. Many brokers offer educational resources, including articles, tutorials, and webinars.

2. Choose a broker: Select a reputable broker that offers forex CFD trading. Consider factors such as regulatory compliance, trading platforms, available currency pairs, spreads, fees, and customer support. Regulatory compliance ensures your broker adheres to strict financial standards and offers a degree of investor protection.

3. Open a trading account: Once you've chosen a broker, you'll need to open a trading account. This process usually involves providing personal information and completing a verification process. Most brokers offer different account types, so choose one that matches your trading needs and experience level.

4. Start with a Demo Account: Many brokers provide demo accounts where you can practise trading forex CFDs with virtual money. A Demo account is an excellent way to gain experience without risking real money on a live account. Use this opportunity to familiarise yourself with the trading platform and test your trading strategies.

5. Develop a trading strategy: Successful trading requires a well-thought-out strategy that considers factors like when to enter and exit trades, risk management techniques, and how to analyse market conditions.

6. Fund your account: Once you're ready to start real trading, deposit funds into your trading account. Check the broker's payment methods and choose the most convenient option.

7. Start trading: With your account funded and strategy in place, you can begin trading. Monitor the market, apply your strategy, and use risk management tools to help protect your investments.

Remember, trading forex CFDs carries a high risk of losing money. Approach trading cautiously and continuously educate yourself to become a more informed trader.


Is forex trading legal in Australia?

Yes, forex trading is legal in Australia and is regulated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). ASIC ensures that all forex trading activities are conducted fairly and transparently, protecting investors and traders engaging in the forex market. Traders and brokers must comply with ASIC regulations to operate legally in Australia.

Similar financial services and market authorities exist in other key financial hubs, such as CiRO in Canada, the FMA in New Zealand, and the FCA in the UK.

Which is the best forex broker in Australia?

Identifying the best forex broker in Australia depends on the trader's needs, but Pepperstone, IC Markets, and IG Trading are widely regarded as three of the top options. Each offers unique features, including low spreads, advanced trading platforms, and robust customer support, tailored to both beginner and experienced traders. These brokers are regulated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), ensuring a reliable and safe trading environment.

Is forex taxed in Australia?

In Australia, profits from forex trading are subject to taxation. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) categorises forex trading gains or losses under capital gains tax (CGT) or as income, depending on the nature of the trading activity and the trader's circumstances. Traders must keep accurate records of their transactions to report their income and correctly determine their tax liabilities.

What is the best time to trade forex in Australia?

The best time to trade forex in Australia is during the overlap of the Sydney and Tokyo markets (from 7pm to 2am AEST) and when the London market opens (from 5:00 pm to 12:00 am AEST). These periods offer higher liquidity and volatility, providing more trading opportunities. Traders must be aware of the time differences and adjust their trading strategies accordingly to capitalise on peak trading hours.

Can you trade CFDs in the US?

In the US, trading CFDs is not allowed. Regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) do not permit the trading of Contracts for Difference (CFDs) to protect investors from the significant risks associated with leveraged products. As a result, traders in the US must look for alternative trading options to participate in similar markets, such as traditional forex trading.


This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. Trading CFD contracts and other derivative products involve a high level of risk and may not be suitable for all retail investors. Before trading with any financial services, CFD traders should carefully consider their investment objectives, experience level, and risk appetite.

The performance of CFDs is not guaranteed, and past performance is not indicative of future results. If you have any doubts, seeking advice from an independent financial services adviser is essential. CFD providers are regulated entities, but the nature of CFD trading means it is a high-risk activity.