It’s not hard to find blogs and forums where people talk about the benefits of CFDs over shares but have you questioned whether the people actually writing these comparisons are traders who have experience in both financial instruments or are they just paid authors out to promote CFDs. In this quick review we will touch on the differences between both CFDs and shares and highlight the unique aspects of each product that has allowed traders and investors to harness the power of their investment portfolio from the comfort of their own lounge room.
CFDs and shares are very different not only in the way they work but also in how they are traded. One of the fundamental differences is the fact that CFDs are an over the counter or OTC product meaning your transactions are not conducted on an exchange but rather with the CFD provider that you are dealing with. Shares on the other hand are traded on an exchange meaning that you are buying and selling off other people in the market with your stock broker simply acting as a conduit providing you with a gateway to the market.
So now that you know one of the most important fundamental differences between CFDs and shares let’s get into some of the key mechanical differences in detail.
One of the most apparent differences between both products is the way in which they are settled. When you buy shares on the stock exchange you don’t have to pay for the share for three days, conversely when you sell shares you do not receive any money for three days. The transaction day plus 3 days or T+3 is the settlement period set by the clearing house not the broker. Of course when trading CFDs there is no clearing house involved as the transaction is OTC this means the your CFD provider essentially sets the rules, as CFD providers typically do not want to wear the risk of having the settlement of a transaction fail they will ask for the money upfront, this concept of same day settlement is known as T+1. It’s worth noting that some online share brokers also apply T+1 settlement to minimise the risk of settlement failure.
There really is no real advantage of T+1 or T+3 settlement as ultimately the net effect is the same, however most active traders prefer same day settlement for the simple reason that it makes their cash flow easier to manage.
Unquestionably the most important and apparent difference between CFDs and Shares is the concept of leverage. By the very nature of the instrument CFDs are leveraged meaning that for a relatively small outlay you can obtain a relatively large exposure to a share. Typically the margin rate on most CFDs is around 10% this means that with a margin of $1,000 you could potentially gain $10,000 exposure to the price movement of a share. If you were to buy $10,000 worth of shares you would have to outlay the full amount, rather than the $1,000 required to open your CFD position, providing a more efficient use of capital and return on your initial investment.
It is important to be aware that although leverage can work in your favour, it can also work against you, this means that your profits and your losses are amplified however you can also potentially loose more than your account balance. With share trading on the other hand you cannot lose more than the amount paid, however you profit potential is also reduced.
Equally CFDs and shares can be short sold although the process is often easier with CFDs for the simple reason that short sell transactions can be done online rather than over the telephone. The main reason why short selling shares directly is not a simple process is due to short sale reporting requirements which must be disclosed via tagging short trades executed on the exchange. Although CFD providers also have short sale disclosure requirements to meet they are not required to tag short trades for the simple reason that they often pre borrowed stock to cover any short sales, essentially this means that they have covered their clients short positions before the client even places the trade.
Costs of Trading
A common myth in the market is that CFDs are cheaper to trade than shares, however this is not always the case. Financing plays an important part in CFD trading however most traders often forget about this. Without conducting any mathematical calculations as a rule of thumb an AUD $100,000 position will cost you around $25 per night in financing, on this basis if you hold a position open for at least 5 days this is the equivalent on paying $125 in brokerage or 12.5 basis points. Of course if you don’t have the capital it may be worth paying this however if the margin of the CFD is high you should think twice as CFD financing is not calculated on the borrowed amount but rather on the full notional value of the position as such it may be more economical to pay for your position outright and pay a higher upfront brokerage cost.
CFDs can of course be a cost efficient trading tool but this is only when positions are held open for a relatively short period of time however, share positions on the other hand can be held open for as long as you like with only the initial transaction cost payable, this is an important difference to keep in mind.
Despite having to pay financing costs one of the benefits of CFDs is that you are not required to pay any GST on your commission, although a relatively small amount it is worth considering the impact of GST on your trading costs if you are an active trader.
As CFDs are marked to market on a daily basis your profits or losses are also debited or credited from your account daily this is very different to trading shares where profits or losses are only realised at the time of sale. In this regard one of the benefits of CFDs is that you can utilise your unrealised profits without having to close your positions, naturally there is also a downside to this in that your losses are realised on a daily basis meaning that unlike share trading the free equity in your account may decline without you closing positions.
Only five differences have been touched upon in this article, in later articles we will cover some additional differences between shares and CFDs. In the meantime if you would like to find out more interesting information about share and CFD trading you can download our free CFD guide.