Crude oil trading is one of the most prominent aspects of the commodity industry. With this fossil fuel having such a deep impact on our everyday lives, it’s no wonder that it’s among the most heavily traded commodities in the world.
Though most people think of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude when they hear the word “oil”, savvy traders also know that Brent crude has an established place in the investing world and has vastly outperformed its WTI counterpart. For those looking to add exposure to this light, sweet crude to their portfolio, we outline the different types of Brent crude futures available on the market, and which ones will be most appropriate for your investment objectives.
New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX)
Let’s start with the most popular go-to for U.S. investors: the NYMEX, offered by the CME Group. Below are the two Brent crude options available.
- Brent Look-Alike Crude: There is no specific reasoning given behind the name of these contracts, but one can simply assume that it refers to the fact that Brent and WTI are relatively close in overall makeup, despite being two different commodities. These futures, utilizing the symbol BZ, represent 1,000 barrels and are quoted in U.S. dollars and cents. The contracts trade in all 12 months of the calendar year and extend out many years, giving investors a wide timeline. Also note that these contracts are optionable for those looking to make a more speculative bet [see also Brent Crude vs. WTI: The Best Performing Commodity].
- Brent Crude Oil Penultimate Financial Futures: Rather than facing physical settlement, these contracts pay out a financial sum upon maturity. Similar to BZ, these contracts are offered in all 12 months and also extend to many years down the road. Trading under the ticker BB, these futures represent 1,000 barrels of Brent and also come with the optionable tag. It should be noted, however, that BB is considerably less popular than BZ, giving it a lower liquidity that may ward off some investors.
Intercontinental Exchange (ICE)
The Interncontinental Exchange is intended to give investors a more global exposure to their favorite commodities. In fact, the futures offered on the NYMEX are simply based on those on the ICE. Below are the two Brent options offered by this massive exchange.
- Brent Crude Futures: The standard contract from the ICE, investors can opt for physical delivery or a cash settlement upon expiration. Contracts are listed in consecutive months. In addition, six contract months (June and December contracts) will be listed for the three subsequent calendar years. The contracts are made up of 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) and trade under the symbol B. Again, like the two aforementioned contracts, you can also trade options on B.
- Brent NX Futures: These contracts were introduced at the end of 2011 and are intended to reflect ongoing developments in the physical market to a 25-day basis. According to its fact sheet, these contracts align “the futures market with the cash ‘BFOE’ (Brent-Forties-Oseberg-Ekofisk) forward and Dated Brent market.” Contracts are listed in an identical manner, years in advance, and utilize the ticker BNX. Option trading is also available for these unique contracts [see also Doomsday Special: 7 Hard Asset Investments You Can Hold in Your Hand].
Multi-Commodity Exchange (MCX)
The MCX is based in Mumbai, India, allowing investors to make an international play on a commodity that reaches all across the world. Below we detail the single Brent offering from this Eastern exchange.
- Brent Crude Oil: Contracts, which are available each month of the year, launch on the 11th (or next business day) of every month. These futures represent just 100 barrels of oil, giving those with a smaller capital base an equal chance to make a play in the futures market. Each contract is quoted in rupees per barrel and has a maximum order size of 10,000 barrels, or 100 contracts [see also The Ten Commandments of Commodity Investing].
Who Should Use Brent Crude Futures?
This is an extremely important distinction to make; just because Brent futures are available to everyone does not mean that they are intended for widespread use. In fact, it is safe to say that the majority of investors should not be utilizing actual futures, but may instead choose to use Brent crude stocks, ETFs, or mutual funds. Futures contracts are only intended for serious investors and traders who fully appreciate their complexities and risks. Owning these contracts requires consistent management and a watchful eye, as a position can unravel in a matter of hours.
Trading Brent futures requires a specific account that is complicated enough on its own, but when you add in the volatility of these contracts and all of the underlying price drivers, it becomes abundantly clear that futures investing is not meant for everyone. Investors and traders who do end up utilizing these contracts must keep major price drivers in mind such as the health of the global economy, geopolitical tensions, emerging market demand, and the prevalence of substitutes. Of course, if you are uncomfortable investing in the futures themselves, you can always turn to the United States Brent Oil Fund (BNO), which invests in front-month contracts [see also 25 Things Every Financial Advisor Should Know About Commodities].
Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.