What are indices?
Indices are a measurement of the price performance of a group of shares from an exchange. For example, the FTSE 100 tracks the 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). Trading indices enables you to get exposure to an entire economy or sector at once, while only having to open a single position.
You can predict on the price of indices rising or falling without taking ownership of the underlying asset with CFDs. Indices are a highly liquid market to trade, and with more trading hours than most other markets, you can receive longer exposure to potential opportunities.
How are stock market indices calculated?
Most stock market indices are calculated according to the market capitalisation of their component companies. This method gives greater weighting to larger cap companies, which means their performance will affect an index’s value more than lower cap companies.
However, some popular indices – including the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) – are price-weighted. This method gives greater weighting to companies with higher share prices, meaning that changes in their values will have a greater effect on the current price of an index.
What are the most traded indices?
- DJIA (Wall Street) – measures the value of the 30 largest blue-chip stocks in the US
- DAX (Germany 40) – tracks the performance of the 30 largest companies listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange
- NASDAQ 100 (US Tech 100) – reports the market value of the 100 largest non-financial companies in the US
- FTSE 100 – measures the performance of 100 blue-chip companies listed on the London Stock Exchange
- S&P 500 (US 500) – tracks the value of 500 large cap companies in the US
How to identify what moves an index’s price
An index’s price can be affected by a range of factors, including:
- Economic news – investor sentiment, central bank announcements, payroll reports or other economic events can affect underlying volatility, which can cause an index’s price to move
- Company financial results – individual company profits and losses will cause share prices to increase or decrease, which can affect an index’s price
- Company announcements – changes to company leadership or possible mergers will likely affect share prices, which can have either a positive or negative effect on an index’s price
- Changes to an index’s composition – weighted indices can see their prices shift when companies are added or removed, as traders adjust their positions to account for the new composition
- Commodity prices – various commodities will affect different indices’ prices. For example, 15% of the shares listed on the FTSE 100 are commodity stocks, which means any fluctuations in the commodity market could affect the index’s price
Get immediate exposure to an entire index
A primary advantage of trading indices using derivatives like CFDs is the sheer breadth of market exposure accessed in a single position.
Indices, as a representation of an entire market or industry, measure the overall performance of all stocks included within the index. For example, let’s say a notable event occurs that affects the market as a whole rather than just a few specific companies. By taking a position on an index like the S&P 500, you trade on how the incident will impact a wide cross-section of the most important stocks in an economy or sector.
When you trade an index in this way, you also take your position at the exact price of the market at the time you trade, minus any charges incurred.
To gain a similar level of exposure through traditional investments, you’d have to incur the time and monetary costs of purchasing the individual shares making up the index, or invest in an exchange traded fund (ETF), which would be priced according to the fund's net asset value.
Simply put, indices trading is an immediate and direct way to trade on the movements of the total market at its current price.
Go long or short on an entire index
When index trading with CFDs, you can go both long and short. Going long means you’re buying a market because you expect the price to rise. Going short means you’re selling a market because you expect the price to fall.
This means you can take a position to profit if an index's price decreases in value.
With CFD trading, your profit or loss is determined by the accuracy of your prediction and the overall size of the market movement.
Trade with leverage
CFDs are leveraged products. This means you only need to commit an initial deposit – known as margin – to open a position that gives you much larger market exposure.
When trading with leverage, you should remember that your profit or loss is calculated using the entire position size, not just the initial margin used to open it. This means that while leverage can magnify profits, it can also amplify losses.
Before trading, you should always consider whether you understand how leveraged instruments work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
Hedge your existing positions
An investor with a collection of different shares might short an index to protect themselves from losses in their portfolio. If the market enters a downturn and their shares start to lose value, the short position on the index will increase in value – offsetting the losses from the stocks. However, if the stocks increased in value, the short index position would offset a proportion of the profits made.
Alternatively, if you had a current short position on several individual stocks which feature on an index, you could hedge against the risk of any price increases with a long position on that index. If the index rises, your index position will earn a profit, counteracting a proportion of the losses on your short stock positions.
Choose how to trade indices
With us, you can trade indices via CFDs, which are financial derivatives, which means you can use them to take a position on indices that are rising in value, as well as falling.
A ‘contract for difference’, or CFD, is an agreement to exchange the difference in price of an underlying asset, as measured from the time the contract is opened until the time it’s closed.
For example, you think the FTSE 100 is in an upward trend and will rise from its level of 7100. You buy a FTSE 100 CFD worth £10 per point, and your market forecast turns out to be correct – the index increases to 7200. The difference is 100 points, so your profit is £1000 – excluding other costs. If the market had moved against you, however, and you closed at a level of 7000, your loss would be £1000 – excluding other costs.
We offer undated, cash CFDs for short-term positions, and CFD futures and options for longer term views.2
|Main benefits||Go long or short. Cash CFDs have tight spreads while CFD futures and options don’t incur an overnight fee.2|
|Tradable in||Contracts that mirror the price movements in the underlying market|
|Risks||Leverage can magnify both your profits and losses as they'll be based on the full exposure of the trade, not just the margin required to open it. Always ensure you're trading within your means.|
|Risk management||Choose an automatic stop-loss level to limit potential losses. Negative balance protection further limits potential losses*|
|Tax status||No stamp duty, but you do pay CGT in some territories. Offset losses against profits for tax purposes in some territories 3|
|Expires||Undated, CFD futures and options|
|Accesible to||All clients|
|Platforms||Web platform, mobile trading app and MT4|
*Negative balance protection is a regulatory requirement which prevents you from losing more than the funds in your account and is not a product or service of IG
Create an account and log in
To start trading indices with us, open an account on our award-winning platform.1 We’re a FTSE 250 company with over 45 years’ experience. Our spreads are among the lowest in the industry, and we have an unrivalled set of weekend index markets. Get exposure to unique trading opportunities on several 24-hour indices, and benefit from our deep liquidity and low spreads.
Decide whether to trade cash indices, futures or options
When you trade with us, there are three main ways to get exposure to an index’s price – via cash indices, index futures or index options. These markets give you access to the performance of an entire index from a single position.
Alternatively, you can also opt to trade or invest in an index-tracking ETF or shares of companies that are included in your chosen stock index.
Cash indices are traded at the spot price of the index, which is the current price of the underlying market. Because they have tighter spreads than index futures, they’re favoured by day traders with a short-term outlook.
Many traders will close their cash indices positions at the end of the trading day and open new positions the following morning to avoid paying overnight funding charges.
Trading index futures means you agree to trade the index at a specific price on a specific date. Index futures are popular among longer-term traders because the overnight funding charge is included in the spread – enabling you to hold positions for a long time without this additional cost. When trading CFDs, you won’t pay a commission on index futures
When you trade options with us, you’ll be using CFDs to take position on an option’s premium – which will fluctuate as the probability of the option being profitable at expiry changes. Owing to their complexity, options trading is often only recommended for experienced traders.
Additionally, please bear in mind that there is substantial risk when selling options. Selling a call, for example, incurs potentially unlimited risk as market prices can keep rising – theoretically, without limit.
|Min. futures spread||Min. daily options spread|
|US Tech 100||3||2|
Select the index you want to trade
It’s important to choose an index that’s best-suited to your trading style. This will depend on your individual appetite for risk, available capital and whether you prefer taking short-term or long-term positions.
For example, the Germany 40 (based on the DAX price) is usually a volatile index favoured by traders with high risk appetites and who prefer short-term trading. On the other hand, the US 500 (based on the S&P 500 price) is largely known for its steady returns over time, making it a favourite with traders with lower appetites for risk and a long-term outlook.
We offer over 80 major and minor global indices markets for CFD trading. We also offer nine indices on our options – meaning that you’re more likely to find a market that fits your individual trading style.
- Major indices
- Minor indices
Decide whether to go long or short
Going long means that you’re making a prediction on the value of an index increasing, and going short means that you’re making a prediction on its value decreasing.
If the economic outlook for an economy or sector looks good based on the performance of the companies on an index, a long position could help you realise a profit if the index increased in value. To go long, you’d elect to ‘buy’ when opening your trade.
If the outlook is poor – possibly because large companies on a capitalisation-weighted index are underperforming – you might want to go short on the expectation that the index will fall in value. To go short, you’d elect to ‘sell’ when opening your trade.
Please note, however, that all trading incurs risk and that past results are never a guarantee of future results.
Set your stops and limits
Stops and limits are essential tools for managing your risk while trading indices. A stop order will close your position automatically if it goes to a less favourable level than the current market price, while a limit order will close your position automatically if it goes to a more favourable market price.
Normal stops are free of charge but there is no guaranteed protection against slippage – so your position could be closed out at a worse level if the market gaps. A guaranteed stop will always close out your position at exactly the price you’ve specified, but they do incur a fee if triggered.4
Open and monitor your trade
When you think you’re ready to start indices trading, it’s time to open your position. Log in to our trading platform, go to the market you want to take a position on.
Next, you can choose between cash, futures and options CFDs. For cash and futures CFDs, pick your favoured contract amount – for example, $2 or $10 per point – and select ‘buy’ if you’re going long or ‘sell’ if you’re going short. Set the number of contracts you’d like to trade, enter a stop-loss and limit, and open your position.
For options CFDs, select to buy or sell a call or put at your preferred strike price and expiry date, and set the number of CFDs you’d like to trade. Open your position.
Monitor your position, and close your trade when you want to take a profit or cut a loss.
What does indices trading mean?
Indices trading means that you are taking a position on a stock index – which is measure of the performance of several different companies. Indices trading can be a way to get exposure to an entire sector or economy at once, without having to open positions on lots of different shares.
Can I profit from index trading and what are the risks?
You can profit from index trading by accurately predicting an index’s price movements. For example, if you think the FTSE 100 will rise, you would open a long position. But, if you think it will fall, you would open a short position. Your profit or loss is determined by the extent to which your forecast is correct.
If you decide to trade indices with our products, please note that all leveraged derivatives are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly.
Before trading, you should always consider whether you understand how the instruments work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
What does it mean to buy index futures?
To buy index futures means that you are opening a long position on an index because you think the price will increase. If you are correct in your forecast, you will profit, but if you are incorrect, you will incur a loss.
Are index futures derivatives?
Index futures are a financial derivative. Their price is based on the price in an underlying market, which is influenced by supply, demand and volatility. You can take a position on index futures with CFDs, and they will be traded at the futures price – meaning that you won’t incur overnight funding charges. You can also take a long-term position using our options markets.
How can risk be hedged with stock index futures?
You can hedge risk with index futures by taking a position that will turn to profit if one or more of your existing positions starts to lose money. For example, if you held long positions on a selection of US tech stocks, you could open a short position on the US Tech 100 to offset any losses you might incur from the shares declining in value.
Alternatively, if you held short positions on a collection of large-cap German shares, you could open a long position on a Germany 40 index future to protect yourself against any possible increases in the price of the underlying shares.
Can I sell futures before expiry?
You can sell futures before expiry, and many traders will exit their positions before the expiry date arrives. To do so, you can sell your contract outright or purchase an opposing contract which cancels out your current position.
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1 Best Finance App, Best Multi-Platform Provider and Best Platform for the Active Trader as awarded at the ADVFN International Financial Awards 2023.
2 Overnight funding is the charge you pay for keeping cash CFD trades open past 10pm UK time (international times may very); we‘ll make an interest adjustment to your account, to reflect the cost of funding your position. Learn more about how overnight funding is calculated.
3 Tax laws are subject to change and depend on individual circumstances. Tax law may differ in a jurisdiction other than the UK.
4 A premium is charged if your guaranteed stop is triggered. The potential premium is displayed on the deal ticket, and can form part of your margin when you attach the stop. Please note that premiums are subject to change, especially going into weekends and during volatile market conditions.