Trade Crude Oil Futures Contracts

What Are Crude Oil Futures?

The crude oil futures market is highly liquid and allows futures traders to directly speculate on the price fluctuations of crude oil. As one of the world’s most active commodities, crude oil futures provide an opportunity to trade an uncorrelated market when compared to highly correlated investments like stocks.

Crude oil is predominantly used as a major source of energy and can also be refined into a wide variety of products including gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heating oil, and petroleum gas. As crude oil impacts daily life for individuals, corporations, and countries across the globe, challenges related to oil exploration and production along with geopolitical influences make crude oil futures a particularly dynamic and active market to trade.

Why Trade Crude Oil Futures?

Crude oil futures (contract symbol = CL) are a well-established market that provides futures traders with direct exposure to speculate on the price movement of this limited resource. Benefits of trading futures include:

Dollar sign with checkmark

Cost-effective trading on one of the world’s most active commodities

Candlesticks in charting

High liquidity compared to many other asset classes


Nearly 24-hour trading to capitalize on unique opportunities

Four arrows pointing away from each other

Flexible contract sizes - start small with micro contracts then scale up

Trade Micro Crude Oil Futures to Reduce Costs

At 1/10th the size of the standard contract, Micro crude oil futures (MCL) allow traders like you to access the highly liquid crude oil marketplace with a reduced financial commitment. Other advantages of trading micro crude oil futures include:

  • The ability to target opportunities in a popular energy market
  • Highly leveraged investment for more buying power
  • Reduced financial commitment vs. a larger crude oil contract
  • Increased flexibility for position management

Leverage also increases the risk associated with futures trading and only risk capital should be used for trading

Learn more

Who trades Crude Oil Futures?

Crude oil futures traders can be broken down into three main groups: 

  • Commercial traders are typically trading crude oil futures to hedge the price for their business interests. Countries with oil reserves like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela will sell futures contracts to lock in prices when crude oil prices increase. Large oil refinery companies, like those in India, South Korea, and UAE, buy futures contracts to lock in low prices when the price of crude oil declines.
  • Large professional speculators are typically commodity pool operators, proprietary trading firms, institutional investors and hedge funds. These traders are purely speculating on the price movement of crude oil and generally do not take delivery. Typically, commercial traders and large speculators make up 80% or more of the daily trading volume in crude oil futures.
  • Self-directed retail traders make up the remaining daily trading volume in crude oil futures and like large speculators, rarely take actual delivery of crude oil, but instead choose to close their future positions^ to avoid the risk of delivery. 

What can affect the price of crude oil futures?

There is strong correlation between the US dollar and the crude oil market. The US dollar plays a significant role in crude oil pricing as most international crude oil transactions are conducted in US dollars, with major benchmark products such as Brent (North Sea) and WTI (West Texas Intermediate) quoted in US dollars per barrel. This means that fluctuations in the value of the US dollar can often directly impact the price of crude oil.

Geopolitical and geoeconomic factors like international conflicts and political instability can lead to supply disruption, which can drive the price of crude oil higher. The energy policies of individual countries and other groups like the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) can also have significant effects on the price of crude oil. When it comes to trading crude oil futures, it’s important to keep abreast of current economic news and events and have a good understanding of the key fundamental pricing factors in the crude oil market.

Play button

Watch Daily Live Futures Trading

Join our livestreams each weekday as we prepare, analyze and trade the futures markets in real-time using charting and analysis tools.

Watch Now

Intro To Technical Analysis

Learn to leverage technical analysis to target futures trading opportunities and identify trends using chart types, indicators and more.

Watch Now

Develop The Trader In You

Get started on your path to learn how to trade futures through our introductory video series outlining the first steps in your trading journey.

Watch Now

Risks of crude oil futures trading

The primary risk of trading crude oil futures is that the price will go against the trader’s position. When trading crude oil futures, it can be easy for traders to get caught up in the excitement of the price action. 

Using appropriate trade sizing for your account size and having a robust trading risk management plan in place that includes stop losses or a trailing stop can go a long way, helping to reduce and control your risk exposure.

Tips to keep in mind especially for newer futures traders include: 

  • Practice in a futures trading simulator which reflects live market conditions until you prove to yourself that you are comfortable with the market swings. Then, when you do start trading with real dollars, trade small to start, and work your way up. 
  • Build a well-defined futures trading plan including clear entry and exit criteria, analysis of the market conditions and a schedule for when you are and are not going to trade. 
  • Keep abreast of economic activity that may move the crude oil market including changes in the US Dollar against other major currencies, supply and demand dynamics, and international and domestic economic news.

Crude Oil Futures Contracts Specifications

Crude oil futures are standardized exchange-traded contracts that represent 1,000 barrels of crude oil (standard contract) or 100 barrels of crude oil (Micro contract). You can trade crude oil futures through the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) on the electronic CME Globex system. Retail traders typically buy and sell crude oil futures contracts to speculate whether the price will go up or down and cannot take delivery of the physical crude oil. NinjaTrader’s policy is to auto-liquidate any open physically delivered contract position going into the first notice date.

Standard ContractMicro Contract


Contract point value1,000 barrels 100 barrels
Minimum price fluctuation.01, (1,000 * .01 = $10.00 per-contract per-minimum move)01, (100 * .01 = $1.00 per-contract per-minimum move)
Trading hoursSunday 6:00PM ET to Friday 5:00PM ETSunday 6:00pm ET to Friday 5:00pm ET
Listed contractsMonthly contracts listed for the current year and the next 10 calendar years and two additional contract months. Jan.(F), Feb.(G), Mar.(H), April(J), May(K), June(M), July(N), Aug.(Q), Sept(U), Oct.(V), Nov.(X), Dec.(Z)Monthly contracts listed for the current year and the next 12 calendar years. Jan.(F), Feb.(G), Mar.(H), April(J), May(K), June(M), July(N), Aug.(Q), Sept(U), Oct.(V), Nov.(X), Dec(Z)
First notice date^Two trading days after last trading day of the expiring contractN/A
Expiration styleTrading ceases three business days before the 25th calendar day of the month prior to the contract monthTrading ceases one business day before the corresponding CL contract month or four business days before the 25th calendar of the month prior to the contract month
SettlementDeliverableFinancially settled
Additional SpecificationsView all from CME GroupView all from CME Group

Become a Crude Oil Futures Trader Today

Ready to start trading crude oil futures and micro crude oil futures? NinjaTrader is here to support you. With award-winning features and daily premium market commentary with industry pros, NinjaTrader equips you with the tools you need to embark on your trading journey.

Open Account

Frequently Asked Questions

An oil futures contract is a tradable instrument for the purchase and delivery of 1000 barrels of crude oil (standard contract) or 100 barrels of crude oil (micro contract) of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil. Each futures contract, like crude oil, has a unique set of contract specifications that are set by the futures exchange.
Economic activity from the global crude oil industry has a significant impact on almost every country in the world as it influences and supports countless essential activities and industries. The challenges and costs associated with crude oil exploration, drilling and refining, make this a popular market to trade.
Crude oil futures trading is an agreement between a buyer and seller at a specified price in a contract that will expire on a specific date. Traders can enter and exit positions any time before the expiration date in financially settled futures like the micro 100 barrel crude oil contract. 
One of the advantages of trading crude oil futures contracts includes giving traders direct market access for speculating on the price movement of crude oil. Additionally, crude oil futures provide good liquidity virtually 24 hours a day, lower trading capital requirements, and uncorrelated diversification. Crude oil futures can also offer traders more opportunities and trading flexibility over energy stocks, ETFs, and CFDs with their many limitations.
Crude oil futures are traded on a well-regulated exchange where orders are matched and cleared on a fair and level playing field with full price and order transparency. Traders can place buy and sell orders through their broker to enter or exit a position virtually 24 hours a day in the crude oil futures market.
Yes, you can trade crude oil futures with NinjaTrader. NinjaTrader is an industry-leading futures broker offering low commissions, low margin rates, and safety of your account funds. With NinjaTrader, you can trade dozens of the most actively traded futures markets in the world including the standard crude oil and Micro crude oil futures contracts.
Like every futures contract, the primary risk of trading crude oil futures contracts is that the price of the crude oil futures will go against the trader’s position. Energy sector news and government reports related to supply and demand, or storage and exploration can all have a significant effect on the price of an oil futures contract.
^In any futures market where there is physical delivery, in order to prevent the possibility of physical delivery, it is NinjaTrader’s policy to close all open futures positions one day prior to first notice date or one day prior to last trading day, whichever is earlier.