Investing in Commodities

Commodities are an interesting asset class right now for a number of reasons. Commodity investing is a good way to play both offense (global economic recovery) and defense (a hedge for your portfolio against rising future inflation and a falling dollar). They are also a great portfolio diversifier which can reduce the overall risk (volatility) of your portfolio.

Playing Offense: The global economic rebound is coming, and commodities will benefit.
Most of the economies in the world are currently in severe recessions or have significantly lower economic growth than 2 years ago. There are now many signs that the US economy and many other economies have bottomed out and are starting to show signs of life again. US economic growth has improved from a -6% rate over the winter to a -1% rate in the second quarter of 2009 and it will likely show positive economic growth in the second half of 2009. As the economies around the world go from serious recessions to positive economic growth over the next 2 years the demand for commodities will increase and their prices will go up. This global economic growth is likely to be led by China and many other emerging countries which tend to be commodity-based or commodity-heavy economies. China recently announced that their GDP growth in the first half of 2009 was 7.1%, putting them on pace to pass Japan as the world’s second largest economy by yearend. Investing in commodities is somewhat of a back-door play on emerging market growth.

Playing Defense #1: Commodities are a hedge against future inflation.
Historically commodities have been one of the best hedges against inflation. I am somewhat concerned about future inflation due to the massive monetary stimulus the US government has pushed over the past year. The monetary fire hose has been on full blast. Huge monetary stimulus has historically led to higher inflation 1-2 years later.

Playing Defense #2: Commodities are a hedge against a falling US dollar (for US investors).
Commodities are a good hedge against a falling dollar, which is another significant concern for many investors (including myself). Most major commodities (such as oil, gold, etc.) are priced in dollars around the world. When the US dollar gets weaker it has typically caused the price of commodities (in dollars) to go up. The US dollar has been weak for some time, and may continue to weaken going forward. A weaker dollar makes US citizens poorer relative to other countries. The US government’s massive “borrow and spend” fiscal stimulus plan has caused our budget deficit to balloon. This causes international investors to be increasingly concerned and to pull their money out of the US, pressuring the dollar downward.

Commodities are a good portfolio diversifier which can help reduce your overall portfolio risk.
One of the primary reasons investors add commodities to their portfolios is because they have historically had a low correlation with the returns of other investments such as stocks and bonds. This reduces the risk of your overall portfolio as the losses in some investments are offset by gains in others. At Longview Wealth Management we are always looking for investments that have an attractive risk/reward ratio on their own AND that have a low correlation of returns with other investments in our portfolios. Over the past 10 years (1998-2007) the correlation of returns between commodities and large US stocks has been only .14 and the correlation of returns with US bonds has been -.24. These are very low correlation ratios which indicate that commodities can provide powerful diversification benefits to your portfolio. Commodities can be volatile investments on their own but as a group can actually lower the risk of your overall portfolio over time if they are used properly.

What are the negatives of commodity investing?
1. Individual commodities are volatile and risky. For this reason commodities should represent only a small portion (15% or less) of most investor portfolios. We recommend a diversified basket approach to investing in commodities.
2. Investing in certain individual commodities can be difficult and complicated for many investors.
3. Commodity investments don’t pay interest or dividends to investors.

How to Play It? The Powershares DB Commodity Tracking Index ETF (DBC)
Based on my research one good way to get investment exposure to commodities in general is the Powershares Commodity Tracking Index (symbol DBC). This exchange traded fund (ETF) is one of the largest and most widely traded diversified commodity funds. It provides diversified exposure to the most widely traded commodities including crude oil (39% of the fund), heating oil (18%), gold (15%), wheat (15%), corn (13%), and aluminum (10% of the fund). The expense ratio on this fund is .75% which is below average for commodity funds.

This commodity ETF peaked in July of 2008 at around $45/share and then declined about 60% to its bottom of below $20/share in March of 2009. The commodity index seems to have been in a bottoming process over the past 6 months and has recently started showing signs of life bouncing back up to the current price of $22.50/share. This commodity index just broke through its 200 day moving average over the past couple of weeks on the upside. I think there is good upside from here over the long-term. We have many more Investing Help Articles Now Available.