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Understanding Commodities

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Investing in Raw Materials

[By Staff Writers]

According to Jeff Coons, PhD, CFP™, a commodity is a standardized asset that is typically used as an input for production of one or more products.  Almost any raw material or product that has very consistent characteristics irrespective of the producer (i.e., little to no differentiation between producers) may be considered a commodity.

Commodity Examples:

Examples of commodities that are traded broadly in the financial markets include food products, such as wheat and pork bellies, and metals, such as gold and aluminum.  In most cases, the trading of commodities is done through futures.

A Supply / Demand Hedge

Commodities do not have ongoing cash payments associated with them. Instead, a commodity’s value is a result of supply and demand for the asset as a consumable or as an input for other goods. 

Thus, while some physician-investors use commodity futures as a hedge to offset changes in the value of the commodity between now and the date the commodity is needed by the investor, others will make commodity investments based upon a belief that the supply/demand relationship will change in their favor. 


In the latter case, commodities represent a knowledge-based market in which an investor must believe that he/she has a better perspective on the future price of the commodity than other speculators. Consequently, if a physician-investor does not have superior information regarding the future supply and demand for the commodity, then commodity investments become generally less attractive as compared to investments providing ongoing cash payments.


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7 Responses

  1. Gold to $5,000 by 2020?

    Gold prices may soar to as high as $5,000 an ounce by 2020 on slowing production growth and increasing demand from China and India, at least according to Standard Chartered PLC.




  2. Adam,

    Before ETFs covered the commodities space, a person had to either be part of a large institution or have an account in the commodities pits to gain exposure to price movements in the commodities market.

    Now, any average retail investor may trade in commodities with a click of a mouse.



  3. Commodity futures trading

    Jeff – Commodity futures trading involves buying and selling contracts for the future delivery of physical materials such as copper, soybeans, crude oil or even livestock. It’s important to note that you aren’t investing in the goods in a vacuum, but the future delivery of those goods.

    That’s why they’re called “futures” — because you’re trading the time element more than anything else.

    For instance, futures are commonly used by farmers to ensure pricing down the road for their crops and thus mitigate risk.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say a farmer pays $1 for a contract that gives him the right (but not the obligation) to sell a bushel of corn for $10 next fall. If the price of corn drops significantly, he exercises his contract and protects against losses. But, if corn skyrockets to above $10, then he allows the contract to expire unused and his $1 fee was merely the price of his peace of mind.

    Where do you come in, then, if you are neither buying or selling corn? Well, you are the middleman on the futures contracts themselves.

    Let’s say you buy that very same $1 contract to sell corn at $10. But rather than worry about selling corn, you worry about selling the futures contract to someone who wants it. If corn drops to $5 a bushel, you can be darn sure farmers and other investors are going to be falling all over themselves to buy that contract from you for much more than $1.

    The flip side, of course, is that if corn goes to $20 and nobody is interested in selling their corn for $10, your $1 “investment” winds up being a 100% loss.



  4. Phase Two Of Commodities Super Cycle To Be About Investment Demand?

    The previous decade’s great bull market in commodities was characterized by surging demand from emerging markets and has been said to have ended on both reduced growth in that demand and the supply response to higher prices (suppliers producing greater quantities to capitalize on higher prices). Fair enough.

    However, commodities demand has multiple sources. It could come in the form of economic demand and/or investment demand (inspired by investors seeking a way to hedge and/or profit from inflation).

    And while economic demand may well remain subdued on account of secular global economic malaise, potential forthcoming policy responses (money creation) to such economic weakness may well spur a huge increase in commodities investment demand due to investors’ increased concern for the prospects of long-term inflation risk. And given the post-Great Recession economic recovery’s fragility (highlighted by the current growth scare) and global central banks’ repeated ability/willingness to try and prop things up with intervention (created money), indefinite continuation of such policies seem quite possible (if not likely).

    It is true that commodities supply has increased in recent years in response to higher prices, the current multi-year correction in prices seems likely to contain (if not end) this supply response.

    Besides, increased supply could well be swamped by the trillions of dollars (and counting) worth of globally created money.

    Perhaps we could see a scenario that (approximately) repeats the stagflation of the 1970’s – stagnant economic growth coupled with higher inflation/higher commodities prices.

    Like last decade, the current long-term prospects for commodities seem quite bright on account of surging demand – but this time it may be a different kind of demand.


    David Twyford
    via Ann Miller RN MHA

    NOTE: David Twyford is a private investor. He is a former commodity exchange member/broker who has been quoted by Forbes and written for Futures magazine.



    Gold is not the only substance that commands a hefty price per pound. The Telegraph recently reported on the most valuable materials in the world by weight and some were quite surprising!

    • Saffron is the most valuable spice in the world. Most of the world’s saffron comes from Iran and it can cost as much as $65 a gram, according to The Guardian. There are almost 454 grams in a pound, putting the value of saffron at $29,510 a pound.

    • Beluga caviar is mighty expensive. Guinness World Records puts the price at about $34,500 a kilogram. A kilogram is a little more than two pounds.

    • Platinum is expected to cost about $1,005 an ounce during 2016, according to Kitco. There are 16 ounces in a pound, putting its per pound value at $16,080.

    • Gold may run about $1,250 an ounce, or $20,000 a pound, by the end of 2016, according to CNN Money.

    • White truffles are “the fanciest tubers in the fungi kingdom,” according to Vox.com. A four-plus pounder sold for $60,000 at auction in 2014, but more common varieties sell for about $300 a pound.

    • Venom is pretty tough to harvest, and it commands a premium price. Snake venom runs about $370 per gram, scorpion venom about $596 per gram, and spider venom comes in at about $1,342 per gram. Multiply these amounts by 454 and you get (per pound for each) $167,980 for snake venom, $270,584 for scorpion venom, and $609,268 for spider venom!

    Gram for gram, there are some things in the world more valuable than commodity gold!

    Arthur Chalekian GEPC
    [Financial Consultant]


  6. Invest in Multimillion Dollar Paintings by Basquiat, Picasso, Warhol

    Buy individual shares of masterpiece paintings by the all-time greats with Masterworks, an exclusive members-only art trading platform. We’re talking about the blue-chips that regularly hang in museums and sell for squillions of dollars each year.

    With average annual returns of 8%–30%, you’re in for a fat pay day when the painting sells. Don’t want to wait? Sell your shares on the trading platform for a gain. It’s never been easier to unlock one of the world’s oldest and most valuable alternative asset classes.

    Bottom line: Now you can diversify your portfolio by investing in something once only available to the ultra-wealthy.



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