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09 Mar 2018

Could commodities make a material difference to your returns this year?

After all the exuberance of last year, global economic momentum seems to have stabilised – albeit at a higher level – rather than accelerating any further. There is little evidence of imminent recession in those economies where the cycle is more advanced, like the US, while many other countries or regions are still in the early, or mid-, expansion phases. As a result, business investment should continue for a while yet. The cost of capital remains low and financing readily accessible. According to WTO estimates, the recovery in global trade should endure (+3.2% in 2018).

A monetary conundrum

Despite all of this support, inflation is stubbornly falling short of many OECD central banks’ targets. Most are therefore in a monetary muddle on their path to normalisation. We expect progress towards policy normalisation to remain gradual at best, so liquidity should be ample.

That being said, inflation prints have surprised to the upside in recent months, even if commodity prices haven’t. Over the longer term, it’s hard to establish any clear link between the two and to define which is pulling the other up at different stages of the cycle. Over the shorter term however we believe the current economic environment may provide more support for the asset class. Commodities tend to provide better returns the more production is growing. We believe the need for raw materials will endure – with strong demand from Europe and other regions likely to offset weaker demand from China as its growth slows. Another pick up, however limited, in the economic cycle encourages sticking with cyclical assets for now.

Take me to the hedge 

Given inflation prints may surprise more to the upside; commodities could be used as a hedge against inflation and a useful portfolio diversifier. Many investors seem to be sharing that view – commodity ETFs have recorded their strongest start to a year ever by gathering €1bn of inflows in January and February. Broad commodity indices gathered most of these flows as opposed to the safe haven positioning via precious metals we saw back in July last year. For now, the trend appears to be a triumph of hope over expectation - broad commodities indices have barely moved since the start of the year (CRB Commodity Index +0.4% as at 6 March 2018). However, a shift in inflation trends (for which read more upside in the supportive economic environment), could push commodities prices higher.   

Blog chart

Time to dig deeper

And what of the elements that combine to make up a broad index like the CRB? Just how might energy, precious and base metals, and agriculture fare in the coming months?

  • Energy

We expect oil prices to remain at around $60-65 per barrel over the year. Demand should stay strong driven by the emerging markets, provided global growth rates don’t disappoint. Meanwhile, output should be constrained by OPEC members’ new found discipline in the face of a surging US shale challenge and the collapse of Venezuelan production. A balance between supply and demand should mean prices stay range-bound.

  • Base metals

The base metals picture is more nuanced, and there could be some limited further upside for copper. Demand from China may well decline, but this should be offset by the needs of other regions, most notably Europe. Supply could still be constrained by various issues, including major mining labour negotiations and Chinese scrap import restrictions. The net result favours copper, as do its inflation hedging abilities. Should the cycle peak more meaningfully, the picture may change.

  • Precious metals

Gold is caught in a tug of war between positive factors associated with growth and more negative factors associated with that growth peaking, geopolitical risk and slowdown in China. Physical supply is unimpressive, but not a key driver of prices currently. We believe the yellow metal is trading close to fair value, but still see it as an attractive hedge, especially against inflation and trade war risks.

  • Agriculture

The picture for agricultural commodities is rather mixed. Record inventories carried over from previous year should mitigate the impact dry weather has on grain prices. The same applies for livestock. Balanced demand and supply dynamics should keep prices range-bound. Ultimately, demand holds the key for any meaningful price recovery. Any further improvement in the macroeconomic environment and an associated recovery in wage growth would likely see per capita consumption increase in 2018. 

Find our more about our commodity offering:

Lyxor Core Commodities CRB 

Lyxor Core Commodities CRB Ex-Energy 

Lyxor Core Commodities CRB EX-Agriculture

Why choose Lyxor ETF for commodities?

As befits true pioneers, we’ve been running truely broad commodity ETFs longer than any other European provider and tread a singular path by giving you access to the gold standard-setting ThomsonReuters/CRB indices. You can choose the flagship broad index – which has been outperforming other major benchmarks for decades – or to exclude Energy or Agriculture.

All data: Lyxor International Asset Management, 9 March 2018 unless otherwise stated. Past performance is no guide to future returns.


Risk Warning


Fund and charge data: Lyxor ETF, correct as at  05 March 2018.

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