Commodities 2011 Halftime Report

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Recently by Frank Holmes: Don't Fear a Pullback in Prices

     

Commodities don’t all perform in the same way. In any given year, a particular commodity will go gangbusters and outperform the group. However, that commodity will typically come back to Earth and underperform the following year or the year after that. This is why active management is important when investing in commodities. Active managers can benefit from rotating from winners to laggards or by investing in the companies which produce, farm or mine commodities most effectively.

After two straight years of tremendous gains for many commodities, the first six months of 2011 haven’t been as kind. As of the end of June, only two commodities (silver and coal) saw double-digit increases, and only six of the 14 commodities we track – less than half – were in positive territory.

Silver was the leader, rising more than 12 percent, followed closely by coal (up 11.95 percent). Other commodities increasing in value included gold (5.6 percent), crude oil (3.83 percent), lead (2.16 percent) and aluminum (1.73 percent).

Silver

Silver prices got ahead of themselves earlier this year, climbing 58 percent to nearly $50 an ounce. This registered a four standard deviation move, representing extreme territory on our models. Thinking silver, which has historically been a narrowly-traded market, had become a potential haven for speculators, officials stepped in and raised margin requirements on the Comex. This quickly deflated the bubble and prices naturally reverted back toward the mean but remain well above where they began the year.

Coal

Strong demand from reconstruction projects in Japan along with reduced supply because of flooding in Australia, Indonesia, South Africa and Colombia led coal to be the second-best performer.

No country was more affected by the lower supply than China as coal powers the Chinese economy. The country is the world’s largest consumer, gobbling half of the world’s coal. Coal accounted for 71 percent of China’s energy in 2008 – more than three times the United States’ share. The Electricity Council estimates that China’s coal demand will reach 1.92 billion tons in 2011, up nearly 10 percent from 2010. Chinese electricity use was up 13.4 percent on a year-over-year basis in May and is now expected to rise 12 percent this year. (Read: Coal Use in China Shines Light on Growth)

Gold

Gold prices passed $1,500 for the first time ever in mid-April of this year and ended the quarter just slightly below that mark as a mixture of the Fear Trade and Love Trade proved to be an enticing concoction for investors here and abroad. The World Gold Council reported that demand for gold as an investment was up 26 percent on a year-over-year basis during the first quarter. In China, demand for gold was so strong it outpaced the combined gold demand of the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the U.K. and other European countries. (Read: Asian Tiger Sinks Teeth Into Gold)

Although gold prices held steady during the first half of the year, the share prices of gold companies have lagged. Ralph Aldis and I discussed this hot topic in depth a few weeks ago. (Read: Will Gold Equity Investors Strike Gold?) Many gold companies’ corporate cash flows and earnings per share have been rising, and more companies are paying dividends. Gold stocks also appear cheap compared to the price of gold. We believe investors will be drawn to these qualities, lifting gold stocks along with the strong bullion price.

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Frank Holmes is chief executive officer and chief investment officer of U.S. Global Investors Inc. The company is a registered investment adviser that manages approximately $4.8 billion in 13 no-load mutual funds and for other advisory clients. A Toronto native, he bought a controlling interest in U.S. Global Investors in 1989, after an accomplished career in Canada's capital markets. His specialized knowledge gives him expertise in resource-based industries and money management.

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