What the Next Decade Holds for Commodities

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Recently by Frank Holmes: 3 Drivers, 2 Months, 1 Gold Rally?

What a decade! A rapidly urbanizing global population driven by tremendous growth in emerging markets has sent commodities on quite a run over the past 10 years. If you annualized the returns since 2002, you find that all 14 commodities are in positive territory.

A precious metal was the best performer but it’s probably not the one you were thinking of. With an impressive 20 percent annualized return, silver is king of the commodity space over the past decade with gold (19 percent annualized) and copper (18 percent annualized) following closely behind.

Notably, all commodities except natural gas outperformed the S&P 500 Index 10-year annualized return of 2.92 percent.

Last year did not seem reflective of the decade-long clamor for commodities. In 2011, only four commodities we track increased: gold (10 percent), oil (8 percent), coal (nearly 6 percent), and corn (nearly 3 percent). The remaining listed on our popular Periodic Table of Commodity Returns fell, with losses ranging from nearly 10 percent for silver to 32 percent for natural gas.

(Click on image to enlarge) Source: Bloomberg and U.S. Global Research

I think this chart is a "must-have" for investors and advisors because you can visually see how commodities have fluctuated from year to year. Take natural gas, for example, which posted outstanding increases in 2002 and 2005, but has been a cellar-dweller for the last four years as a result of overabundant supply and softening demand. The industry is also still trying to digest breakthrough technology that opened the door to vast shale deposits at a much lower cost.

On the other hand, oil finished in the top half of the commodity basket six out of the past 10 years. No stranger to volatile price swings, oil possesses much more attractive fundamentals as we continually see restricted supply coupled with rising demand.

After 11 consecutive years of gains, some are questioning whether gold can keep its winning streak alive in 2012. One of those skeptics is CNBC’s "Street Signs" co-host Brian Sullivan. During my appearance on Thursday, I explained how I believe the Fear Trade and Love Trade will continue to fortify gold prices at historically high levels.

One reason the Fear Trade should persist in purchasing gold is the ever-rising government debt across numerous developed countries. During our Outlook 2012 webcast, John Mauldin kidded that the Mayans were not astrologers predicting the end of the world, but economists predicting the end of Europe. Whereas John believes the U.S. has wiggle room to decide on how to deal with deficits and debt, Europe and Japan are running out of time.

The situation is quite somber when you consider how much debt Europe, Japan and U.S. owes this year alone, says global macro research provider Greg Weldon. In his preview of 2012, Weldon says that the maturing principal and interest on U.S. Treasury debt due this year totals just under $3 trillion. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain together face nearly $2 trillion in principal and interest payments. Japan, is the leader in the clubhouse, owing just over $3 trillion in 2012. With the combined debt for these developed countries totaling nearly $8 trillion, the interest payments alone dwarf the total GDP of many countries in the world.

Last week, Germany sold a 5-year government note for less than one percent, the lowest interest rate on record. Bids for the low-yielding debt were three times more than the amount sold, even as the consumer price index stands at more than two percent year-over-year. This means that investors have so few acceptable safe havens they are willing to accept negative real rates of returns.

This is good news for gold as a safe haven alternative against depreciating currencies such as the euro, the yen and the U.S. dollar.

The overwhelming debt burden in developed countries translates to an expected slowdown in imports from the emerging world. However, the grandest of those, China, likely won’t be as affected as much as some people assume. This is "the biggest misconception" about the country’s economy, says CLSA’s Andy Rothman. Exports only play a supporting role for the Chinese economy. The world’s second-largest economy is actually largely driven by domestic consumption from a population more than 1 billion strong with more padding in their wallets.

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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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