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Chart of the Week

Commodities: To Short, or Not to Short?



Commodities: To Short, or Not to Short? [Chart]

Commodities: To Short, or Not to Short? [Chart]

Comparing “Dogs of the Dow” inspired strategies over the last decade

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Over the last week, we have received a wide variety of reactions from our audience regarding the Periodic Table of Commodity Returns that we published last Thursday from our friends at U.S. Global Investors.

The most interesting email came from Brad Farquhar, the Executive Vice President and CFO of Input Capital, a Canadian-based agricultural streaming company. In his email, Brad attached a chart summarizing the cumulative returns using a long/short commodity strategy where he imagined going long on the worst performing commodity of the previous year, while shorting the best performing commodity.

For example, the long-only portfolio would have invested in natural gas in 2007, because gas was the worst performing commodity in 2006 with a -43.9% return. The short-only strategy would have shorted nickel in 2007 (betting that nickel would drop in price) because it was the best performer of 2007 with 145.5% returns.

On a cumulative basis (re-investing money from each year), the long-only strategy returned -0.9% compound annualized growth between 2007 and 2015, while the short-only strategy brought in 12.4% annualized returns.

A 50/50 hybrid (50% long, and 50% short) gave us the equivalent of 9.6% returns each year.

Our Variation

Inspired by Brad’s analysis, we did our own variation of this “Dogs of the Dow” type of exercise to look at these long and short commodity portfolios in a slightly different light.

We analyzed five portfolios (100% long, 75% long, 50% long/short, 75% short, and 100% short) for the average annual return, volatility, and number of years with positive returns.

Here’s the results:

Standard Deviation
# of Positive Years
100% long
75% long
50% long/short
75% short
100% short

The best performing portfolio was 100% short, with an average annual return of 14.5%. The 75% short portfolio had nearly as good of returns at 13.1%, with the lowest volatility (using standard deviation) at +/- 17%.

Both the 100% short and 75% short portfolios provided positive returns in 7 of the last 9 years. Meanwhile, going long was much more risky. A 100% long portfolio had gains in only 4 of 9 years, with a huge standard deviation of +/- 55%.

Over the time period in question, energy commodities killed portfolios with “long” exposure. In 2011 and in 2015, the worst performer of the previous year (natural gas and oil respectively) was also the worst performer the following year, creating terrible returns for the long-heavy portfolios.

Oil, for example, was down -45.6% in 2014 and then was also down -30.5% in 2015. Not a very effective strategy.

What will be a better trade in 2016: shorting the best performing commodity of last year (lead), or going long on nickel, the worst performer of 2015?

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The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?

We look at mobility rates as well as COVID-19 recovery rates for 41 economies, to see which countries are reopening for business.



The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?

COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt—but after months of uncertainty, it seems that the situation is slowly taking a turn for the better.

Today’s chart measures the extent to which 41 major economies are reopening, by plotting two metrics for each country: the mobility rate and the COVID-19 recovery rate:

  1. Mobility Index
    This refers to the change in activity around workplaces, subtracting activity around residences, measured as a percentage deviation from the baseline.

  2. COVID-19 Recovery Rate
    The number of recovered cases in a country is measured as the percentage of total cases.

Data for the first measure comes from Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, which relies on aggregated, anonymous location history data from individuals. Note that China does not show up in the graphic as the government bans Google services.

COVID-19 recovery rates rely on values from CoronaTracker, using aggregated information from multiple global and governmental databases such as WHO and CDC.

Reopening Economies, One Step at a Time

In general, the higher the mobility rate, the more economic activity this signifies. In most cases, mobility rate also correlates with a higher rate of recovered people in the population.

Here’s how these countries fare based on the above metrics.

CountryMobility RateRecovery RateTotal CasesTotal Recovered
Hong Kong-10%97.00%1,0671,035
New Zealand-21%98.01%1,5041,474
South Africa-74%52.44%27,40314,370
South Korea-4%91.15%11,34410,340
United Kingdom-82%0.05%269,127135

Mobility data as of May 21, 2020 (Latest available). COVID-19 case data as of May 29, 2020.

In the main scatterplot visualization, we’ve taken things a step further, assigning these countries into four distinct quadrants:

1. High Mobility, High Recovery

High recovery rates are resulting in lifted restrictions for countries in this quadrant, and people are steadily returning to work.

New Zealand has earned praise for its early and effective pandemic response, allowing it to curtail the total number of cases. This has resulted in a 98% recovery rate, the highest of all countries. After almost 50 days of lockdown, the government is recommending a flexible four-day work week to boost the economy back up.

2. High Mobility, Low Recovery

Despite low COVID-19 related recoveries, mobility rates of countries in this quadrant remain higher than average. Some countries have loosened lockdown measures, while others did not have strict measures in place to begin with.

Brazil is an interesting case study to consider here. After deferring lockdown decisions to state and local levels, the country is now averaging the highest number of daily cases out of any country. On May 28th, for example, the country had 24,151 new cases and 1,067 new deaths.

3. Low Mobility, High Recovery

Countries in this quadrant are playing it safe, and holding off on reopening their economies until the population has fully recovered.

Italy, the once-epicenter for the crisis in Europe is understandably wary of cases rising back up to critical levels. As a result, it has opted to keep its activity to a minimum to try and boost the 65% recovery rate, even as it slowly emerges from over 10 weeks of lockdown.

4. Low Mobility, Low Recovery

Last but not least, people in these countries are cautiously remaining indoors as their governments continue to work on crisis response.

With a low 0.05% recovery rate, the United Kingdom has no immediate plans to reopen. A two-week lag time in reporting discharged patients from NHS services may also be contributing to this low number. Although new cases are leveling off, the country has the highest coronavirus-caused death toll across Europe.

The U.S. also sits in this quadrant with over 1.7 million cases and counting. Recently, some states have opted to ease restrictions on social and business activity, which could potentially result in case numbers climbing back up.

Over in Sweden, a controversial herd immunity strategy meant that the country continued business as usual amid the rest of Europe’s heightened regulations. Sweden’s COVID-19 recovery rate sits at only 13.9%, and the country’s -93% mobility rate implies that people have been taking their own precautions.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Future

It’s important to note that a “second wave” of new cases could upend plans to reopen economies. As countries reckon with these competing risks of health and economic activity, there is no clear answer around the right path to take.

COVID-19 is a catalyst for an entirely different future, but interestingly, it’s one that has been in the works for a while.

Without being melodramatic, COVID-19 is like the last nail in the coffin of globalization…The 2008-2009 crisis gave globalization a big hit, as did Brexit, as did the U.S.-China trade war, but COVID is taking it to a new level.

Carmen Reinhart, incoming Chief Economist for the World Bank

Will there be any chance of returning to “normal” as we know it?

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