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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns

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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns - 2019 Edition

Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2019 Edition)

Commodities are an interesting asset class to watch.

In certain years, all commodities will move in price together in an obvious and correlated fashion. This is a representation of the cyclical characteristics of commodity markets, in which macroeconomic factors align to create a tide that lifts or sinks all boats.

At the same time, however, each individual commodity is incredibly unique with its own specific set of supply and demand circumstances. In the years when these supply or demand crunches materialize, a certain commodity can surge or crash in price, separating itself from the rest of the pack.

A Decade of Commodity Returns

Today’s visualization comes to us from our friends at U.S. Global Investors, and it tracks commodity returns over the last decade.

More specifically, it takes a closer look at individual commodities (i.e. corn, gold, oil, zinc) to show how performance can vary over time. With a quick examination of the graphic, you can see years where commodities moved together – and some years where individual commodities stole the show unexpectedly.

Palladium: A Perennial Winner

The best performing commodity in 2018 was palladium, which found itself up 18.6% – just enough to edge out corn, which jumped up 17.9% in price last year.

Interestingly, palladium has also been the best performing commodity over the 10-year period as well:

Palladium is the best performing commodity

Palladium has finished in first place in four of the last 10 years, including in 2017 and 2018 – it’s also impressive to note that palladium has only had negative returns twice in the last decade (2011, 2015).

A Crude Awakening

The worst performing commodity in 2018 was crude oil, which fell -24.8% in price.

Like palladium, this wasn’t a unique occurrence: crude has actually been the worst performing commodity investment over the last decade:

Oil is the worst performing commodity

As you can see, crude oil has been the worst (or second worst) commodity in three of the last five years.

Further, as our chart on how all assets performed in 2018 shows, crude oil was outperformed by every other asset class, and the energy sector had the poorest performance out of all S&P 500 sectors last year.

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing the Biggest Risks to the Global Economy in 2020

The Global Risk Report 2020 paints an unprecedented risk landscape for 2020—one dominated by climate change and other environmental concerns.

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Top Risks in 2020: Dominated by Environmental Factors

Environmental concerns are a frequent talking point drawn upon by politicians and scientists alike, and for good reason. Irrespective of economic or social status, climate change has the potential to affect us all.

While public urgency surrounding climate action has been growing, it can be difficult to comprehend the potential extent of economic disruption that environmental risks pose.

Front and Center

Today’s chart uses data from the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report, which surveyed 800 leaders from business, government, and non-profits to showcase the most prominent economic risks the world faces.

According to the data in the report, here are the top five risks to the global economy, in terms of their likelihood and potential impact:

Top Global Risks (by "Likelihood") Top Global Risks (by "Impact")
#1Extreme weather#1Climate action failure
#2Climate action failure#2Weapons of mass destruction
#3Natural disasters#3Biodiversity loss
#4Biodiversity loss#4Extreme weather
#5Humanmade environmental disasters#5Water crises

With more emphasis being placed on environmental risks, how much do we need to worry?

According to the World Economic Forum, more than we can imagine. The report asserts that, among many other things, natural disasters are becoming more intense and more frequent.

While it can be difficult to extrapolate precisely how environmental risks could cascade into trouble for the global economy and financial system, here are some interesting examples of how they are already affecting institutional investors and the insurance industry.

The Stranded Assets Dilemma

If the world is to stick to its 2°C global warming threshold, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, a significant amount of oil, gas, and coal reserves would need to be left untouched. These assets would become “stranded”, forfeiting roughly $1-4 trillion from the world economy.

Growing awareness of this risk has led to a change in sentiment. Many institutional investors have become wary of their portfolio exposures, and in some cases, have begun divesting from the sector entirely.

The financial case for fossil fuel divestment is strong. Fossil fuel companies once led the economy and world stock markets. They now lag.

– Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

The last couple of years have been a game-changer for the industry’s future prospects. For example, 2018 was a milestone year in fossil fuel divestment:

  • Nearly 1,000 institutional investors representing $6.24 trillion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, up from just $52 billion four years ago;
  • Ireland became the first country to commit to fossil fuel divestment. At the time of announcement, its sovereign development fund had $10.4 billion in assets;
  • New York City became the largest (but not the first) city to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Its pension funds, totaling $189 billion at the time of announcement, aim to divest over a 5-year period.

A Tough Road Ahead

In a recent survey, actuaries ranked climate change as their top risk for 2019, ahead of damages from cyberattacks, financial instability, and terrorism—drawing strong parallels with the results of this year’s Global Risk Report.

These growing concerns are well-founded. 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters, with $344 billion in global economic losses. This daunting figure translated to a record year for insured losses, totalling $140 billion.

Although insured losses over 2019 have fallen back in line with the average over the past 10 years, Munich RE believes that long-term environmental effects are already being felt:

  • Recent studies have shown that over the long term, the environmental conditions for bushfires in Australia have become more favorable;
  • Despite a decrease in U.S. wildfire losses compared to previous years, there is a rising long-term trend for forest area burned in the U.S.;
  • An increase in hailstorms, as a result of climate change, has been shown to contribute to growing losses across the globe.

The Ball Is In Our Court

It’s clear that the environmental issues we face are beginning to have a larger real impact. Despite growing awareness and preliminary actions such as fossil fuel divestment, the Global Risk Report stresses that there is much more work to be done to mitigate risks.

How companies and governments choose to respond over the next decade will be a focal point of many discussions to come.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns

Which individual commodities were the best performers in 2019, and how do those numbers compare to the past decade of data?

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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns 2019

In 2019, every major asset class finished in the black.

And although the broad commodity market finished up 17.6% on the year, the performances of individual commodities were all over the map. For those familiar with the sector, that’s pretty much par for the course.

That said, the lack of an obvious correlation in commodity markets also makes for a thought-provoking and humbling exercise: comparing the annual returns of commodities against the data from the past decade.

A Decade of Commodities (2010-2019)

Today’s visualization comes to us from U.S. Global Investors, and it compares individual commodity returns between 2010 and 2019.

You can use the interactive tool on their website to toggle between various settings for the table of commodity returns, such as breaking them down by category (i.e. energy, precious metals, etc.), by best and worst performers, or by volatility over the time period.

Let’s dive into the data to see what trends we can uncover.

Palladium: The Best Commodity, Three Years Straight

In 2019, palladium finished as the best performing commodity for the third straight year — this time, with a 54.2% return.

Palladium top performing commodity

You could have bought the precious metal for about $400/oz in early 2010, when it was a fraction of the price of either gold or platinum.

Nowadays, thanks to the metal’s ability to reduce harmful car emissions and an uncertain supply situation, palladium trades for above $2,000/oz — making it more expensive per ounce than both gold and platinum.

Oil and Gas: Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

As key energy commodities, oil and natural gas have an inherent connection to one another.

However, in 2019, the two commodities had completely diverging performances:

Palladium top performing commodity

Crude oil prices gained 34.5% on the year, making it one of the best commodities for investors — meanwhile, natural gas went the opposite direction, dropping 25.5% on the year. This actually cements gas as the worst performing major commodity of the decade.

“That’s Gold, Jerry!”

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that gold and silver had a bounceback year.

Gold gained 18.3% to finish with the best return the yellow metal has seen in a decade. Silver followed suit with a similar story, rallying 15.2% over the calendar year.

Gold and silver performance

Precious metals now sit at multi-year highs against an interesting economic and geopolitical backdrop to start 2020.

Where do you see the above commodities ending up on next year’s edition of the rankings?

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