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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2021 Edition)

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graphic of periodic table of commodity returns from 2011-2020

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2011-2020)

Being a commodity investor can feel like riding a roller coaster.

Take silver. Typically known for sharp, idiosyncratic price movements, it faced double-digit declines in the first half of the decade, falling over 35% in just 2013 alone. By contrast, it jumped over 47% in 2020. Similarly, oil, corn, and others witnessed either steep declines or rapid gains.

The above graphic from U.S. Global Investors traces 10 years of commodity price performance, highlighting 14 different commodities and their annual ranking over the years.

Commodity Price Performance, From Best to Worst

Which commodities were the top performers in 2020?

The aforementioned silver tripled its returns year-over-year, climbing 47.9% in 2020. In July, the metal actually experienced its strongest month since 1979.

RankCommodity
Return (2020)
Return (2019)
Return (2018)
1Silver47.9%15.2%-8.5%
2Copper26.0%3.4%-17.5%
3Palladium25.9%54.2%18.6%
4Gold25.1%18.3%-1.6%
5Corn24.8%3.4%6.9%
6Zinc19.7%-9.5%-24.5%
7Nickel18.7%31.6%-16.5%
8Gas16.0%-25.5%-0.4%
9Wheat14.6%11.0%17.9%
10Platinum10.9%21.5%-14.5%
11Aluminum10.8%-4.4%-17.4%
12Lead3.3%-4.7%-19.2%
13Coal-1.3%-18.0%-22.2%
14Oil-20.5%34.5%-24.8%

Along with silver, at least seven other commodities had stronger returns than the S&P 500 in 2020, which closed off the year with 16.3% gains. This included copper (26.0%), palladium (25.9%), gold (25.1%) and corn (24.8%).

Interestingly, copper prices moved in an unconventional pattern compared to gold in 2020. Often, investors rush to gold in uncertain economic climates, while sectors such as construction and manufacturing—which both rely heavily on copper—tend to decline. Instead, both copper and gold saw their prices rise in conjunction.

Nowadays, copper is also a vital material in electric vehicles (EVs), with recent demand for EVs also influencing the price of copper.

Silver Linings

As investors flocked to safety, silver’s price reached heights not seen since 2010.

The massive scale of monetary and fiscal stimulus led to inflationary fears, also boosting the price of silver. How does this compare to its returns over the last decade?

silver returns 2011-2020

In 2013, silver crashed over 35% as confidence grew in global markets. By contrast, in 2016, the Brexit referendum stirred uncertainty in global markets. Investors allocated money in silver, and prices shifted upwards.

As Gold as the Hills

Like silver, market uncertainty has historically boosted the price of gold.

What else contributed to gold’s rise?

  • U.S. debt continues to climb, pushing down confidence in the U.S. dollar
  • A weaker U.S. dollar makes gold cheaper for other countries to buy
  • Low interest rates kept the returns of other safe haven assets low, making gold more attractive by comparison

Here’s how the price of gold has changed in recent years.

gold returns 2011-2020

Gold faced its steepest recent declines in 2013, when the Federal Reserve bank discussed tapering down its quantitative easing program in light of economic recovery.

Hitting the Brakes On Oil

Oil suffered the worst commodity price performance in 2020, with -20.5% returns.

For the first time in history, oil prices went negative as demand plummeted. To limit its oversupply, oil producers shrunk investment, closed wells, and turned off valves. Unfortunately, many companies still faced bankruptcies. By November, 45 oil producers had proceeded with bankruptcy filings year-to-date.

This stood in stark contrast to 2019, when prices soared 34.5%.

oil returns 2011-2020

As is custom for oil, prices see-sawed over the decade. In 2016 and 2019, it witnessed gains of over 30%. However, like 2020, in 2014 it saw huge losses due to an oversupply of global petroleum.

In 2020, total production cuts hit 7.2 million barrels a day in December, equal to 7% of global demand, in response to COVID-19.

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Energy

Visualized: The Growth of Clean Energy Stocks

Visual Capitalist partnered with EnergyX to analyze five major clean energy stocks and explore the factors driving this growth.

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The teaser image shows the growth of clean energy stocks and hints at their cumulative five-year returns.

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The following content is sponsored by EnergyX

The Growth of Clean Energy Stocks

Over the last few years, energy investment trends have shifted from fossil fuels to renewable and sustainable energy sources. Long-term energy investors now see significant returns from clean energy stocks, especially compared to those invested in fossil fuels alone.

For this graphic, Visual Capitalist has collaborated with EnergyX to examine the rise of clean energy stocks and gain a deeper understanding of the factors driving this growth.

Sustainable Energy Stock Performance

In 2023, the IEA reported that 62% of all energy investment went toward sustainable sources. As the world embraces sustainable energy and technologies like EVs, it’s no surprise that clean energy companies provide solid returns for their investors over long periods. 

Taking the top-five clean energy stocks by market cap (as of April 2024) and charting their five-year cumulative returns, it is clear that investments in clean energy are growing:

CompanyPrice: 01/04/2019Price: 12/29/20245-Year-Return %
First Solar, Inc.$46.32$172.28272%
Enphase Energy, Inc.$5.08$132.142,501%
Consolidated Edison, Inc.$76.55$90.9719%
NextEra Energy, Inc.$43.13$60.7441%
Brookfield Renewable Partners$14.78$26.2878%
promotional graphic with a button and wheel that promotes the EnergyX investment site

But how does this compare to the performance of fossil fuel stocks? 

When comparing the performance of the S&P Global Oil Index and the S&P Clean Energy Index between 2019 and 2023, we see that the former returned 15%, whereas the latter returned an impressive 41%. This trend demonstrates the potential for clean energy stocks to yield significant returns on an industry level, sparking optimism and excitement for potential investors. 

A Shift In Returns

With global investment trends moving away from traditional, non-sustainable sources, the companies that could shape the energy transition provide investors with alternative opportunities and avenues for growth. 

One such company is EnergyX. The lithium technology company has patented a groundbreaking technology that can improve lithium extraction rates by an incredible 300%, and its stock price has grown tenfold since its first offering in 2021.

promotional graphic that promotes the EnergyX investment site

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