The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2012-2021)
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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2012-2021)

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periodic table of commodity returns (2012-2021)

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2022 Edition)

For investors, 2021 was a year in which nearly every asset class finished in the green, with commodities providing some of the best returns.

The S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) was the third best-performing asset class in 2021, returning 37.1% and beating out real estate and all major equity indices.

This graphic from U.S. Global Investors tracks individual commodity returns over the past decade, ranking them based on their individual performance each year.

Commodity Prices Surge in 2021

After a strong performance from commodities (metals especially) in the year prior, 2021 was all about energy commodities.

The top three performers for 2021 were energy fuels, with coal providing the single best annual return of any commodity over the past 10 years at 160.6%. According to U.S. Global Investors, coal was also the least volatile commodity of 2021, meaning investors had a smooth ride as the fossil fuel surged in price.

Commodity2021 Returns
Coal160.61%
Crude Oil55.01%
Gas46.91%
Aluminum42.18%
Zinc31.53%
Nickel26.14%
Copper25.70%
Corn22.57%
Wheat20.34%
Lead18.32%
Gold-3.64%
Platinum-9.64%
Silver-11.72%
Palladium-22.21%

Source: U.S. Global Investors

The only commodities in the red this year were precious metals, which failed to stay positive despite rising inflation across goods and asset prices. Gold and silver had returns of -3.6% and -11.7% respectively, with platinum returning -9.6% and palladium, the worst performing commodity of 2021, at -22.2%.

Aside from the precious metals, every other commodity managed double-digit positive returns, with four commodities (crude oil, coal, aluminum, and wheat) having their best single-year performances of the past decade.

Energy Commodities Outperform as the World Reopens

The partial resumption of travel and the reopening of businesses in 2021 were both powerful catalysts that fueled the price rise of energy commodities.

After crude oil’s dip into negative prices in April 2020, black gold had a strong comeback in 2021 as it returned 55.01% while being the most volatile commodity of the year.

Natural gas prices also rose significantly (46.91%), with the UK and Europe’s natural gas prices rising even more as supply constraints came up against the winter demand surge.

Energy commodity returns 2021

Despite being the second worst performer of 2020 with the clean energy transition on the horizon, coal was 2021’s best commodity.

High electricity demand saw coal return in style, especially in China which accounts for one-third of global coal consumption.

Base Metals Beat out Precious Metals

2021 was a tale of two metals, as precious metals and base metals had opposing returns.

Copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, and lead, all essential for the clean energy transition, kept up last year’s positive returns as the EV batteries and renewable energy technologies caught investors’ attention.

Demand for these energy metals looks set to continue in 2022, with Tesla having already signed a $1.5 billion deal for 75,000 tonnes of nickel with Talon Metals.

Metals price performance 2021

On the other end of the spectrum, precious metals simply sunk like a rock last year.

Investors turned to equities, real estate, and even cryptocurrencies to preserve and grow their investments, rather than the traditionally favorable gold (-3.64%) and silver (-11.72%). Platinum and palladium also lagged behind other commodities, only returning -9.64% and -22.21% respectively.

Grains Bring Steady Gains

In a year of over and underperformers, grains kept up their steady track record and notched their fifth year in a row of positive returns.

Both corn and wheat provided double-digit returns, with corn reaching eight-year highs and wheat reaching prices not seen in over nine years. Overall, these two grains followed 2021’s trend of increasing food prices, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index reached a 10-year high, rising by 17.8% over the course of the year.

Grains price performance 2021

As inflation across commodities, assets, and consumer goods surged in 2021, investors will now be keeping a sharp eye for a pullback in 2022. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the Fed’s plans to increase rates and taper asset purchases will manage to provide price stability in commodities.

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Energy

Visualizing the New Era of Energy

This infographic explores the exponential growth of the technologies that are shaping the new era of energy.

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The following content is sponsored by Surge Battery Metals
new era of energy

The New Era of Energy

Energy is the pulse of our daily lives, powering everything from our homes to our cars and electronic gadgets. 

Over the last two decades, there’s been an ongoing shift in how we produce and consume energy, largely due to rising climate awareness among both governments and consumers.

The above infographic from Surge Battery Metals highlights the increasing uptake of clean energy technologies and explains the need for the raw materials that power them. This is part two of three infographics in the Energy Independence Series.

The Growth of Clean Energy

Government policies, falling production costs, and climate consciousness have all contributed to the exponential adoption of green energy technologies. 

For example, only a few countries were actively encouraging EV adoption a decade ago, but today, millions of consumers can take advantage of EV tax concessions and purchase subsidies with governments committed to phasing out internal combustion engines. Partly as a result, electric vehicles (EVs) are well on their way to mainstream adoption. 

Here’s a look at how the number of electric cars on the road has grown since 2011, including both battery EVs and plug-in hybrids:

Country/Region2011 Electric Car Stock2021 Electric Car Stock
China10,0007,800,000
Europe20,0005,500,000
U.S.20,0002,000,000
Other20,0001,100,000
Total70,00016,400,000

In 2021, the global electric car stock stood at around 16.4 million cars, up by around 60% from 2020. EV sales also more than doubled to reach 6.8 million units.

Alongside electric cars, renewable energy technologies are also on the road to dominating the global energy mix. In 2021, renewables accounted for 16% of global energy consumption—up from just 8% in 2000. This growth is largely down to solar and wind energy, which made up the majority of new renewable capacity additions:

YearNet Renewable Capacity Additions
(gigawatts)
Solar PV
% Share
Wind
% Share
2011109.428%36%
2012116.425%40%
2013122.930%27%
2014135.130%37%
2015159.731%42%
2016171.344%30%
2017174.855%27%
2018179.354%28%
2019193.856%31%
2020280.248%40%
2021288.954%31%

Every year since 2018, solar and wind have accounted for more than 80% of new renewable capacity additions, contributing to the record-breaking growth of clean energy. 

Despite this growth, the IEA projects that both EVs and renewables need to expand their reach significantly if the world is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Electric car sales need to hit 56 million units by 2030—more than eight times the 6.6 million cars sold in 2021. Similarly, solar PV and wind additions need to quadruple by 2030 from 2021 levels. 

This new era of clean energy will require an increase in the supply of EVs, solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries, which translates into more demand for the unnoticed raw materials behind these technologies.

The Metals Behind Clean Energy

From copper in cables to lithium in batteries, some metals are key to building and growing clean energy capacity. 

In fact, for every megawatt of capacity, solar photovoltaic farms use more than 2,800 kg of copper according to the IEA. Offshore wind farms, which are connected to land by massive undersea cables, use even more copper at 8,000 kg per megawatt. Similarly, electric cars use lithium-ion batteries, which are composed of a variety of minerals, including graphite, copper, nickel, and lithium.

While the demand for these clean energy minerals is skyrocketing, their supply remains a concern, with China dominating the supply chains. In the new era of energy, domestic supplies of these materials will be key to ensuring energy independence and lower reliance on foreign imports.

In the next part of the Energy Independence Series sponsored by Surge Battery Metals, we will explore how the U.S. can build an Energy-Independent Future by developing domestic raw material and battery supply chains.

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Visualizing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

The U.S. emits about 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases a year. Here’s how these emissions rank by sector.

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The following content is sponsored by National Public Utilities Council.


Visualizing U.S. Emissions by Sector

Decarbonization efforts in the U.S. are ramping up, and in 2020, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were lower than at any point during the previous 30 years.

However there’s still work to be done before various organizations, states, and nationwide targets are met. And when looking at GHG emissions by sector, the data suggests that some groups have more work cut out for them than others.

This graphic from the National Public Utilities Council provides the key data and trends on the total emissions by U.S. sector since 1990.

The Highest Emitting Sectors

Collectively, the U.S. emitted 5,981 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions in 2020, which rose 6.1% in 2021.

Here’s how the various sectors in the U.S. compare.

Sector2020 GHG emissions, MMT CO2ePercentage of Total
Transportation1,627.627%
Electricity generation1,482.625%
Industry1,426.224%
Agriculture635.111%
Commercial425.37%
Residential362.06%
U.S. territories23.0<1%

The transportation sector ranks highest by emissions and has been notably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still affecting travel and supply chains. This has led to whipsawing figures during the last two years.

For instance, in 2020, the transportation sector’s emissions fell 15%, the steepest fall of any sector. But the largest increase in emissions in 2021 also came from transportation, which is largely credited to the economic and tourism recovery last year.

Following transportation, electricity generation accounted for a quarter of U.S. GHG emissions in 2020, with fossil fuel combustion making up nearly 99% of the sector’s emissions. The other 1% includes waste incineration and other power generation technologies like renewables and nuclear power, which produce emissions during the initial stages of raw material extraction and construction.

Decarbonizing the Power Sector

The Biden Administration has set a goal to make the U.S. power grid run on 100% clean energy by 2035—a key factor in achieving the country’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Industrial factories, commercial buildings, and homes all consume electricity to power their machinery and appliances. Therefore, the power sector can help reduce their carbon footprint by supplying more clean electricity, although this largely depends on the availability of infrastructure for transmission.

Here’s how sectors would look if their respective electricity end-use is taken into account

SectorEmissions by Sector % of Total
Agriculture11%
Transportation27%
Industry30%
Residential & Commercial30%

Percentages may not add up to 100% due to independent rounding

With these adjustments, the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors experience a notable jump, and lead ahead of other categories

Today, the bulk of electricity generation, 60%, comes from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, with nuclear, renewables, and other sources making up 40% of the total.

Energy Source2020 Electric generation, billion kWhShare of total
Natural Gas1,57538.3%
Coal89921.8%
Nuclear77818.9%
Wind3809.2%
Hydropower2606.3%

However, progress and notable strides have been made towards sustainable energy. In 2021, renewables accounted for one-fifth of U.S. electricity generation, roughly doubling their share since 2010.

Coal’s share as a source of electric power has dropped dramatically in recent years. And partially as a result, electricity generation has seen its portion of emissions successfully decrease by 21% , with overall emissions falling from 1,880 million metric tons of CO2 to 1,482 million metric tons.

How Utilities Can Lead the Way

Should these trends persist, the electricity generation sector has a chance to play a pivotal role in the broader decarbonization initiative. And with the bulk of electricity generation in the U.S. coming from investor-owned utilities (IOUs), this is a unique opportunity for IOUs to lead the transition toward cleaner energy.

The National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource to learn how utilities can lead in the path towards decarbonization.

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