At one time, long before exchange traded funds (ETFs) came into the picture, commodities were for institutions and others with the time and monetary resources to play the futures markets. Today, you (yes, you) can have commodities in your portfolio, too.
These days, commodities have a home in any well-diversified portfolio, Mitch Tuchman for U.S. News & World Report says. They offer several benefits:
* Commodities can be an important hedge against inflation. Because commodities prices usually rise when inflation is accelerating, they offer protection from the effects. Few assets benefit from rising inflation – particularly unexpected inflation.
* Commodities have offered superior returns in the past, but they carry a higher risk than most other equity investments. However, by adding commodities to a portfolio of assets that are less volatile, you can actually decrease the overall portfolio risk, because commodities have a low correlation to other asset classes.
* Commodities that are permanently limited in supply can reduce volatility in aggressive portfolios. Gold and energy are two examples.
* The long-term outlook for commodities is generally viewed as strong. The world’s population is growing and emerging markets are seeing the rise of their middle classes, who want more food, consume more energy and nicer clothes. The combination of finite supply and rising demand has the potential to keep commodities on a growth path for some time.
If you want to play commodities with ETFs, there are two primary ways:
* Buy an ETF that holds the stock of producers and tracks an index. Examples of these types of ETFs could be Market Vectors Global Agribusiness (NYSEArca: MOO) or SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Equipment & Services (NYSEArca: XES). The benefit of these funds is that you get exposure to the producers of commodities without the day-to-day price swings that might affect other funds. However, they don’t track the spot price, which can be a drawback if that’s something you’re seeking.
* You can look at funds that give closer exposure to the commodity itself, either physically or via futures. Physically-backed funds for now are restricted to precious metals, such as ETFS Physical Platinum (NYSEArca: PPLT) or iShares Silver Trust (NYSEArca: SLV). Futures-based ETFs include things like PowerShares DB Gold (NYSEArca: DGL) and United States Oil (NYSEArca: USO).
And, of course, there is always leverage, in the form of ETFs like ProShares UltraShort Gold (NYSEArca: GLL) and Direxion Daily Energy Bull 3x Shares (NYSEArca: ERX).
If you feel like you’ve missed the commodities run-up, it’s not too late. Most commodity ETFs are well above their long-term trend lines, and you can’t fight the trend. If you do decide to add commodities to your portfolio, just don’t get caught without an exit strategy.
Disclosure I am long SLV shares.
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