Commodities, like the market, are cyclical in nature, rising and falling according to the current business cycle. Like other market vehicles, commodities are influenced by economic forces. However, unlike other market vehicles, futures traders can trade commodities profitably even in bad times.
Because of the essential nature of commodities, in times of war and great turmoil, investors cling to commodities. For example, after the tragic events of 9/11, gold prices spiked as investors sought safety in the precious metal. Tragedy sends investors running to the basic, the dependable, the necessary, the things that are essential in our lives — to commodities. In times of trouble, investors consider certain commodities (particularly precious metals) to be safe havens for their money. It’s the end of the world scenario: In a devastated world without structure or law, gold will always have value. People will always be able to exchange gold for the things they need. Perhaps today the idea seems a little too Hollywood, but it persists, rooted in ancient human history throughout which gold has always signified wealth and power.
Inflation is another economic force that sends investors scurrying to buy up commodities. In uncertain times, people will always need the raw materials on which society is built and which are used to provide man’s basic needs — food, housing, clothing, transportation. While other sectors of the market languish as inflation rises, commodities will flourish. Gold, in particular, spikes during times of inflation. Because gold is the standard on which the world’s currency values are set, investors see gold as the ultimate hedge against inflation.
Commodities will not necessarily follow the stock market during times of economic pressure. Generally, commodities do well in periods of late expansion and early recession. As the economy slows, interest rates drop in an effort to stimulate the economy (witness the Fed’s slow but steady drop in interest rates over the summer and into the fall in response to the home mortgage and credit crisis). Low interest rates spur commodity growth.
It is important to remember that business cycles are not exact and cannot be predicted with definite accuracy. But they do provide a historical perspective that futures traders can use to evaluate commodities markets. It is also important to realize that not all commodities follow the same cycle (wheat may peak in the spring; oil, in summer). At any particular time, however, futures traders can usually find rising and falling commodities from which they can profit. Understanding what drives the economy and how those forces impact commodities gives futures traders important information they can use to take advantage of and profit from movement in the commodities markets.
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