Different Exposure, Different Price

Long Only Commodities as an asset class has been plummeting since around April last year, and the downtrend continues into 2015. The average move of commodity futures in January came out to be -5.02%, compared to ETFs -7.54%, with ETFs underperforming the futures markets they supposedly track by 2.52% {Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results}.

Here’s our monthly look at:

1. How the numerous commodity ETFs which have sprung onto the scene the past few years are tracking a simple strategy of just buying the December futures market of that commodity, under the theory that the ETF will have to roll their positions periodically throughout the year, and in doing so take on costs the simple strategy does not have.

2. How the passive investment strategy of being long commodities (either via futures or ETFs) compare to an active strategy going both long and short commodity markets via a professional commodity trading advisor (as tracked by the BarclayHedge Ag Trader Index).

(Data as of January 30th, 2015)

Commodity ETF Over/Under Performance 2015

CommodityFuturesETFDifference
Crude Oil$CL_F
-4.47%
$USO
-12.48%
-8.00%
Brent Oil$NBZ_F
-6.45%
$BNO
-10.57%
-4.12%
Natural Gas$NG_F
-6.63%
$UNG
-7.45%
-0.82%
Cocoa$CC_F
-6.02%
$NIB
-8.45%
-2.43%
Coffee$KC_F
-2.13%
$JO
-3.21%
-0.80%
Corn$ZC_F
-4.85%
$CORN
-6.27%
-1.42%
Cotton$CT_F
-2.53%
$BAL
-1.99%
0.54%
Live Cattle$LE_F
-4.20%
$CATL
-8.08%
-3.88%
Lean Hogs$LH_F
-4.21%
$HOGS
-13.59%
-9.39%
Sugar$SB_F
0.83%
$CANE
1.77%
0.94%
Soybeans$ZS_F
-5.96%
$SOYB
-6.17%
-0.21%
Wheat$ZW_F
-13.41%
$WEAT
-14.02%
-0.62%
Average-5.02%-7.54%-2.52%
Commodity Index $DBC-5.69%
Long/Short Ag Trader CTAs0.61%

(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
(Disclaimer: Sugar uses the October contract, Soybeans the November contract.)
Long/Short Ag Trader CTA = Barclayhedge Ag Traders Index

Move over Crude, There’s a new Oil in Town

Move over Crude oil, there’s another oily commodity market that’s doing it’s own swan dive of late. Who?  None other than good ‘ol Soybean Oil.

It has since rebounded a little from the 29 mark, but a -14% drop doesn’t quite live up to the -50% drop seen in Crude, but it’s certainly worth mentioning. And believe it or not, you might use Soybean Oil nearly as much as you use Crude Oil every day. We’re talking baked goods, salad dressings, and more which use vegetable oil, which usually has as its main ingredient – Soybean Oil (mind blown). Naturally, to get Soybean Oil, one must do something to the Soybean itself – do you ‘oil’ a Soybean the same way you ‘milk’ a cow?  No, you crush the Soybean – and end up with two parts, Soybean Meal and a byproduct – Soybean Oil.  Just think of another legume, peanuts, and what happens to a jar of natural peanut butter if it sits for a while…all that oil on the top… and you can imagine how a bunch of oil is locked up inside those beans.

And yes, of course, there are futures markets on Soybeans – and their products, Soybean Oil and Soybean Meal – and whole trading strategies built around trading the so called ‘Crush Spread’, buying the meal, selling the oil, and so forth. However, just because they all come from the Soybean – doesn’t mean all of the markets move together in lockstep. We looked back at the cash price of Soybeans, and Soybean Oil, and it turns out the correlation isn’t as high as you might expect, with some nasty moves into negatively correlated territory.

Soybean Oil(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The 10 year correlation comes out to be +0.25… which really isn’t that high for a market that’s completely dependent on the other futures market. How could that be…. Well, one of the reasons is you grow the Soybeans at a certain time, but they can be crushed at different times, and that the Oil can last longer than the bean itself – so there’s a bit of a mismatch in the deliverability of each.  The markets can also have different return drivers and other outside global policies that could affect the oil and not the crop itself. The most recent case, The EPA’s shift in import policy which could have caused the fall in soybean oil price via Reuters.

“U.S. regulators have given the go-ahead for Argentina’s biofuel makers to qualify for U.S. biofuel credits, potentially making it  more attractive for South American exporters to sell into the U.S. market and potentially pressuring local prices.

The green light will effectively make it easier for the South American grains powerhouse to sell its big biofuel output into the United States, potentially jump-starting the local sector which has suffered from a drop in demand from its No. 1 customer, the European Union, due to a long-running trade spat.”

Argentina’s Biofuels Chamber, The EPA, The National Biodiesel Board, and the European Union!? Who knew Soybean Oil policies could be so exciting. Now the article doesn’t link this policy change to a fall in prices, and this policy change happened last week, so it’s unlikely that this is what caused such a drop. However, this policy change from the EPA will create more supply because Argentina happens to be the world’s largest exporter of Soybean Oil, and now it can export to the U.S., and it will be accepted the same as Soybean oil produced in the states. Will this increase in supply fuel an implosion from soybean oil? We don’t know that answer… but we do know it can’t go to zero.

So have fun eating that stir fry, French fries, or whatever you’re having off that griddle. You might just be enjoying some Vegetable Soybean Oil.

2014 – Best/Worst Performing Asset Classes

What “sport” has 1000’s of teams, no rules, gets played night and day across the world with a scoreboard updated minute by minute, day by day, year by year, and decade by decade? It’s none other than the “game” of investing, where a new year is a great time to see where different assets finished in relation to each other.

Now, we’ve said before that comparing different asset class performances is like comparing apples and oranges, so we won’t make too much of Managed Futures coming in “second place” But, hey, if you can’t trumpet managed futures good year on a managed futures blog, where can you do it? We’re just happy Managed Futures proved that they have unique return drivers, and can perform when stocks are moving up or down. (For more on how and why managed futures performed the way they did, see our 2014 Managed Futures Strategy Review).

Elsewhere, world stocks slid in December, to be the only other asset class finishing in the negative on the year other than commodities… talk about a tough year for diversified portfolios.

P.S – If you’re looking at commodities and wondering if we looked at the data incorrectly, the answer is no… commodities did end down -14.32% in December alone, down -32% on the year.

Asset Class Scoreboard Final(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

Asset Class Scoreboard Chart

(Disclaimer: past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.)
Source: All ETF performance data from Morningstar.com
Sources: Managed Futures = Newedge CTA Index, Cash = 13 week T-Bill rate,
Bonds = Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND),
Hedge Funds= IQ Hedge Multi-Strategy (QAI)
Commodities = iShares GSCI ETF (GSG);
Real Estate = iShares DJ Real Estate ETF (IYR);
World Stocks = iShares MSCI ACWI ex US Index Fund ETF (ACWX);
US Stocks = SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY)

The 2014 Commy Awards

There’s the Emmy Awards, the Webby’s, the ESPY’s, (why do they all end in y’s), but no commodity awards as far as we know… Let’s see if we can’t do something about that, with the first (and perhaps last) edition of the Commy Awards:

(All Charts Courtesy: Finviz)

The ‘you probably didn’t benefit one bit from this’ market of the year = Coffee

In February, the coffee market shot up and never looked back, up around 48% on the year. However, unless you play with coffee ETF $JO, or are invested in a smaller niche managed futures manager – there’s no way you caught this move. It’s a shame too, because it was one heck of a move, and it all happened in first 2 months.

Coffee(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Most likely to get your Houston Neighbor’s Grand Piano repossessed = Crude Oil

No one saw the crude implosion coming. Well maybe not nobody… but crude dropping almost  50% in 4 months was something trend followers sure enjoyed, even while the Russian government (and Ruble) did not. At 8.9 million barrels per day produced in US – that’s $411.7 million not there anymore… that’s a lot of pianos.

Crude(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The most popular, for no apparent reason = Gold

No matter how much the gold market moves, it’s the commodity market people love to write about, and people love to read about. Even though it finished the year basically unchanged, down -0.4% – there were reams and reams of digital ink written about its demise, its comeback, its luster, and its non-performance? And all for what? So that they can say they were wrong last time, and might be right this next time?  Honorable mention goes to the rest of the metals crowd, which actually fell quite a bit more than Gold.

Gold(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The S&P..who?  Award = Cattle

The S&P 500 wasn’t the the only market hitting new all time highs throughout 2014, so was Cattle. The problem? Not too many noticed or wrote about it, and it doesn’t count if it was an article about higher beef prices at the grocery store.

Live Cattle(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Market most likely to make you look like an Idiot (Again) = US Bonds

Earning its 5th straight award in this category is the Bond market. 2014 was supposed to be the year for higher Interest Rates and Lower Bond prices, except it wasn’t. The US Bond Aggregate Index ETF ($AGG)  ended the year up 5.50% for the yr and rates dropped from  3.9 to 2.7, while everyone and their sister thought higher rates in store in ‘14 Bonds. You think yields will continue to drop or has it finally reached its lowest point? Are you willing to say it will go the other way? How about asking the people that made the same decision last year.

30 Yr Bond(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Most (un)Likely to Succeed / Best Closer = US Dollar

It had its best quarter in 4 years, while other currencies fell flat. But it wasn’t just what it did, it was how it did it – closing fast. For the first six months, the USD didn’t move, while the last 6 months resulted with an up move of 13%.

USD(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Most Likely Cause of your Acid Reflux = Corn

It’s hard to trade a market that has three consistent trend reversals in one year. From January to May it was up about 20%, then fell around 36% over the next 5 months, and rebounded 24% to close out the year. You must have a strong stomach to dabble in this market (honorable mention = Nat Gas)

Corn(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Jennifer Aniston = U.S. Stock Indices

This year saw US stocks pile onto the already outstanding run the stock market has been on over the past 5 years, so while the stock market run may be getting a bit older… it’s still looking good, just like Jennifer Aniston.

US STocks(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

This Year’s Santa Claus Rally

It’s the most wonderful time of year for those heavily weighted in the stock index ETFs… At least if you’re a believer of the famous “Santa Claus Rally,” which simply means that in the past, December has been historically kind to stock market returns. You know how we feel about past performance… it is not indicative to future results.

Santa Claus Rally

But we can’t deny if said past performance has been good for stocks. We talked about the Santa Claus Rally last year, and there is a lot of debate of whether the Santa Claus rally is a myth, or if there is some basis in fact.

Here’s this year’s observation from Stock Trader’s Almanac:

“According to the 2015 Stock Trader’s Almanac, since 1969 the Santa Claus rally has yielded positive returns in 34 of the past 44 holiday seasons—the last five trading days of the year and the first two trading days after New Year’s. The average cumulative return over these days is 1.6%, and returns are positive in each of the nine days of the rally, on average. Nevertheless, each year there is at least one day of declines.

Alternative research over a longer period confirms the persistence of these trends: According to historical data going back to 1896, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained an average of 1.7% during this seven-day trading period, rising 77% of the time.”

No one can really pinpoint the cause of such a rally, but this year’s run can be attributed to better than expected economic growth, via NBC news:

“The wind in the stock market’s sails lately has been the pledge by the Federal Reserve last week to be cautious about raising borrowing costs amid signs that the economy is picking up steam. Investors got another signal of the economy’s emerging strength on Tuesday when the government revised upward its final estimate of third quarter economic growth to the fastest pace in 11 years — 5.0 percent from 3.9 percent reported last month.”

Just today, stocks reached new all time highs off of this news but it hasn’t been slow small gains. Just days ago (5 trading days), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down -4.3% on the month, and is now past 18,000. By our estimation, historically, there’s only been a 17% chance that the index finishes the month positive after a down move like that, let alone only 5 days {past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results).

But it hasn’t just been this rebound, or the last rebound. It’s that it only took the DJIA six months to go from 17,000 to 18,000. Before that, it only took seven months to go from 16,000 to 17,000 {past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results}. Will it take six months to reach 19,000? A year from now, will it be at 20,000? We’ll let others do the speculating.  Enjoy the ride while it lasts, and happy holidays.

P.S – Stocks aren’t the only thing at new all time highs. Managed Futures hit new all time highs in November {Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results}.

6 Takeaways from the Performance of 8 Asset Classes YTD

Our takeaways:

[Read more…]

10 of the Worst ETFs Money Can Buy

It’s typically a slow week in the financial world for the few days leading up to our collective feasts on Thanksgiving day, and that gives us a little down time to catch up on matters we typically don’t get to day to day, or even week to week.

One of those things is checking in on ETFs some people thought were a smart idea at the time, and now doesn’t look so good. Without Further ado, the Top 10 worst performing ETFs over the past twelve months:

ETFTicker1 Year %
VelocityShares 3x Inverse Natural Gas ETN$DGAZ-82.10%
C-Tracks Citi Volatility Index TR ETN$CVOL-80.31%
Direxion Daily Jr Gld Mnrs Bull 3X Shrs$JNUG-75.06%
Direxion Daily Jr Gld Mnrs Bear 3X Shrs$JDST-73.52%
VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX ST ETN$TVIX-73.05%
ProShares Trust Ultra VIX Short$UVXY-72.94%
Direxion Daily Semicondct Bear 3X Shares$SOXS-67.15%
Direxion Daily Russia Bull 3X Shares$RUSL-66.00%
Direxion Daily Nat Gas Rltd Bull 2X Shrs$GASL-60.71%
UltraShort DJ-UBS Natural Gas$KOLD-59.91%

(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Table Courtesy: ETF.com

Our Notes:

  1. We’re not surprised to see 3 of the Top 10 worst performing etfs be “tracking” Natural Gas, and again – both a bull fund and inverse fund both among the worst performers (it is truly magical their ability to pull that off). Those ETFs seem to not perform well under…let me see here, ok, under most circumstances.
  2. Gold Miners still suck. (See Here Here and here.) And now they join the dubious distinction club as being one of the plays where you lose no matter whether you thought Gold Miner’s were going up or going down. This one’s even more egregious than the Nat Gas, as they are bull and bear on the same index – yet both down more than -70% in past year.
  3. The Good old VIX. Betting on Volatility is a tricky, tricky game. Betting short on the VIX over the past 5 years probably seemed like a good bet, right up until October when the VIX spiked without notice, and all the sudden you lost half of the investment.

So how did you fare? Hopefully not as bad as some of these… Have an ETF that surprised you? Let us know.