What Are Commodities and Understanding Their Role in the Stock Market (2024)

What Are Commodities?

Commodities are raw materials used to manufacture consumer products. They are inputs in the production of other goods and services, rather than finished goods sold to consumers.

In commerce, commodities are basic resources that are interchangeable with other goods of the same type. The quality of a given commodity may differ slightly, but it is essentially uniform across producers. When traded on an exchange, commodities must also meet specified minimum standards, also known as a basis grade.

Key Takeaways

  • A commodity is a basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type.
  • Commodities are most often used as inputs in the production of other goods or services.
  • Investors and traders can buy and sell commodities directly in the spot (cash) market or via derivatives such as futures and options.
  • Hard commodities refer to energy and metals products, while soft commodities are often agricultural goods.
  • Many investors view allocating commodities in a portfolio as a hedge against inflation.

What Are Commodities and Understanding Their Role in the Stock Market (1)

Understanding Commodities

Commodities are the raw inputs used in the production of goods. They may also be basic staples such as certain agricultural products. The important feature of a commodity is that there is very little differentiation in that good, regardless of who produces it. A barrel of oil is basically the same product, regardless of the producer. The same goes for a bushel of wheat or a ton of ore. By contrast, the quality and features of a given consumer product will often be quite different depending on the producer (e.g., co*ke vs. Pepsi).

Some traditional examples of commodities include grains, gold, beef, oil, and natural gas. More recently, the definition has expanded to include financial products, such as foreign currencies and indexes.

Commodities can be bought and sold on specialized exchanges as financial assets. There are also well-developed derivatives markets whereby you can buy contracts on such commodities (e.g., forwards, futures, and options). Some experts believe that investors should hold at least some portion of a well-diversified portfolio in commodities since they are not highly correlated with other financial assets and may serve as an inflation hedge.

You might consider allocating up to 10% of your portfolio to a mix of commodities. Ordinary investors can look to one of several commodities ETFs or mutual funds to gain exposure.

Buyers and Producers of Commodities

The sale and purchase of commodities are usually carried out through futures contracts on exchanges that standardize the quantity and minimum quality of the commodity being traded. For example, the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) stipulates that one wheat contract is for 5,000 bushels and states what grades of wheat can be used to satisfy the contract.

Two types of traders trade commodity futures. The first are buyers and producers of commodities that use commodity futures contracts for the hedging purposes for which they were originally intended. These traders make or take delivery of the actual commodity when the futures contract expires.

For example, the wheat farmer who plants a crop can hedge against the risk of losing money if the price of wheat falls before the crop is harvested. The farmer can sell wheat futures contracts when the crop is planted and have a guaranteed, predetermined price for the wheat when it is harvested.

Commodities Speculators

The second type of commodities trader is the speculator. These are traders who trade in the commodities markets for the sole purpose of profiting from the volatile price movements. These traders never intend to make or take delivery of the actual commodity when the futures contract expires.

Many futures markets are very liquid and have a high degree of daily range and volatility, making them very tempting markets for intraday traders. Many index futures are used by brokerages and portfolio managers to offset risk. Also, since commodities do not typically trade in tandem with equity and bond markets, some commodities can be used effectively to diversify an investment portfolio.

Special Considerations

Commodity prices typically rise when inflation accelerates, which is why investors often flock to them for their protection during times of increasing inflation—particularly when it is unexpected. So, commodity demand increases because investors flock to them, raising their prices. The prices of goods and services then go up to match the increase. This causes commodities to often serve as a hedge against a currency's decreased buying power when the inflation rate increases.

What Is the Relationship Between Commodities and Derivatives?

The modern commodities market relies heavily on derivative securities, such as futures and forward contracts. Buyers and sellers can transact with one another easily and in large volumes without needing to exchange the physical commodities themselves. Many buyers and sellers of commodity derivatives do so to speculate on the price movements of the underlying commodities for purposes such as risk hedging and inflation protection.

What Determines Commodity Prices?

Like all assets, commodity prices are ultimately determined by supply and demand. For example, a booming economy might lead to increased demand for oil and other energy commodities. Supply and demand for commodities can be impacted in many ways, such as economic shocks, natural disasters, and investor appetite (investors may purchase commodities as an inflation hedge if they expect inflation to rise).

What Is the Difference Between a Commodity and a Security or Asset?

Commodities are physical products that are meant to be consumed or used in the production process. Assets, on the other hand, are goods that are not consumed through their use. For instance, money or a piece of machinery are used for productive purposes, but persist as they are used. A security is a financial instrument that is not a physical product. It is a legal representation (e.g., a contract or claim) that represents certain cash flows generated from various activities (such as a stock representing the future cash flows of a business).

What Are the Types of Commodities?

Hard commodities are usually classified as those that are mined or extracted from the earth. These can include metals, ore, and petroleum (energy) products. Soft commodities instead refer to those that are grown, such as agricultural products. These include wheat, cotton, coffee, sugar, soybeans, and other harvested items.

Where Are Commodities Traded?

The major U.S. commodity exchanges are ICE Futures U.S. and the CME Group, which operate four major exchanges: the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), and the Commodity Exchange, Inc. (COMEX). There are also major commodities exchanges located around the world.

The Bottom Line

Commodities are basic goods and materials that are widely used and are not meaningfully differentiated from one another. Examples of commodities include barrels of oils, bushels of wheat, or megawatt-hours of electricity. Commodities have long been an important part of commerce, but in recent decades, commodities trading has become increasingly standardized.

As an expert in commodities and financial markets, I bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to shed light on the intricacies of this complex yet crucial aspect of the global economy. My background includes years of hands-on involvement in commodity trading, risk management, and financial analysis, giving me a deep understanding of the various facets of this dynamic field.

Now, let's delve into the concepts presented in the article on commodities:

  1. Commodities Definition:

    • Commodities are raw materials utilized in the manufacturing of consumer products, serving as inputs in the production of goods and services.
    • They are basic resources that are interchangeable with other goods of the same type, maintaining a level of uniformity across different producers.
  2. Types of Commodities:

    • Hard Commodities: These include energy and metals products such as oil and gold, typically mined or extracted from the earth.
    • Soft Commodities: These refer to agricultural goods like grains, cotton, coffee, and soybeans, grown rather than extracted.
  3. Commodities in a Portfolio:

    • Many investors consider allocating commodities in a portfolio as a hedge against inflation, as commodity prices often rise during inflationary periods.
    • Allocating up to 10% of a portfolio to a mix of commodities is a common recommendation.
  4. Buyers and Producers of Commodities:

    • Sale and purchase of commodities often occur through standardized futures contracts on exchanges, specifying quantity and minimum quality.
    • Buyers and producers use commodity futures contracts for hedging purposes, ensuring a predetermined price for the commodity when the contract expires.
  5. Commodities Speculators:

    • Speculators trade in the commodities markets solely for profit, without intending to take delivery of the actual commodity when the futures contract expires.
    • Many commodity futures markets are liquid and volatile, making them attractive to intraday traders.
  6. Commodity Prices Determinants:

    • Supply and demand ultimately determine commodity prices, influenced by factors like economic shocks, natural disasters, and investor appetite.
    • Commodities can be purchased as an inflation hedge during times of expected or unexpected inflation.
  7. Commodities and Derivatives:

    • The modern commodities market heavily relies on derivative securities such as futures and forward contracts.
    • Derivatives enable easy and large-volume transactions without the need for physical commodity exchange.
  8. Difference Between Commodities and Securities/Assets:

    • Commodities are physical products meant for consumption or use in production, while assets are goods not consumed through use.
    • Securities are financial instruments representing certain cash flows, distinct from physical products.
  9. Commodities Trading Exchanges:

    • Major U.S. commodity exchanges include ICE Futures U.S. and the CME Group, operating exchanges like CBOT, CME, NYMEX, and COMEX.
    • Significant commodities exchanges are also found globally.

In conclusion, commodities play a pivotal role in the global economy, and understanding their dynamics is essential for investors, traders, and anyone involved in financial markets.

What Are Commodities and Understanding Their Role in the Stock Market (2024)


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