As the introductory Commodity Corner column I found this to be a good opportunity to introduce commodities and futures.
One could argue commodities have been around since the beginning of civilization. People have produced, paid or bartered for commodities to use for either production or to consume. Some of the uses of commodities include food, energy, construction, manufacturing, and clothing.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, commodities are defined as: 1) an economic good. 2) A product of mining or agriculture. 3) An article of commerce especially when delivered for shipment. 4) A mass produced un-specialized product. [i]
In today’s global markets both large and small firms will trade and hedge commodities as part of their daily business as either a producer or end-user of the commodity. For example a chocolate candy producing firm will need to purchase cocoa, sugar and of course energy to fuel their factories. If they do business in foreign countries they may need to buy and sell foreign currencies for hedging or delivery purposes. (See “Currencies in Your Future Portfolio?” of the Spring/Summer 2012 issue).
To manage their price risk, a commodity producer, such as a farmer may sell a futures contract to lock-in their selling price. An end-user, such as a coffee chain may buy a futures contract to lock-in their purchasing price. Keep in mind commodity markets tend to be mean-reverting markets as they spike or decline from an average price and then revert back towards that average price overtime. This is often due to shocks in the system such as increased demand, reduction of supply, weather concerns, disruption of distribution channels or possibly political or regional events. If a commodity becomes too expensive, the market participants’ behavioral mechanism will appear as they seek less expensive substitutes. This is known in economics as the substitution effect and one of the differences to note between commodity and equity trading.
Commodities are traded in two common locations: either the spot/cash market usually reserved for industry or sometimes known as “commercials” such as producers, distributors and end-users as the actual physical commodity is traded. Or the products trade on an exchange such as one of the futures exchanges found around the world. The futures exchanges are often utilized by both commercials and speculators. An exchange offers commercials the opportunity for immediate offset of their commodity risk by speculators offering liquidity to take on the risk. If a commercial has a loss from hedging, it often means they profited in the underlying cash market, because they are holding the opposite direction in the cash market. One can think of the loss on the hedge as a premium on an insurance policy.
[i] Shore, M. (2011) DePaul University 798 Managed Futures Lecture notes
Copyright ©2012 Mark Shore. Contact the author for permission for republication at firstname.lastname@example.org Mark Shore has more than 20 years of experience in the futures markets and managed futures, publishes research, consults on alternative investments and conducts educational workshops. www.shorecapmgmt.com
Mark Shore is also an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University's Kellstadt Graduate School of Business in Chicago where he teaches a managed futures / global macro course and an Adjunct at the New York Institute of Finance. Mark is a contributing writer to Reuters HedgeWorld.
Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. There is risk of loss when investing in futures and options. Always review a complete CTA disclosure document before investing in any Managed Futures program. Managed futures can be a volatile and risky investment; only use appropriate risk capital; this investment is not for everyone. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and are only for educational purposes. Please talk to your financial advisor before making any investment decisions.