I saw an interesting statistic today from Bloomberg. The number of net-long futures and options commodity positions amongst hedge funds is currently sitting at the lowest level since March 2009.
Ah….March 2009. I remember it well.
I remember actually pulling the financial statements of the bank where I keep my deposits to make sure that it wasn't going to go out of business.
I remember being afraid to buy certain stocks that are now trading at many multiples of the share prices that they could have been had at then.
I also remember that March 2009 was the BEST time to buy commodities in recent memory. I believe the current pessimism in the future of commodity prices is also an excellent buying signal.
But don't take it from me. I'm a man of average intelligence.
Instead, take it from legendary investor Jeremy Grantham. Here is what Grantham has to say about the future of commodity prices:
My firm warned of vastly inflated Japanese equities in 1989 - the grandmother of all bubbles - US growth stocks in 2000 and everything risky in late 2007. The usual mix of investor wishful thinking and dangerous and cynical encouragement from industrial vested interests made these bubbles possible. Prices of global raw materials are now rising fast. This does not constitute a bubble, however, but is a genuine paradigm shift, perhaps the most important economic change since the Industrial Revolution. Simply, we are running out.
The price index of 33 important commodities declined by 70% over the 100 years up to 2002 - an enormous help to industrialized countries in getting rich. Only one commodity, oil, had been flat until 1972 and then, with the advent of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, it began to rise. But since 2002, prices of almost all the other commodities, plus oil, tripled in six years; all without a world war and without much comment. Even if prices fell tomorrow by 20% they would still on average have doubled in 10 years, the equivalent of a 7% annual rise.
This price surge is a response to global population growth and the explosion of capital spending in China.
Grantham is not one to "cry wolf". He isn't a CNBC talking head looking for attention, he is telling us that high (and increasing) commodity prices are here to stay.
And based on his track record of correctly nailing the Japanese equity bubble, the US tech bubble and the Financial collapse of 2008 I'm not sure that there is anyone more credible.
And I'm listening to him. My portfolio is focused on commodities, mainly unconventional light oil producers.
I don't expect my investments to go straight up. This is a long term trend and if prices drop I'm happy to keep buying more.
My preferred approach is to focus on a few specific companies that I think are currently undervalued and that I think will also grow value over the long term.
But a more diversified investment vehicle would also serve the purpose of following Grantham's advice and getting long commodities.
Here are three options:
"At the opposite end of the resource spectrum to record-priced Iowa farmland is natural gas. Natural gas is, for most purposes like home heating and electric utility plants, a better and cleaner fuel than oil or coal, but is for technical reasons in distress: there have been several recent decades in which the BTU equivalent price for natural gas did, at least for a second, reach parity with oil. But now it is at just 14% of BTU equivalency, the lowest in almost 50 years. Everyone who has a brain should be thinking of how to make money on this in the longer term."
3) My favorite, get long the TSX Venture index which is loaded with small companies leveraged to commodity prices through an ETF or index fund like (BATS:EWCS).
The Canadian small cap resource sector really is priced as though the end of the world is coming (as evidenced by the chart below) and now should be a great time to get long.