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By Lara Crigger

Has oil moved into backwardation yet? What does corn’s roll yield look like? How do you know when it’s time to buy—or sell?

Introducing our new weekly resource, “The Contango Report.” Each week, we’ll investigate the futures curves of the U.S.’ most important commodities, helping investors better understand the market and seize buy-and-sell opportunities as soon as they arise.

To see current contango curve and front-month roll costs for each of our selected commodities, please select a sector or commodity below (or read the whole report):

Data from Feb. 18, 2011 to Feb. 28, 2011

Data courtesy IndexUniverse.com

Energy

Precious Metals

Industrial Metals

Agricultural Commodities

Soft Commodities

Energy

NYMEX WTI Crude Oil

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: WTI crude oil remains in steep contango through the January 2012 contract, although prices dip a little in the furthest-out (and most thinly traded) deliveries.

ROLL COSTS: Likewise, the annualized cost to roll the front-month WTI’s contract remains a somewhat steep 1.82 percent bite, although that figure has declined substantially from last week’s 4.52 percent cost.

BOTTOM LINE: Definitive contango

ICE Brent Crude Oil

Brent Crude

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: In contrast to WTI, Brent exhibits slight backwardation, with prices varying less than $1/barrel through the first six months’ worth of deliveries.

ROLL COSTS: Brent’s annualized front-month roll cost has turned negative, meaning investors would make money on the roll—but only a meager 0.11 percent. This is still better than last week’s 0.34 percent cost.

BOTTOM LINE: Mild backwardation

NYMEX Henry Hub Natural Gas

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Prices remain flat in the near term for the anemic natural gas market, although next winter’s delivery months exhibit slight contango.

ROLL COSTS: Annualized roll costs just continue to grow for investors looking to roll front-month contracts, nearly doubling week-on-week from 0.96 percent to 1.77 percent.

BOTTOM LINE: Mild contango

Precious Metals

COMEX Gold

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Don’t be fooled by appearances. The COMEX gold curve remains relatively flat, exhibiting only the barest hint of contango over the near months before switching to a similarly slight backwardation for the further-out delivery dates.

ROLL COSTS: A 0.03 percent annualized front-month roll cost is pretty miniscule, but it is still higher than the 0.01 percent you would have made rolling contracts last week.

BOTTOM LINE: Flat

COMEX Silver

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Despite the choppy backwardation silver shows in its mid- to late-term delivery dates, the metal exhibits only the barest amount of contango—mere cents’ worth—in the near term.

ROLL COSTS: Like gold, rolling front-month silver today would dock you a slight 0.03 percent annualized, compared to last week, where you would’ve made 0.03 percent in the roll.

BOTTOM LINE: Flat to backwardation

NYMEX Platinum

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Over the near term, platinum shows slight backwardation, which steepens between the July 2011 and October 2011 contracts.

ROLL COSTS: Rolling front-month platinum nets investors a slight 0.03 percent annualize—a nice change from last week, when the roll would’ve cost 0.30 percent.

BOTTOM LINE: Slight backwardation

NYMEX Palladium

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Palladium prices may drop off substantially from June 2011 to September, but in the near term, moderate contango persists.

ROLL COSTS: Rolling front-month palladium is only getting more expensive, as annualized costs have more than doubled from last week.

BOTTOM LINE: Short-term contango

Industrial Metals

LME Copper

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Copper remains in contango through September 2011, save a slight dip between the June and July 2011 contracts. Into 2012, however, its curve slips into backwardation.

ROLL COSTS: Rolling front-month copper contracts costs an annualized 0.03 percent, which, while small, is still more than the 0.01 percent investors would’ve made rolling last week.

BOTTOM LINE: Humpbacked contango

LME Aluminum

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Talk about a textbook case of contango: Aluminum’s futures curve remains in a steady upward rise for the next year’s worth of active contracts.

ROLL COSTS: While it is getting cheaper to roll front-month aluminum contracts, investors still take a pretty big hit, shelling out an annualized 0.38 percent to roll this week. BOTTOM LINE: Unrelenting contango

LME Zinc

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Like aluminum, zinc remains in strong contango through the rest of 2011, and into 2012.

ROLL COSTS: Rolling front-month zinc contracts may cost less this week, but it’s still expensive, dropping to an annualized 0.34 percent from 0.42 percent the week prior.

BOTTOM LINE: Unrelenting contango

LME Lead

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Unlike aluminum or zinc, lead exhibits strong backwardation through the rest of the year; backwardation remains strongest in the near term, from March to April 2011.

ROLL COSTS: Investors still are still making money this week when they roll front-month lead, but they’re making substantially less, with yield lowering more than sixfold.

BOTTOM LINE: Unrelenting backwardation

LME Nickel

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Nickel contracts remain flat to trivially contangoed in the nearest delivery months, but as 2011 wears on, the curve flips to steady backwardation.

ROLL COSTS: This week investors are paying slightly less on the front-month nickel roll, down to 0.03 percent from 0.05 percent the week prior.

BOTTOM LINE: Flat to backwardation

LME Tin

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Tin’s futures curve exhibits slight contango for near-term delivery dates, but as the curve stretches past summer 2011, it flips into steady backwardation.

ROLL COSTS: Although already small, tin’s annualized front-month roll costs declined further week-over-week, dropping from 0.05 percent down to 0.02 percent.

BOTTOM LINE: Humpbacked near-term contango

Agricultural Commodities

CBOT Corn

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Corn’s futures curve looks relatively flat through summer 2011, after which contracts dip into moderate backwardation.

ROLL COSTS: Corn’s annualized front-month roll cost this week is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the cost dropped by more than half week-over-week. On the other hand, 0.60 percent is still pretty steep.

BOTTOM LINE: Flat to mild near-term contango

CBOT Wheat

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Wheat exhibits obvious contango through the next year’s worth of active contracts.

ROLL COSTS: That wheat’s annualized front-month roll cost dropped by half this week may be cold comfort to investors still shelling out a whopping 2.11 percent to roll their contracts.

BOTTOM LINE: Unrelenting contango

CBOT Soybeans

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Soybeans remain slightly contangoed through the next several delivery months, after which they fall off into backwardation for the remainder of 2011.

ROLL COSTS: On an annualized basis, it’s almost fourfold less expensive to roll your front-month soybean contract this week than last week, but you’re still paying 0.25 percent for the privilege to do so.

BOTTOM LINE: Near-term contango to backwardation

CME Live Cattle

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CONTANGO WATCH: Live cattle remains in contango through the summer, after which the curve flattens off through the remainder of 2011.

ROLL COSTS: You might pay less to roll your front-month live cattle contract this week over last week, but you’re still shelling out 1.50 percent to do so.

BOTTOM LINE: Contango to flat

CME Lean Hogs

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CONTANGO WATCH: While the curve levels off somewhat for later 2011 delivery months, the near-term contracts exhibit a very steep contango.

ROLL COSTS: It already cost you an absurd amount to roll your lean hogs front-month contract, but this week, the annualized cost grew to a colossal 9.89 percent.

BOTTOM LINE: Humpbacked contango

Soft Commodities

ICE Coffee

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: In the nearest delivery months, coffee shows some backwardation, although the curve flattens out for the rest of 2011.

ROLL COSTS: Annualized front-month roll costs for coffee dropped substantially week-over-week, so that now, investors can actually make 0.42 percent in their roll.

BOTTOM LINE: Backwardation to flat

ICE Cocoa

(Click to enlarge)

CONTANGO WATCH: Cocoa exhibits strong backwardation through the rest of the active 2011 contracts.

ROLL COSTS: Investors may make less on their front-month roll this week, but they can still net an attractive 0.67 percent annualized on the roll.

BOTTOM LINE: Backwardation

ICE Sugar #11

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CONTANGO WATCH: Backwardation persists in sugar throughout the rest of the commodity’s active contracts, but is steepest in the near-term months.

ROLL COSTS: Even though it’s less than last week, rolling front-month sugar contracts this week still nets investors an extremely attractive 7.47 percent annualized.

BOTTOM LINE: Unrelenting backwardation

ICE Cotton #2

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CONTANGO WATCH: Cotton futures trade in moderate backwardation throughout the rest of 2011 and into 2012.

ROLL COSTS: Investors made more money on their front-month cotton roll this week, with annualized roll yield more than doubling to 2.73 percent.

BOTTOM LINE: Unrelenting backwardation

Source: The Contango Report: Feb. 18-28, 2011