By Sumit Roy
Many commodities have outperformed stocks this year.
In contrast to last year, 2014 is shaping up to be a positive year for commodities. Thus, the threshold was quite high to make the top-performing list for the first half of the year. Each of the following commodities climbed more than 10 percent over the past six months, outperforming the S&P 500's 6.2 percent gain.
7. Gasoline +10.4%
Gasoline was the only energy commodity to make the top performers list. Prices for the refined product outperformed those of the two main crude oil benchmarks, Brent and WTI, which rose 1.5 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively, since the start of the year.
Gasoline's outperformance can be traced to the fact that the U.S. is in the midst of the summer driving season, when transportation demand typically peaks. However, inventories of gasoline in the U.S. are close to seasonal norms; thus, the outperformance versus crude oil will be difficult to maintain.
6. Gold +10.5%
One of the worst-performing commodities of 2013 with a 28 percent loss, gold has attempted to make a comeback this year. Anticipation of the "tapering" of the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing program weighed on prices last year, but now that the Fed is actually tapering, prices are rallying in a classic "sell on the rumor, buy on the news" type of move.
5. Cocoa +16.02%
Cocoa surged to a three-year high above $3,100 per metric ton as demand outpaced supply. A dismal outlook for supply-60 percent of which comes from Ghana and Ivory Coast-combined with growing demand in emerging markets, has fueled worries that the cocoa market may remain tight for some time.
Jean-Marc Anga, executive director of the International Cocoa Organization, recently warned that "we have entered a period of structural deficit [in the market]."
4. Palladium +17.72%
The worst mining strike in the history of South Africa crippled production of palladium this year, sending the precious metal to 14-year highs earlier this month. While that strike is now over, the damage has already been done. Analysts forecast that the palladium market may end up with a deficit of as much as 2 million ounces this year, or close to a fifth of total demand.
Huge deficits are forecast for the coming years while South Africa, the No. 2 producer, struggles to maintain its output. Russia, the top producer, has also faced declining production in recent years and any sanctions on the country due to its conflict with Ukraine may crimp output further.
Finally, rising auto sales in emerging markets continue to lift demand, which has grown tremendously in recent years.
3. Nickel +36.12%
Indonesia, the "Saudi Arabia of the nickel market," effectively banned nickel exports early this year [see our story, "With Indonesian Ban In Place, From Where Will Nickel Come?"], sending prices skyrocketing.
According to Norilsk, the nickel market will swing into a deficit next year and remain short of supply through at least 2019. Indonesia hopes that its ban on nickel ore exports will encourage firms to build refineries and smelters in the country, but it will be some time before those plants come online to alleviate the nickel shortage.
2. Lean Hogs +54.96% (Live Cattle +13.75%)
Lean hogs and live cattle prices have sizzled amid tight supplies and anticipation of strong demand during the summer grilling season. The U.S. cattle herd hit a 63-year low in January, while the porcine epidemic virus has ravaged hog populations.
1. Coffee +56.28%
Coffee took the top spot in terms of commodity performance for the first half of the year. The worst drought in 50 years in Brazil, the world's No. 1 producer, took a toll on supply. However, prices fell back from their best levels after rains in May helped to salvage the crop somewhat, reducing the potential output losses. Overall, analysts expect demand to outpace supply in the coffee market this year, keeping prices supported.