Chart of the day: Commodity flows

By Felix Salmon
May 16, 2011
presentation on commodity ETFs by my Reuters colleague Andy Home:

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This chart comes from a presentation on commodity ETFs by my Reuters colleague Andy Home:

flows.tiff

QE, of course, only happens when interest rates hit the zero bound, so it’s impossible to disentangle the effects of QE from the effects of G3 interest rates all coming down to 1% or lower. But the effect of all these investment flows is clear: if you look at commodities as an asset class, total commodity assets under management have risen from just over $150 billion at the end of 2008 to over $400 billion today.

The impossible-to-answer question is how much of that investment is leveraged, in one way or another. The lesson of the commodities crash is ultimately a hopeful one: it didn’t set off any panic, and Main Street didn’t suffer much in the way of visible losses. And I don’t think that Wall Street has a leveraged long position in commodities in the same way that it had a leveraged long position in subprime in 2008. So the systemic risks posed by any commodities bubble are probably small.

Still, this is clearly now a speculators’ market, and that’s bad news for commodity-reliant industries. They’re up against finance types, now, which is never a pleasant position to be in. The crash will come — but only after real-world end-users have hedged their needs at very high prices.

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