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:


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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