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Commodity Futures

These entries address investing and trading in commodities and commodity futures as an alternative asset class to equities.

Classic Paper: Physical Inventories and Commodity Futures Returns

We occasionally select for retrospective review an all-time “best selling” research paper from the past few years from the General Financial Markets category of the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Here we summarize the June 2007 paper entitled “The Fundamentals of Commodity Futures Returns” (download count over 2,500) by Gary Gorton, Fumio Hayashi and Geert Rouwenhorst. Commodity futures are derivative, short-maturity claims on real assets. In this paper, the authors apply the theory of storage to investigate relationships between the physical inventories of these assets and the returns to traders in the associated commodity futures. Using monthly data for over 30 commodity futures and associated physical inventories as available between 1969 and 2006 and data from the weekly Commodity Futures Trading Commission Commitments of Traders (COT) reports, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Momentum and Contrarian Commodity Futures Returns

Do commodity futures exhibit short-term momentum and long-term reversion, as do stocks? In the August 2006 version of their paper entitled “Momentum Strategies in Commodity Futures Markets”, Joelle Miffre and Georgios Rallis examine the profitability of 32 momentum (short-term continuation) and 24 contrarian (long-term reversal) strategies in commodity futures markets. The momentum strategies buy (sell) recently outperforming (underperforming) commodity futures and hold resulting long-short portfolios up to 12 months. The contrarian strategies buy (sell) the commodity futures that underperformed (outperformed) in the distant past and hold resulting long-short portfolios for periods of two to five years. All strategies trade liquid futures contracts with nearby maturities involving 31 commodities, unimpeded by short-selling restrictions often encountered in equity markets. Using futures contract price data spanning 1/31/79-9/30/04, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Classic Paper: Returns from Commodity Futures

We occasionally select for retrospective review an all-time “best selling” research paper from the past few years from the General Financial Markets category of the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Here we summarize the January 2006 paper entitled “The Tactical and Strategic Value of Commodity Futures” (download count over 2,400) by Claude Erb and Campbell Harvey. Commodity futures are derivative, short-maturity claims on real assets. In this paper, the authors explore the strategic and tactical opportunities that these derivatives present to investors. Using long-run commodity futures return data as available mostly through mid-2004, they conclude that: Keep Reading

The Timing Performance of Expert Futures Traders

Do Commodity Trading Advisors (CTAs), generally associated with the “managed futures” hedge fund style, successfully time their chosen markets? These traders take long or short positions in investment vehicles with low transaction cost (such as futures contracts) to exploit trends in commodity prices, exchanges rates, interest rates and equity prices. In the February 2008 version of their paper entitled “Market Timing of CTAs: An Examination of Systematic CTAs vs. Discretionary CTAs”, Hossein Kazemi and Ying Li investigate the return and volatility timing ability of CTAs and examine whether there is a difference in market timing abilities between systematic and discretionary traders. To this end, they develop a set of risk factors based on returns from the most heavily traded futures contracts. Using monthly, net-of-fees return data for 1994-2004 (encompassing 278 live and 622 defunct CTA funds), they conclude that: Keep Reading

Crude Oil Price and Stock Returns

Some market commentators cite the price of crude oil as an important indicator of future stock market behavior. Is expensive crude oil a sign of future inflation or a drag on aggregate corporate earnings, or is it a proxy for general economic strength? Does a local peak (valley) in the price of crude oil portend a falling (rising) overall stock market? Comparing the weekly crude oil spot price for the U.S. with the weekly level of the S&P 500 index for the period 1/97-8/07, we find that… Keep Reading

Does Technical Trading Work with Commodity Futures?

Do relatively low transaction costs and ease of short selling enable profitable technical trading in commodity futures markets? In their recent paper entitled “Can Commodity Futures be Profitably Traded with Quantitative Market Timing Strategies?”, Ben Marshall, Rochester Cahan and Jared Cahan investigate the effectiveness of 7,846 quantitative trading rules from five rule families (Filter, Moving Average, Support and Resistance, Channel Breakouts, and On-Balance Volume) for 15 kinds of commodity futures contracts. They test these rules for cocoa, coffee, cotton, crude oil, feeder cattle, gold, heating oil, live cattle, oats, platinum, silver, soy beans, soy oil, sugar and wheat futures. Their testing includes two bootstrapping methodologies, adjustment for data snooping bias and evaluations over different time periods. Using daily price and volume data for 1984-2005, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Classic Paper: Empirical Overview of Commodity Futures

We occasionally select for retrospective review an all-time “best selling” research paper from the past few years from the General Financial Markets category of the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Here we summarize the February 2005 paper entitled “Facts and Fantasies About Commodity Futures” (download count over 12,000) by Gary Gorton and Geert Rouwenhorst. Commodity futures are derivative, short-maturity claims on real assets. Many commodities have pronounced price/volatility seasonality. In this paper, the authors compare and contrast the basic properties of commodity futures, equities and corporate bonds. Using monthly returns for stocks (the S&P 500 index), corporate bonds and a broad equally-weighted index of for commodity futures over the period July 1959 through December 2004, they conclude that: Keep Reading

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