Our ever-popular Periodic Table of Commodity Returns has been updated through 2012. Investor Alert readers love this chart as it shows a decade of results across 14 different commodities, providing strikingly rich information in a very familiar format. Last year, 11 commodities rose in value, with wheat rising as the top crop after seeing a significant decline in 2011. It was a similar rags-to-riches story for the next few leaders, including lead, zinc, natural gas and platinum, which all climbed double digits in 2012 after falling in 2011.
Only three commodities declined over the year: Crude oil fell by 7% after rising 8% the previous year. Nickel declined for the second year in a row. In 2012, the metal lost 9% and in 2011, nickel fell another 24%.
Coal was the worst-performing commodity in 2012, falling nearly 17%. Coal’s been going through a rough spell lately; in fact, the commodity has not been king for five years (although it did record a 31% increase in 2010). As Global Resources Fund Portfolio Manager Evan Smith explained to listeners during our recent presentation, for the first time ever in the U.S., natural gas provided more electricity and power than coal did.
As you can see from the table, commodities often have wide price fluctuations from year to year given the many factors affecting supply and demand, such as government policies, union strikes, and currency volatility. That’s why when it comes to commodities and commodity producers, many investors “leave the driving” to active money managers who understand these specialized assets and the global trends affecting them.
Take gold and gold companies, for example. After investing in the mining industry for decades, we’ve taken note of several facts about gold that continue to surprise our investors. Here are four of the latest:
1. Gold has been a consistent performer over the decade
Although the precious metal did not shoot the lights out in 2012, gold’s bull rally goes on. It ended the year up 7%, making it a phenomenal 12th year in a row that gold rose in value. In a special gold bar version of the Periodic Table below, you can easily see gold’s rotation among the commodities from year to year.
What’s fascinating is the three-year rising pattern relative to other commodities that emerges when you focus on the bars. Over the past 10 years, gold has risen in position compared with the others for three years in a row, then fallen in relative position in the fourth year before repeating the cycle. Will it follow the same pattern and be in the top half of the Periodic Table in 2013?