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Portfolio > Alternative Investments > Commodities

Are Commodities Stuck in a Bear ‘Super-Cycle’?

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Soon after Donald Trump won the presidential election expectations grew that inflation would rise along with bigger deficits as a result of prospective tax cuts coupled with increased spending. Long-term Treasury bond prices fell as yields climbed, reaching a 12-month high of 2.35% by Friday, and the dollar surged as a result of higher rates.

Gold, a traditional inflation hedge, however, lost 5% in price since the election and silver fell almost 9%.

“Higher yields along with a sharply higher U.S. dollar are usually poison for gold,” explains Bart Melek, head of global commodity strategy at TD Securities.

He says gold, which closed slightly above $1,200 an ounce in the futures market on Friday, could test technical support near $1,050 before heading back up if inflation expectations continue to rise and the market perceives that the Fed isn’t raising rates fast enough to counteract that.

Gold prices could also get a bump from a swelling budget deficit due to Trump’s plans to lower taxes while increasing spending, but “no one is really thinking about government deficits yet,” says Melek.

Unlike gold and silver, copper prices rose after the presidential election, buoyed by expectations of rising demand due to Trump’s plans for more infrastructure spending.

Oil prices also appreciated, but only slightly as traders looked toward the November 30 OPEC meeting where an agreement on production cuts is expected.

Despite these mixed price movements, John LaForge, head of real asset strategy at Wells Fargo Institute, says,  “This is not a good time to buy commodities” long term because the bear “super-cycle is the dominant factor, not Trump, not the dollar.”

According to LaForge, commodities tend to move over long cycles, which he calls super-cycles that run for as long as 15 to 20 years. Most of the price moves occur in the first five years of a cycle and not all commodities enter the cycle at the same time or move in sync afterward.

He says the current bear cycle began in August 2011 when gold and silver peaked at $1,888 and $50 an ounce, respectively. The remainder of the cycle is a healing process where prices bounce, then retreat, get stuck in price ranges, then rebound again, and repeat the pattern, says LaForge.

He describes the current situation of many commodities such as silver as “price purgatory” when investors are “not sure when to buy or sell.”

LaForge suggests that investors who want to own commodities for diversification purposes buy when prices are near the bottom of their ranges — and the cost of production is cheaper — and sell when they’re near the top of their ranges. Using that approach, gold is a buy near $1,100 but a sell at $1,400, according to LaForge. “ Sell at the high end and buy at bottom range. Don’t be a long-term investor,” says LaForge.

LaForge also recommends PowerShares DB Commodity Tracking ETF (DBC), which is little changed since the election but up 111% year-to-date. Oil-related futures contracts account for about for abouthalf holdings, base metals 13% and precious metals 9%.

A diversified commodity index is a better hedge against inflation than any single commodity, according to Kurt Nelson, partner at Summerhaven Investment Management. He explained to a monthly press conference call sponsored by Charles Schwab that a diversified commodities index has a 65% correlation with inflation while oil and gold each have a correlation near just 30%.

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