Commodities: Good buys now?

Commodities: Good buys now?

For investors who like to buy when everyone else is selling, commodities would be looking very good just now.

From gold to oil and soya beans, commodities have slumped since they hit their super highs back in 2010.

As investors pile into the share market - the Straits Times Index powered to new five-year highs last week - they are giving commodities the cold shoulder.

Commodity prices are affected by economic demand for a given commodity - such as foodstuffs or iron ore used in buildings. But investors speculating on commodities also play an important role.

Mainly they are the big boys of the investment world but retail investors can gain exposure to commodities as well.

Oil prices slumped to an eight-month low earlier this month, with the benchmark Brent crude below US$100 per barrel.

And gold has just suffered its biggest plunge in three decades although it clawed back some gains in the past week.

Other metals, such as silver and copper, have also slumped, with copper in particular sliding two weeks ago by the most since December 2011.

Mr Avtar Sandu, senior manager for commodities at Phillip Futures, said one key reason is that investors are moving money out of commodities and into equities, which are on a bull run so far this year.

"They're buying stocks because earnings have been better, dividends have been higher, particularly for American companies. Right now, the preferred asset class is stocks, not commodities, and this is why commodities as a whole have slumped," he said.

But more fundamentally, demand for commodities is closely linked to the economic outlook.

Uncertainty in the euro zone, still grappling with its sovereign debt crisis, has affected investor confidence. And slowing growth in China and India - huge consumers of commodities - has also affected demand.

"There are also no major issues on the supply side to cause commodity prices to go up. Inventories for oil have also been building up," Mr Sandu said.

He said that the only bright spot in the commodity sector is natural gas, because in the US, many industries are switching to natural gas, and inventories for natural gas have dropped.

Even so, Mr Manpreet Gill, head of fixed income currencies and commodities investment strategy at Standard Chartered Bank, said that the asset class should do well over the long term.

This was based on the bank's broader macroeconomic view that 2013 is likely to be a year of transition towards stronger growth, he said.

"But in the short term they may be held back by rising supply or inventory concerns and temporary softness in economic data," he added.

Mr Harmander Mahal, head of customer value management at HSBC Singapore, said that during periods of market uncertainty, the commodities trade remains a key part of any functioning economy.

"This essentially makes commodities a potentially useful component within any well-diversified investment portfolio. Some commodities, such as gold, can offer a safe haven in times of political and economic uncertainty and can act as a hedge against inflation," he said.

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