Commodities find favour in Q3 with growth-hungry investors

Mon Oct 7, 2013 10:52am EDT

* Fed's surprise decision fails to stem gold outflows
    * Beaten down cyclicals seen as good bet
    * Silver, coffee in favour after sharp price falls

    By Claire Milhench
    LONDON, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Broad commodity exchange-traded products (ETPs)
returned to favour in the third quarter, attracting some $712 million according
to BlackRock data, as investors sought out assets thought likely to benefit from
a pick up in economic growth.
    Equity ETPs also continued to do well, capturing some $28.7 billion in
September, whilst fixed income ETP inflows totalled $6.6 billion. Overall,
global ETP inflows reached $35 billion in September.
    But money continued to bleed from gold ETPs, which racked up $1.2 billion in
outflows in September, taking third-quarter redemptions to $4.4 billion. This
was despite the U.S. Federal Reserve's surprise announcement in mid-September
that it would continue with its bond-buying programme.  
    "September was a challenging month for gold prices, which fell approximately
4.9 percent," said Dodd Kittsley, global head of ETP research at BlackRock.
    "Over the short term, we may see further volatility around current levels as
headwinds remain, including potential QE tapering later this year, which may
weigh on prices," he said.
    ETPs, whose value is linked to moves in their underlying assets, are an easy
route into commodities for investors, and allow asset managers to make swift
tactical switches. 
    Nick Brooks, head of research and investment strategy at ETF Securities,
said that steady improvement in the U.S. manufacturing sector and increased
confidence that China would maintain healthy economic growth had encouraged
strong inflows to the broad basket commodity ETPs in September.
    "Investors have more recently looked for laggard cyclical assets, and
commodities fall into that category," Brooks said. "This year U.S. equities have
done very well and some investors believe it's getting a bit stretched so they
are looking for other cyclical assets that haven't run yet."
    Industrial metals failed to attract much interest, however. The segment
ended the quarter with $197 million of outflows. Brooks said the base metals
were seen as less attractive for fundamental supply and demand reasons. 
    "Aluminium has been in over-supply and analysts have forecast surpluses in
copper," he said. As a result, investors have preferred to play the pickup in
economic growth through the broad ETPs, silver and platinum.
    Silver enjoyed inflows of $736 million in the third quarter, according to
BlackRock data. Year to date, inflows stand at $1.2 billion, compared with
outflows of $33 billion from gold ETPs. 
    "We attribute this divergence in part to the higher sensitivity of silver to
global economic activity due to its higher industrial usage," Kittsley said.
    
    APPEALINGLY VOLATILE
    The price of silver has fallen more than 50 percent from its peak to
around $20 an ounce, which Brooks said was roughly equivalent to the all-in cost
of production. "That's viewed as a pretty firm medium-term floor."
    Brooks added that the volatility of silver appealed to some investors: "It
rises very sharply once it gets moving."
    Agriculture ETPs also found favour, ending the quarter in positive territory
with $99 million of net inflows. Brooks said that sharp price declines and
negative speculative futures positioning had attracted investors willing to wait
some time for prices to rise back towards the mean. 
    He added that coffee ETPs had attracted a bumper $70 million in the third
quarter after the price of Arabica coffee hit a four-year low on
the back of a record crop in Brazil. 
    Energy ETPs ended the quarter in positive territory, with $261 million of
inflows, but it was a bumpy ride with competing factors in play. Crude oil ETPs
suffered outflows in September as momentum players took profits following a
rally in U.S. crude prices earlier in the quarter. 
    Going into October, the impasse over the U.S. debt ceiling has presented
investors with a fresh dilemma. For the time being, they seem happy to continue
increasing their positions in the beaten-down cyclicals, but if the stalemate
persists, gold is likely to move back into the spotlight, Brooks said.
    "The battle over the U.S. debt ceiling has led to increased uncertainty
regarding equity markets among investors," BlackRock's Kittsley added. "Gold has
historically been used as a safe-haven vehicle during such periods and may
benefit as investors seek to diversify their risk." 
    At the end of September, BlackRock's data covered 919 commodity ETPs
worldwide, worth some $133.8 billion. Data from ETF Securities also reflect
global flows, with assets totalling $135.9 billion.
    
    Global commodities ETPs at end-September (US$ mln) 
 SECTOR                 SEPT FLOWS   SEPT ASSETS  Q3 FLOWS     Q3 FLOWS (ETF
                        (BlackRock)  (BlackRock)  (BlackRock)  Securities)
 Broad/Diversified      539          18,146       712          779
 Agriculture/Livestock  76           5,319        99           111
 Energy                 -93          8,102        261          377
 Industrial Metals      17           2,053        -197         -195
 Gold                   -1,169       82,496       -4,424       -4,173
 Silver                 23           12,971       736          706
 Precious Metals Total  -1,170       100,220      -3,874       -3,376
 TOTAL COMMODITIES      -630         133,840      -2,999       -2,304
 Sources: BlackRock, ETF Securities
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