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Commodities are a distinct asset class with returns that are largely independent of stock and bond returns. Therefore, adding broad commodity exposure can help diversify a portfolio of stocks and bonds, potentially lowering the risk of an overall portfolio and boosting returns. Given their impact on consumer goods prices, commodities can also offer a hedge against inflation.

What are commodities?

Commodities are raw materials used to create the products consumers buy, from food to furniture, to gasoline or petrol. Commodities include agricultural products such as wheat and cattle, energy products such as oil and natural gas, and metals such as gold, silver, and aluminum. There are also “soft” commodities, which cannot be stored for lengthy periods, including sugar, cotton, cocoa, and coffee.

The commodity market has evolved significantly from the days when farmers hauled bushels of wheat and corn to the local market. In the 1800s, demand for standardized contracts for trading agricultural products led to the development of commodity futures exchanges. Today, futures and options contracts can be traded on exchanges around the world on a huge array of agricultural products, metals, energy products and soft commodities. These standardized contracts enable commodity producers to offload their price risk to end users and other financial market participants.

Commodities have also evolved as an asset class since the 1990s, with the development of commodity futures indexes and subsequently, investment vehicles that benchmark against these indices. Today investors can choose from a variety of vehicles for investing in the commodities futures markets, from mutual funds to exchange-traded funds or notes, covering the wide spectrum from single commodity exposures to sector based and broad-based commodity exposures.

Why invest in commodities?

Investors typically consider a commodities allocation to provide three key benefits to their portfolios: 1) inflation hedge; 2) diversification; and 3) return potential.

Inflation hedge

Because commodities are “real assets,” they tend to react to changing economic fundamentals in different ways than stocks and bonds, which are “financial assets.”

For example, commodities are one of the few asset classes that tend to benefit from rising inflation. As demand for goods and services increases, the price of those goods and services usually rises as well, as do the prices of the commodities used to produce those goods and services. Because commodity prices usually rise when inflation is accelerating, investing in commodities may provide portfolios with a hedge against inflation.

In contrast, stocks and bonds tend to perform better when the rate of inflation is stable or slowing. Faster inflation lowers the value of future cash flows paid by stocks and bonds because that future cash will be able to buy fewer goods and services than they would today.

For these reasons, returns from a broad and diversified commodity index such as the Bloomberg Commodity Index, UBS Prompt Commodity Index or the S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index, have historically been largely independent of stock and bond returns, but positively correlated with inflation.

Between 1990 and 2024, annual returns on the Bloomberg Commodity Index had a low correlation with U.S. equities, as represented by the S&P 500 Index, and a correlation close to zero with global bonds, as represented by the Bloomberg Global Aggregate Index. However, they had a high correlation with the U.S. Consumer Price Index.

Correlation of annual returns from 31 January 1990 to 30 April 2024. The table shows the correlation of annual returns for the Bloomberg Commodity Index, U.S. Equities, Global Bonds, and U.S. Inflation. The Bloomberg Commodity Index has a correlation of 0.29 to U.S. Equities, 0.04% to Global Bonds, and 0.61 to U.S. inflation. U.S. Equities have a correlation of 0.29 to the Bloomberg Commodity Index, 0.16 to Global bonds, and 0.04 to U.S. inflation. Global bonds have a 0.04 correlation with the Bloomberg Commodity Index, 0.16 to U.S. Equities, and -0.23 to U.S. inflation.
Correlation of annual returns from 31 January 1990 to 30 April 2024

Source: Bloomberg. U.S. Equities are represented by the S&P 500 Index. Global bonds are represented by the Bloomberg Global Aggregate, U.S. Inflation is represented by the U.S. Consumer Price Index YoY.

Although the correlation of commodities to equities saw a temporary pickup in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008/2009 period, this was the result of the decline in aggregate demand that uniformly affected many asset classes, resulting in higher correlations among them. Since then, commodities have returned to responding more to fundamental supply factors. These can include weather, which affects natural gas and grains prices, geopolitical instability, which influences crude oil, or mining strikes, which affect metals. Importantly, these factors do not tend to affect stock or bond market returns to the same degree, and accordingly, correlations between commodities and other asset classes have come down.


Commodities’ low correlation to stocks and bonds illustrates what may be the most significant benefit of broad exposure to commodities: diversification. In a diversified portfolio, asset classes tend not to move in sync with each other, which tends to reduce the volatility of the overall portfolio. Lower volatility reduces portfolio risk and should improve the consistency of returns over time. However, diversification does not ensure against loss.

Return potential

The role of commodities as a diversifier and inflation hedge also enhances its potential to boost portfolio returns.

How can I invest in commodities?

The emergence of investment vehicles benchmarked against commodity futures indexes has provided investors with an option for gaining exposure to a broad range of commodities.

Investment vehicles managed against commodity futures indexes are not the same as Commodity Trading Advisors (CTAs) managed futures accounts. Instead, the base exposure of the commodity index provides exposure to a broad range of commodities. For example, the Bloomberg Commodity Index tracks the futures price of 22 different commodities within seven categories, including energy, livestock, grains, industrial metals, precious metals, and “soft” commodities. Changes to the composition of the index, with its current composition at time of publication is shown in the chart below, are determined by preset rules rather than a manager’s discretion.


Bloomberg Commodity Index. The pie chart shows the composition of the Bloomberg Commodity Index. Energy is the largest with 29%, followed by Precious Metals at 20%, Base Metal at 17%, Oilseed at 11%, Grains at 10%, Softs at 7%, and Livestock at 6%.

Bloomberg Commodity Index

As of 30 April 2024

Source: Bloomberg

One potential advantage of commodity exposure managed against a diversified index is that commodities are not highly correlated with each other and thus returns should be less volatile than the returns on an individual commodity. Another advantage is that commodity indexes themselves have existed for decades, providing ample historic data for asset allocation studies and research.

In the past, capturing the full benefits of commodity exposure was challenging. Investing in physical commodities – a barrel of oil, a herd of cattle, or a bushel of wheat – is impractical for most, so investors tended to seek commodity exposure either by purchasing commodity-related equities, or through Commodity Trading Advisors (CTAs) via managed commodity futures accounts.

However, these investment strategies may not capture the potential diversification and other benefits of commodity exposure in a portfolio. For example, commodity-related equities will not necessarily reflect changes in the price of commodities. If an oil producer has already sold its supply on a forward basis, the producer’s stock price may not fully benefit from a rise in the price of oil. Commodity-related equity returns can also be affected by the issuer’s financial structure or the performance of unrelated businesses. In fact, commodity-related equities may actually have higher correlations to movements in equities than the commodity market. CTA managed futures accounts also may not provide the benefits of commodity exposure suggested by historical commodity index performance, because these accounts tend to reflect the manager’s skills at selecting the right commodities, at the right time, rather than the inherent returns of the commodity market.

What are the risks?

While diversified commodity exposure can provide investors with several potential benefits, investing in commodities entails risks and may not be appropriate for all investors. Commodities may not perform well during cyclical downturns in the U.S. or global economy. When consumer and industrial demand slows, commodities may also be impacted by market, political, regulatory, and natural conditions. Commodities have historically been about as volatile as the equity market, potentially resulting in periods of underperformance.

Glossary of Key Investment Terms


Unless stated otherwise, information contained herein is as of 30 April 2024. The information may be stale and should not be relied upon.

Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.

All investments contain risk and may lose value. Commodities contain heightened risk, including market, political, regulatory and natural conditions, and may not be appropriate for all investors. Derivatives and commodity-linked derivatives may involve certain costs and risks, such as liquidity, interest rate, market, credit, management and the risk that a position could not be closed when most advantageous. Commodity-linked derivative instruments may involve additional costs and risks such as changes in commodity index volatility or factors affecting a particular industry or commodity, such as drought, floods, weather, livestock disease, embargoes, tariffs and international economic, political and regulatory developments. Investing in derivatives could lose more than the amount invested.

There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are appropriate for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest long-term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. No representation is being made that any account, investment product, or strategy will or is likely to achieve profits, losses, or results similar to those shown. Investors should consult their investment professional prior to making an investment decision.

Bloomberg Commodity Index Total Return is an unmanaged index composed of futures contracts on a number of physical commodities. The index is designed to be a highly liquid and diversified benchmark for commodities as an asset class. The futures exposures of the benchmark are collateralized by US T-bills. The UBS Prompt Commodity Index Total Return is an unmanaged index composed of futures contracts on a number of physical commodities. The objective of the benchmark is to gain exposure to the broad commodity universe while maintaining sufficient liquidity. Commodities were chosen based on world production levels, sufficient open interest, and volume of trading. The index is designed to be a highly liquid and diversified benchmark for commodities as an asset class. The S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (S&P GSCI) is a composite index of commodity sector returns, representing an unleveraged, long-only investment in commodity futures that is broadly diversified across the spectrum of commodities. Inception Date: 12/31/69 It is not possible to directly invest into an unmanaged index.

PIMCO as a general matter provides services to qualified institutions, financial intermediaries and institutional investors. Individual investors should contact their own financial professional to determine the most appropriate investment options for their financial situation. This material contains the opinions of the manager and such opinions are subject to change without notice. This material has been distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission. PIMCO is a trademark of Allianz Asset Management of America LLC in the United States and throughout the world.


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