Should commodities have a role in your portfolio?

It may depend on your inflation expectations.

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Key takeaways

  • Commodities have been one of the few asset classes to show strong performance in the face of high inflation and rising interest rates this year.
  • Investors who are concerned that future inflation could be worse than expected could consider establishing an allocation to commodities for some protection.
  • That said, because of their history of low long-term returns and high volatility, investors who decide to invest may want to consider keeping any allocations to commodities relatively small and well diversified.

The current bout of inflation we're facing has already defied expectations many times. What was first labeled a "transitory" rate of price increases has proved instead to be persistent—seemingly immune to the Fed's aggressive rate hikes to date.

Few investments have provided much help to investors trying to keep up with this inflation cycle. Major stock and bond indexes have fallen significantly this year. Cash offers little hope of keeping up with rising prices. Even usual inflation hedges like real estate investment trusts (REITs) and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) have struggled to hold their ground. Commodities have been one of the market's few bright spots.

While commodities have historically performed well during most periods of high inflation, it's important to remember they are a unique asset class. Commodities have historically behaved differently from stocks and bonds, including rising and falling at different times (put another way, they tend to have low correlations with traditional investments). Performance of stocks and bonds may depend on considerations like the issuer's business prospects, the current phase of the business cycle, and the current interest-rate environment. Performance of commodities depends more on the supply and demand for the commodity itself—which can be influenced by the economy, but also by weather patterns, production decisions by OPEC, and more.

Compared with traditional asset classes, commodities' performance has been highly volatile, and has often lagged over longer periods. (Read more about the current outlook for commodity prices.) So investors should think carefully about their objectives and risk tolerance before establishing an allocation to the asset class.

Types of commodity investments

Commodities generally fall into 3 categories—energy, metals, and soft commodities. Energy includes oil, natural gas, and more. Metals include precious metals like gold, but also industrial metals like aluminum and copper. And soft commodities include agricultural products like grains, livestock, and coffee.

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A challenge posed by the asset class is that it is neither feasible nor economical to directly invest in commodities (which would entail directly buying barrels of oil and bushels of wheat). Instead, investors generally have 2 options: investing in commodity futures contracts, or investing in shares of commodity-producing companies (like oil producers and gold miners).

Neither of these types of instruments provides perfect price tracking of the day-to-day spot price movements of the underlying commodities. But each can offer some exposure. Performance of futures can reflect both current price movements and expectations for future price movements of the commodities (a futures contract is a contract to buy or sell something at a set price on a set future date). Performance of commodity-related stocks can reflect changes in the commodity's price but also other factors, like macroeconomic conditions and company-specific considerations. (Learn more about the pros and cons of commodity investing.)

While some investors may prefer to choose and manage a portfolio of individual commodity investments themselves, many may be better served by the diversification and liquidity of mutual funds and ETFs (scroll down for the steps to research commodity funds and ETFs on Fidelity.com).

What role in a portfolio?

The appropriate way to think about commodities is as a specific type of insurance, says Larry Rakers, portfolio manager and group leader with Fidelity's Strategic Advisers. "The reason you would consider commodities is that they have often risen in value with rising inflation expectations," he says.

But because their performance has historically lagged stocks and bonds over the long term, commodities may not be an all-weather investment. Naveen Malwal, institutional portfolio manager with Fidelity's Strategic Advisers, notes that for this reason his team doesn't always maintain positions in commodities.

"We believe that a diversified mix of US and international stocks, bonds, and short-term investments can lead to long-term growth in a risk-managed way," he says. "We believe commodities can be helpful at times. But we tend to think of that as a position we take on occasion, as opposed to a foundational position that we always have in a portfolio."

While many investors expect inflation to decline from here, it could always defy expectations yet again by rising or persisting at higher-than-expected levels. In that scenario, an allocation to commodities could provide a benefit. Rakers adds that the asset class can also provide a degree of insurance against geopolitical risk, such as possible escalation of the war in Ukraine putting further pressure on grain and energy prices.

Investors who are concerned about inflation surprises and want to establish an allocation to commodities should think carefully about what type of vehicle to choose. While there are many funds and ETFs that specialize in tracking only one commodity, a fund that offers broad diversification may come with less volatility.

"It is incredibly hard to predict the direction of individual commodities," Malwal says. So if you've decided to add commodities to your portfolio, consider keeping the allocation relatively small, and well diversified.

Finding ideas

Investors interested in establishing a position in commodity-linked investments can research mutual funds and ETFs on Fidelity.com. Below are the results of some illustrative mutual fund and ETF screens (these are not recommendations of Fidelity).

Fidelity mutual funds

  • Fidelity® Select Materials Portfolio ()
  • Fidelity® Global Commodity Stock Fund ()

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

  • Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking Fund ()
  • iShares GSCI Commodity Dynamic Roll Strategy ETF ()
  • iShares S&P GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust ()

How to research commodity funds and ETFs

As mentioned above, before you establish an allocation to commodity-linked investments it's important to consider what type of exposure you're seeking: exposure to changes in commodity prices (via investing in futures) or to shares of commodity producers. An additional consideration may be whether you invest with a traditional mutual fund or with an ETF (learn more about deciding between mutual funds and ETFs).

Research mutual funds
Start with the Fidelity fund screener

Research ETFs
Start with the Fidelity ETF/ETP* Screener

Commodities futures funds

  • Under Quick Criteria, select the dropdown labeled Asset Class and Category
  • Check the Commodities box
  • Click the green View Funds bar

Commodities futures ETFs*

  • On the left-hand navigation bar, look for the heading Basic ETF/ETP Facts
  • Click Asset Class
  • Check the box next to Commodities
  • ETFs will appear to the right

Commodity-related stock funds

  • Under Quick Criteria, select the Asset Class and Category dropdown
  • Scroll down to Sector Equity and click the right-facing arrow to expand the list
  • Select Natural Resources (also select Equity Energy and/or Equity Precious Metals to consider funds with those focuses)
  • Click the green View Funds bar

Commodity-related stock ETFs

  • On the left-hand navigation bar, scroll down until you see Exposures, and click the + sign to expand
  • Click Sector Exposure
  • Select Equity: Materials (also select "Equity: Energy" to consider ETFs that focus on the energy sector)
  • ETFs will appear to the right

As you begin to home in on potential investment candidates, some issues and characteristics to consider include:

  • Whether the fund has broad exposure to a range of commodities or is concentrated
  • Whether the fund aims to track an index or is actively managed
  • The fund's expense ratio and any potential sales charges
  • The investment structure the fund uses to achieve its objectives (such as a trust or limited partnership), which can bring unique risks and tax implications

When examining the fund's track record, don't only focus on the returns level—pay attention to volatility too. Commodities can be an extremely volatile asset class, so it's important to be comfortable with the potential level of price swings before you make an investment.

The Fidelity screeners are research tools provided to help self-directed investors evaluate these types of securities. The criteria and inputs entered are at the sole discretion of the user, and all screens or strategies with preselected criteria (including expert ones) are solely for the convenience of the user. Expert screeners are provided by independent companies not affiliated with Fidelity. Information supplied or obtained from these screeners is for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice or guidance, an offer of or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell securities, or a recommendation or endorsement by Fidelity of any security or investment strategy. Fidelity does not endorse or adopt any particular investment strategy or approach to screening or evaluating stocks, preferred securities, exchange-traded products, or closed-end funds. Fidelity makes no guarantees that information supplied is accurate, complete, or timely, and does not provide any warranties regarding results obtained from its use. Determine which securities are right for you based on your investment objectives, risk tolerance, financial situation, and other individual factors, and reevaluate them on a periodic basis.

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