Investors have rejoiced in the rebound of the U.S. equity markets this year, but the real winners have been those who were bullish on commodities as the markets bottomed. Hopes of a steady recovery, consistent downward pressure on the dollar, and even strikes at major South American mines have sent prices for metals used in industrial and manufacturing operations skyrocketing in recent months. Copper has been one of the bast performers: the iPath Dow Jones-UBS Copper Total Return ETN (JJC) has gained more than 100% for the year.
But the significant rise in copper prices has been based largely on expectations for increases in demand that are yet to materialize. Global demand has remained weak, and warehouse inventories have been steadily rising as a result. Moreover, demand for new houses, a critical driver of copper demand due to the need for extensive wiring, is showing signs of sustained weakness.
Opinions on where copper will go from here are mixed. Some industry experts believe prices will continue rising through 2011, while others think a downward correction could be just around the corner. Prices have doubled on strong demand from resource-hungry China, but still remain below year-ago levels on relatively weak domestic demand. “The demand for goods is still very soft; the United States economy is just barely recovering,” Allen Sinai, president of Decision Economics, told the New York Times. “In a weak economy where consumer spending is weak, businesses have been slashing left and right. This surprisingly deflationary result reflects that.”
ETF Plays On Copper
For investors looking to make a play on copper prices, JJC is one of the best options available. This exchange-traded note is linked to an index composed of futures contracts on the commodity. JJC has an average daily volume of about 100,000 shares and an expense ratio of 0.75%, making it a highly liquid, relatively inexpensive way to gain exposure to copper prices.
In addition to JJC, there are a number of ETFs that offer exposure to copper prices as part of a diversified basket of metals, including:
- iPath Dow Jones-UBS Industrial Metals ETF (JJM): Invests in copper (44.1%), aluminum (26.8%), zinc (15.5%), and nickel (13.6%).
- PowerShares DB Base Metals Fund (DBB): Invests in zinc (currently 41%), copper (38%), and aluminum (20.9%), with a base weighting of 33.3% for each metal.
- ELEMENTS RICI Metals Total Return ETN (RJZ): Invests in ten different precious and industrial metals, including copper.
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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.