That’s an uncomfortable place to be. The jury is still out on whether the stimulus plans that have propped up the global markets and lead to the potential for organic growth in the U.S. will kill or cure the global patient. We’re either heading to boom or doom; but which? Growth investors hope the former, while gold bugs hope for the latter.
While I remain agnostic about investing in gold (the metal), in my “Forbes ETF Advisor” newsletter’s Long/Short Portfolio, I currently have a pairing strategy that has me in a 3% position in ProShares Ultrashort Gold GLL -3.81% and a 7% stake in the iShares 20-plus Year Treasurys TLT +0.53% . But I’m not here to talk about gold — as much as I appreciate the many emails that I get when I do — and, moreover, you’ll find other salient takes on that precious metal play in this month’s Trading Strategies.
Instead, here, I’m going to dip into non-glittering, non-glitterati metals and the way to pursue recovery trends that could benefit or hinder investments in them. I’ll also go out on a limb and recommend a correlated play on the recovery theme that is not a metal, but whose performance is driven through and by it.
Now, I’ll admit upfront that rather than make a plug nickel, investing in any non-precious metals has been a grand way to lose money over the several years. And while gold’s luster may be tarnished, it has glittered most of those years. I think that changes: it’s more likely to lose its luster in the face of fundamental evidence for a U.S. recovery, even if it could turn on a dime if a protracted stall or fall materializes. Such a turn would be bad news for the industrial metals that play best on fields of recovery not recession. So, you are forewarned.
While non-precious metals have been upstaged by nearly every other possible investment you could have made, the good news is that such metals prices are not only more attractive today than in the past, but they may also reflect that the worst drops are past rather than present or future. Still, if I didn’t believe in a recovering U.S., and in a recovering U.S. car and housing market (and in the housing recovery you have to think beyond what it takes to build the house to what it takes to make that house a home — like a new aluminum dish washer, washer and dryer), I couldn’t have written this column.
To begin to build a position in industrial metals that may yield better relative upside performance (relative to their own past performance and to gold’s current one) in the coming quarters, I like the following four stakes, equally made and amounting to no more than 10% of a growth trader’s portfolio:
Having written about the ways in which to trade the car market through ETFs that own car makers, car sellers and car financers, there is one wheel left on that vehicle that makes sense: the iPath Pure Beta Aluminum ETN FOIL +0.19% . Aluminum is also part and parcel of aerospace, defense, infrastructure and housing-related themes. And while Alcoa AA +0.24% isn’t forecasting a huge surge in demand, it is forecasting for this year and next a growth rate of around 10%. Ten percent may not penny ante relative to stocks, but relative to bonds and gold, I think you at least have the possibility for price appreciation here.
I have to stop here and talk structure. Not that what I am about to say should influence the trade or trader, but so that you are aware of what you are buying.
The iPath Pure Beta Aluminum is an ETN, a structure that Barclays dominates. An ETN differs from an ETF in that it is a structured product; issued as senior debt notes rather than the underlying commodity.
Besides the market risks that an ETN and ETF share, an ETN also imports credit risk into the mix: if Barclays became insolvent, that bell would toll for its ETNs whereas if an ETF company becomes insolvent, the underlying commodities that it owns in the product does not. Moreover, while traditional commodity indices generally roll into futures contracts based on a pre-determined schedule, Barclays Pure Beta Indices roll, on a monthly basis, into one of a number of futures contracts with varying expiration dates selected using the Barclays Pure Beta methodology which itself is designed to offset the risk of roll yield and futures contract price distortions. Managing that “beta” enables this ETN to differentiate itself from other similar products while delivering equivalent performance potential.
Other non-glittering industrial metal plays I like: the iPath DJ-UBS Pure Beta Copper CUPM -1.22% and the iPath DJ-UBS Pure Lead LEDD +6.78% ETNs. You can’t flash a chimney or roof or build and top a battery without them. Each, following the beta management methodology, may deliver a bit less on the upside, but compared to the traditional commodity contracts plays, have lost significantly less on the downside. Given that I think we’re holding between growth and a slowdown, managing risk takes top trading priority in any commodity, any month, but even more so this month.
And while these ETNs should lose fewer shingles than pure commodity counterparts if ill winds blow, I think the housing recovery, especially the constriction of new homes versus demand for them, mean the place you’ll find all the above connected to and through is timber. The Guggenheim Timber ETF CUT +0.95% . This ETF invests in the stocks of companies that trade and truck wood — from lumber to pulp to paper. You can’t build a home without knocking on three of those doors. And you can’t build a home without metals that stand the test of bad and good times.