Thursday, April 1, 2010

Diversify by investing in grains

On Monday, Hard Assets Investor published another article of mine, the premise of this one is that it turns out Grains (Corn, Oats, Rice, Soybeans, Wheat) have fundamentally NO correlation with the broader stock market. This makes them an excellent candidate for investors seeking true diversification.
When I say "true" diversification, what I mean is that most investors' idea of diversification is owning lots of different types of stock, and maybe a few bonds. The problem is that stocks (and even bonds, depending on which ones you own) tend to have high co-correlations. That is, if the share price of Coca-Cola suddenly bottoms out, you can bet that a lot of other companies will as well. If interest rates go up at some point ever in the future (I know, ridiculous right?), all other factors being equal, the entire stock market will go down. Lot of good your owning stocks in different industries does you then.
The traditional view has long been that you should own some combination of stocks, bonds, and cash or money-market funds, weighted depending upon your risk tolerance and age. The problem is that with those three categories its nearly impossible to diversify within your risk tolerance. That is, stocks are riskier than bonds are riskier than cash.
That said, commodities provide just as much risk (and upside) as stocks while, as my research demonstrates, offering little to no correlation with the broader market, depending upon which commodities you invest in (i.e. not oil or gold).
You all know my issues with Commodities ETFs, but if you're purely looking for diversification, an ETF that holds a big basket of different grains might be the way to go. Personally though, if you have an account with a futures brokerage I always prefer owning the contracts directly.

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