Review of 2015 Commodity ETP Flows


Precious metal ETP outflows cast a shadow in 2015 weighed by the stronger dollar and the indecisiveness of the Fed

2015 will be remembered as one of the most volatile years for commodities, facing the repercussions of a structural slowdown in China, rising geopolitical risks and the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Asset under management (AUM) in commodity ETPs ended the year lower owing to a significant price impact of -20% and a meagre -1% of flows.
Redemptions in gold ETPs were the largest sector contributor to the decline in AUM. In contrast, energy ETPs continued to accumulate assets, as investor inflows surged by 407%, more than offsetting the energy price decline.

etf review of 2015 commodity etp flows1

Commodity flows by sector
Commodity ETP flows during the course of the year were extremely uneven. March, April, June and July experienced outflows of nearly US$2.4bn, while the remaining months saw positive inflows. The second half of the year witnessed a steady rise of inflows into diversified baskets, highlighting investor’s preference for strategic portfolio diversification against a backdrop of multi-year low prices.

Outflows were at their heaviest in March 2015, driven mainly by precious metals. Gold in particular, bore the brunt of the US rate hike speculation after robust jobs numbers sent the US dollar higher. Optimism about the global recovery spurred by monetary easing from China and rising sentiment over Greece’s third bailout package reduced gold’s safe haven status, leading to outflows from precious metal ETPs in June and July.
As speculation of the first US rate hike in years gained precedence and came to fruition in December, outflows from gold ETPs led the pace of declines in precious metal ETPs.

October faced the onslaught of the Volkswagen emission scandal that impacted palladium (known for its use in gasoline auto catalysts) favourably but dented sentiment for platinum (known for its use in diesel auto catalysts). Negative sentiment emanating from the emissions scandal has underlined a clear disconnect between rising auto sales in Europe and US and plunging prices of platinum group metals known for their majority of use in pollution abatement technology.

Energy ETPs accounted for majority of the outflows in April and May, owing to profit taking and uncertainty over the potential ramp up of oil production from Iran. Furthermore OPECs affirmation of its production ceiling of 30mn barrels per day added to withdrawals from energy ETPs in June.
Speculation over production cuts by OPEC and downward revisions in oil output gained precedence in August, driving consistent positive energy ETP flows.

etf review of 2015 commodity etp flows2

Interestingly, global production cuts by miners, coupled with an 18% rise in copper imports by China in September buoyed sentiment towards copper in H2 2015. In October a rise in outflows from short copper ETPs marked the most aggressive cut in short ETP positions since June 2014.

Vagaries of oil ETP flows vs price
Oil flows fluctuated over the course of the year, with bargain hunters building positions during oil price corrections.
Outflows from WTI and Brent crude oil ETPs occurred from April to June after a build-up of positions in the first quarter of 2015, as oil prices rallied. Mid- year we again saw bargain hunters drive inflows into energy ETPs, despite the overhang of an oversupplied market and the prospect of the Iranian nuclear deal being approved. The WTI- Brent spread moved wider over the H2 of 2015, reaching nearly US$8/bbl in late August/early September. The spread widened partly due to reduced Libyan supply resulting from unrest and escalations of tension in Syria spurring investors to take bullish bets on Brent crude.
September was the only month that saw contrasting flows in Brent and WTI crude. Steep price declines in the last quarter of 2015 saw investors continue to pour funds into energy ETPs.

etf review of 2015 commodity etp flows3

Broad commodity ETP Flows
With hopes pinned on a turn in the commodity cycle, we saw 50% rise in net flows head to broad diversified basket ETPs.
In terms of broad sector commodity ETP flows, the contrast between 2014 and 2015 is striking. Precious metal and energy ETP flows more than outpaced the prior year. It has to be noted that energy ETP creations rose by 147% in 2015.
Meanwhile, industrial metal ETP flows fell by 210% compared to 2014, owing to concerns surrounding a slowing Chinese economy.

etf review of 2015 commodity etp flows3

etf review of 2015 commodity etp flows5

Few commodities were able to escape the global commodity market rout in 2015 and most of those that did saw price increases due to the positive effects of the El Nino-related weather problems. Agricultural commodities led by cocoa, cotton and sugar earned the top spots on the league table for best performing commodities in 2015. Sugar recorded a price rise of 32% from 23 Sep 2015 to the end of the year owing to the ongoing wet weather in Brazil, the El-Nino related drought in India in the summer and production problems in Thailand.
On the other hand the strong El-Nino was responsible for the record warm December experienced across the United States and Europe and added to downward price pressure in the energy sector in the second half of 2015.

Stock-exchange traded turnover in commodity ETPs started the year at a record high of US $4.6bn with energy ETPs remaining the key driver. This level tapered off over the year and peaked again in July owing largely to precious metal ETPs. Gold suffered the largest turnover as market sentiment towards the yellow metal started to wane in response to rising lead indicators of growth in US and Europe coupled with net long positioning in gold falling to its lowest level since June 2013.

etf review of 2015 commodity etp flows6

Aneeka Gupta – Commodity and Equity Strategist – ETF Securities