Copper is more than the main ingredient in wire and gold is more than what we wear on our fingers and around our necks. These commodities, along with others like oil and grains, are used by investors to gauge the health and short-term direction of the market, but how does it work? What do commodity prices tell us that we can use as traders?

SEE: Commodities That Move The Markets

Gold is the best-known commodity because it appeals to investors and non-investors alike. Consumers may not think of gold as an investible product, but the story of gold is actually complicated. Not only does it serve as a commodity, but also as a currency. In the latter part of 2011 and into 2012, it has taken on the behavior of a stock often mirroring the overall market.
Traditionally, gold tends to move in the direction opposite the market. Investors use gold as a market hedge, dumping money into the commodity when the market is trending lower. In times when it is acting like a commodity, investors watch gold closely. When they see money pouring into GLD, the ETF that tracks the performance of gold or gold futures markets, they believe that a market downturn may close at hand.

Copper doesn't have the allure of gold since it's a base metal used largely for industrial purposes, but that doesn't change the fact that investors watch it closely for hints of the overall market sentiment. Because Copper is an industrial metal, investors use it as a way to gauge the health of the manufacturing and housing sectors of the world's economies.

Investors also use Copper as a way to gauge trader sentiment. When copper is rising, some see that as investors having an appetite for risky assets, since Copper is known as a volatile commodity. When copper loses value, it may indicate that investors are selling risky assets and a market correction may be imminent.

If gold is the best-known commodity, oil isn't far behind. Oil, and the way it is priced and traded, become talking points around water coolers and on the news, particularly when the price of gas is rising; but savvy investors know that oil has a big effect on the stock market.

Since somebody's win is always somebody else's loss, oil can only go up so much before stocks begin to feel the pinch. The Wall Street Journal reports that the recent oil rally has caused transportation stocks to come under pressure and this will cause consumers to stop spending, if the rally continues. As oil rallies, those not invested in oil and energy stocks quickly become defensive.

Not That Simple
If investors could look at the performance of these commodities and gauge the movement of the market, then everybody would be rich, so it must not be that simple. In fact, many experts believe that other factors, such as ETFs, have an artificial impact on the price of commodities. The SPDR Gold ETF has a market cap of $60 billion and holds gold in its London vault equal to the value of the fund. With this amount of gold out of circulation, that may drive the price of gold up.

In 2008, oil speculators were blamed en masse for the run-up of oil prices, but others claim that with the massive amounts of money pouring into commodity markets, such as oil, a few large investors making predictions about the future direction of a commodity could artificially move the price. All of these factors combine to make analyzing moves in commodities an educated guess that can only be used in combination with other factors.

The Bottom Line
Although commodities may not move based strictly on supply and demand, investors use their price movements to gauge the overall sentiment of the market and make short-term decisions of where the market may go. Start watching these commodities and see if they predict the market corrections that are sure to come.

SEE: Commodity Investing 101

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