As our global population continues to grow, our demand for the planet's various natural resources continues to surge as well. To that end, we've developed a complex system of futures, options and spot-price markets in order to allow standardization among producers as well as facilitate their production toward end-users. Investors have increasingly turned toward these markets and funds like the iShares S&P GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust (NYSE:GSG) that track them as a way to profit from changing prices.
However, while various commodity exchanges exist for the hard assets like corn, crude oil and copper, there are plenty of other commonly used natural resources that are not featured in bourses like the CME. Here is a look at some of the bigger and more interesting non-tradable natural resources.
Used for both jewelry and industrial purposes - such as mining, medicine and technology - the world's diamond market continues to grow as demand has surged from all sides. Investors have flocked to the gemstone's rarity and precious nature, while various industrial applications have been drawn to its physical properties. Yet, diamonds can't be bought and sold on the various commodities bourses like the Intercontinental Exchange. Anybody who has purchased an engagement ring can answer the question why.
The gems' "Four C's"- carat, color, clarity and cut - allow for each stone to be different. When it comes to grading, the diamond industry allows for a certain amount of tolerance or margin of error. As such, different diamond dealers may put different prices on the same stone, and that gap between what a dealer will buy a stone for, and what he is willing to charge to sell it, can be very wide. Simply put, diamonds lack a key characteristic of all commodities: fungibility. Fungibility basically means there's little differentiation between one unit of a given commodity and another unit. Diamonds simply lack this characteristic and therefore cannot be traded on an exchange.
While carbon credits can be traded as way to control pollution and toxic emissions, actual carbon dioxide isn't avalible on an exchange. However, the gas is used in the food industry and across various chemical processes, with the biggest demand for the gas coming from the energy industry.
As various producers try to get every last drop out of legacy wells, carbon dioxide is being used in enhanced oil recovery. The gas is injected into producing oil wells and acts as both a pressurizing agent as well as solvent; this reduces oil's viscosity and helps it flow more rapidly. Using the gas, producers such as Denbury Resources (NYSE:DNR) are able to increase original oil recovery by 7 to 23% per well. Yet, despite rising demand from the energy sector, carbon dioxide futures remain absent from our futures exchanges.
There's nothing better than a eating a tomato fresh out of the garden and it seems like more and more people are enjoying them. Overall, global production for tomatoes has risen by 291% since 1961. Yet, demand for the humble fruit has continued to surge ahead of these production gains and is set to grow exponentially, as more emerging-market nations begin eating western-style diets. However, despite its growing prominence, tomatoes aren't available for exchange tradability.
A perfect exmaple of the fruit's popularity is China. Despite its own rising production, the nation is still not meeting its own demand and tomatoes are one of the most heavily imported/exported crops on the planet. However, with tons of species variation, the fruit remains absent from futures pricing.
Also surprisingly absent from tradability are agricultural commodities such as eggs, lemons and potatoes; and while New York City features a prominent floral district, fresh and cut flowers can't be traded via exchanges, either. Although, that might be a good thing, given the tulip bulb craze and crash of the 1630s.
The Bottom Line
The various exchanges fulfill the necessary role of bringing producers, end-users and investors together in order to facilitate trade of various natural resources. However, not all commodities are available to be traded. As we've seen there are some pretty surprising members on that list.
At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.