With many investors looking to expand their portfolios beyond traditional holdings in stocks and bonds, commodities are gaining popularity in portfolios. After all, hard assets represent a dual play on inflation fighting, as well as increasing global demand and populations. Betting on natural resources seems like a win-win for portfolios and funds such as the PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (ARCA:DBC) have exploded in popularity. However, commodities aren't without their set of quirks, especially in the volatility department. Large price movements can be the norm for many of the critical resources we use every day. From crude to corn, all have experienced some wild price swings since we've started trading on futures exchanges.
Since it's one of the most consumed commodities on the planet, it's no surprise that crude oil is also one of the most heavily traded. Coming in a variety of "flavors" or grades, both Brent (NYSE: BNO) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) remain the world's standard varieties. Brent originally got its name from the Brent oilfield in the North Sea and represents roughly two thirds of the world's traded oil supply.
As such, Brent crude prices have had a series of huge gains over the years, as various market forces and shocks have taken hold. For example, when strikes in top producer, Norway, cut production of oil by roughly 250,000 barrels-per-day, Brent surged more than $6 a barrel back in June of this year. That is the fourth largest daily gain in dollar terms since the contracts were launched.
However, to find the biggest jump, we need to go back to Sept. 22, 2008. On that date, the market's anxiety over the U.S. government's $700 billion bailout plan finally took hold and touched off a buying frenzy of safe-haven investments. Crude oil leaped $16.37 that day, for a 15.66% gain.
All that Glitters
Like crude oil, gold is seen as a safe haven for investors in times of trouble. Therefore, it's only natural that its biggest one-day gain came during the depths of the credit crisis. After a series of bad derivatives bets on subprime housing, AIG (NYSE:AIG) received an $85 billion bailout loan from the Federal Reserve after it could not raise enough capital from the private sector. The day before AIG received the emergency measure, 158-year-old investment bank, Lehman Brothers Holdings, filed for bankruptcy.
Overall, panic surged through the markets as investors questioned what financial institution would be next. Gold - which is known for holding its value during times of crisis - rallied. On Sept. 16, 2008, the precious metal jumped $70 during the regular session, topping the previous single-day record of a $64 gain back in January of 1980. In terms of percentage, it was the yellow metal's largest one-day leap since 1999 and the tech crash. That leap made investors in the physically-backed SPDR Gold Shares (ARCA:GLD) quite happy.
As High as a Horse's Eye
Found in everything from batteries to animal feed, corn is another one of the world's most heavily traded and used commodities and, like gold and oil, it has seen some pretty big price spikes. While global financial meltdowns have caused prices for the agricultural staple to spike, the bulk of its gains have come from the weather and supply disruptions.
Some of corn's biggest jumps have come over this past summer as the worst drought in decades crippled main growing regions in the United States and Canada. That drought has kept supplies tight and prices rising. On September 28 of this year, the USDA's crop report showed that stockpiles of the grain shrank to less than 1 billion bushels for the first time in eight years. Those shrinking supplies caused corn prices to jump more than 5.6% on the day. It was corn's biggest rally since July 5 of this year. Not to be outdone, wheat also rose 5.5% that day, as its supplies have been hurt by the record dry weather as well.
The Bottom Line
Commodities can be a volatile bunch. Whether it is due to crisis or supply issues, various global macroeconomic events can cause the prices of these hard assets to surge. The previous examples are just some of the biggest one-day gains natural resources have experienced. Odds are that there will more big gains to come in the future.
At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.