What Are Commodities?

Do you ever think about what goes into that cup of coffee you reach for every morning? What about the gas that you use to fill up your tank every week? Most of us never realize it, but virtually all of the goods begin with commodities.

Commodities are an extremely important part of the financial market. That's because they are essential for producers and manufacturers. A commodity is essentially a basic product or raw material used to make all the goods and services that we need in our everyday lives.

There are a wide array of commodities, including oil, gas, coffee, soybeans, and rice. These commodities are traded on commodity exchanges around the world such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), the London Metals Exchange, and the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). Investing in commodities provides investors with a way to diversify their portfolios, especially during times of market volatility.

Want to learn more about this unique part of the market? Keep reading to find out more about the different types of commodities, their price structures, and who sets them on the market.

Key Takeaways

  • Commodities come in many forms, including grains, energy products, and metals.
  • Prices change as economic events unfold and trigger waves of buying and selling.
  • Traders generally don't buy and sell physical commodities.
  • Commodities trade in the cash or spot market, and on organized exchanges as futures contracts.
  • Commodities futures trade on exchanges and are used for speculation and hedging.

Types of Commodities

Since commodities are traded on exchanges, their prices aren't set by a single individual or entity. In fact, there are many economic factors and different catalysts that affect and move their prices each day.

Just like equity securities, commodity prices are primarily determined by the forces of supply and demand in the market. For example, if the supply of oil increases, the price of one barrel decreases. Conversely, if demand for oil increases (which often happens during the summer), the price rises. Gasoline and natural gas fall into the energy commodities category.

Weather plays an extremely significant role in price changes for crop-related or agricultural commodities, especially in the short term. If the weather affects supplies in a certain region, it has a direct impact on that commodity's price. Commodities that fit into this category include corn, soybeans, and wheat. Cotton, coffee, and rice are referred to as soft commodities.

Gold is one of the most actively traded commodities because it is used to produce jewelry and other goods. But is also considered to be a worthwhile, long-term investment. Silver and copper are other examples of commodities in the metals group.

Livestock is another group of commodities. This category includes live animals, such as hogs, and cattle.

Spot vs. Futures Price

Commodities are traded via futures contracts on exchanges. These contracts obligate the holder to buy or sell a commodity at a predetermined price on a delivery date in the future. Not all futures contracts are the same. In fact, their details differ depending on the commodity being traded.

The market price of a commodity that is quoted in the media is often its market futures price. The futures price is different than the spot price or cash price, which is the actual price for the commodity today. For example, if an oil refiner buys 10,000 barrels of oil for $50 per barrel from an oil producer, $50 per barrel is the spot price. The futures price can be more or less than the spot price at any given moment.

Many traders use commodity futures to speculate on future price movements. They generally don't trade the physical commodities themselves. That's because buying barrels of crude or bushels of wheat isn't practical. These investors analyze market activity and chart patterns to speculate on future supply and demand. They subsequently enter long or short futures positions depending on which direction supply and demand move prices.

Speculators are distinct from hedgers, who are often the end-users seeking to protect interests in the commodity by selling or purchasing futures contracts. If a soybean farmer thinks prices will fall over the next six months, they can hedge their crops by selling soybean futures today. Hedgers and speculators collectively represent much of the buying and selling interest in commodities futures, making them important parties in determining commodities prices from one day to the next.

Investors can also purchase stocks in companies that deal in commodities, such as energy companies or mining corporations.

Commodity Pricing FAQs 

What Are Some Examples of a Commodity?

Commodities come in many different forms. Examples of energy commodities include oil, natural gas, and gasoline. Commodities also include crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat, Soft commodities are part of a different category altogether and include things like cotton, coffee, and rice.

What Factors Affect the Price of Commodities Most?

Supply and demand play a big role in the way commodities are priced in the market. When supply is low, demand is high, which leads to higher prices. Prices drop when the situation reverses—when supply is high and demand is low.

What Are Commodity Prices in Economics?

The price of commodities is quoted in two different ways. The first is the market or the market futures price, which is the price reported in the news. The spot price, on the other hand, is the cash price of commodities. This is what traders actually for the commodity on the day of purchase.

How Do You Start Trading Commodities?

Investors can begin trading commodities in several ways. Speculators can trade commodities futures that trade on several major commodities exchanges. Those who aren't familiar with how futures work can opt for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or the stocks of companies involved with commodities, such as energy or gold mining companies.