The Five Minute Guide to Cocoa ETFs

There may be no words to adequately describe what a chocoholic feels as he or she indulges their taste for anything and everything chocolate. Now, thanks to advancements made in the investment markets, chocoholics and anyone else can make money from the global craze for chocolate through an investment in cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate.

Not so many years ago, obscure commodities such as cocoa could only be accessed by sophisticated investors through the futures market. But now the average investor can invest into cocoa and many other commodities through the use exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and exchange-traded notes (ETNs) [for more ETF news and analysis subscribe to our free newsletter].

Cocoa 101

It is believed the cocoa tree originated in South America and that it was first made a domesticated crop by the Mayans. Since then planting of cocoa trees has spread and today is grown in many of the tropical regions of the world. The largest cocoa producing countries today are the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia, although cocoa growing is making a comeback in Brazil. The largest buyers of cocoa are, of course, the chocolate companies such as Nestle, Mars and Kraft (Cadbury).

The two largest producers of cocoa – Ivory Coast and Ghana – are located in western Africa and account for 40% and 30% percent of global supply respectively for a total of 70%. Therefore, what happens in these two countries pretty much determines the price of cocoa around the globe. Weather obviously is a major factor. Too much rain can cause black pod disease while too much dry wind from the Sahara Desert (harmattan) can also cause problems [see also 50 Ways To Invest In Agriculture].

Then there are also political problems in that region of the globe. In 2010 and 2011, cocoa soared to record highs on the back of the civil war which was occurring in the Ivory Coast. Although the civil war there is over, concerns persist as the country reforms its trading and pricing of cocoa exports.

Sweet Investments

For those looking to make a play on this soft commodity, the iPath Dow Jones-UBS Cocoa Subindex Total Return ETN (NIB) is one of the most popular options. The index is set up to reflect the returns that are available through an unleveraged investment in a cocoa futures contract. Investors should keep several things in mind about this ETN. NIB will not exactly replicate the movement of global spot cocoa prices, but rather the performance of a futures-based strategy. That means returns can be affected by the slope of the futures curve and also the level of interest rates (The cash collateral is invested into U.S. Treasury bills). In addition, an ETN is a debt instrument, so there is there the credit risk of the issuer to consider, in this case Barclays Bank [see also Invest Like Jim Rogers With These Three Agriculture Stocks].  

A second exchange traded note based on cocoa one could consider is also from iPath. It is the iPath Pure Beta Cocoa ETN (CHOC) and once again the index is intended to reflect the returns available to investors through an unleveraged investment in cocoa futures contracts. CHOC is similar to NIB in the fact that it is also a debt instrument of Barclays Bank and the cash collateral of the ETN is once again invested into Treasury bills.

However, there is a big discrepancy between the two ETNs. The difference is in the futures rollover strategy used which Barclays believes will help it to mitigate the effects of contango and backwardation. Most commodity indexes roll their exposure to the corresponding futures contract on a monthly basis on a pre-set schedule. The particular index CHOC is based can roll into a number of different cocoa futures contracts with varying expiration dates, as selected by using Barlcays’ proprietary Capital Pure Beta Series 2 Methodology [see also Four Commodities To Buy Before Roubini’s “Perfect Storm”].

Additionally, investors can gain at least some exposure to cocoa through other broader-based ETNs and ETFs. The first investment happens to be the most popular and most liquid agricultural ETF, the PowerShares DB Agriculture Fund (DBA) which has 10% of the portfolio in cocoa futures. PowerShares also offers an ETN with a similar portfolio allocation to cocoa, the DB Agriculture Long ETN (AGF).

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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.

About Tony Daltorio

Tony, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, contributes articles regularly to CommodityHQ. He has spent nearly three decades in the inestment business, including 17 years working with retail clients at Charles Schwab giving him insight to the average investor. For the past handful of years, Tony has written numerous articles, with an emphasis on commodities and emerging markets, for many of the best investing sites for retail investors including Investopedia, Seeking Alpha, Investment U, the OIl and Gas Investments newsletter and the Motley Fool Blog Network.
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