The commodities market is one that is truly global in scope. Individual companies, even ones that operate worldwide, can only affect so much, whereas commodity supply and demand can change the fortunes of entire nations.
Commodities are a bit of an oddity in that they generally have low correlation to stocks, bonds, and currencies. The latter — currencies — has arguably the strongest relationship with commodities. Over the past couple of years, commodities have been the worst-performing asset class, while the U.S. dollar has been hitting all-time highs.
But that’s not the only relationship they share. Countries that rely heavily on commodity-based exports such as oil or precious metals have a currency that is tied to the price of the underlying commodity. As worldwide demand for a commodity rises and falls, so too does that country’s currency, giving rise to complex trading patterns, such as carry trades and other types of strategies, used by institutional investors.
Countries and Their Commodity Lifeblood
Emerging market economies usually rely on commodity exports more heavily than developed economies, giving their currencies more volatility than others. Government intervention is fairly commonplace as well, with many companies operating under state ownership. This is done so that the supply of the commodity can be regulated in order to stabilize the local currency rather than leave its value up to the forces of the global financial marketplace.
America’s northern neighbor has one of the most commonly traded currencies that’s based off of a commodity: oil. Canada’s oil industry has historically been one of its biggest exports. Although it has slipped recently, it still makes up around 6.4% of total global crude oil exports. The impact of low oil prices has had a negative effect on the Canadian dollar as well, hurting Canadian imports and causing the local currency to fall out of favor in return for the U.S. dollar.
Chile is the world’s largest copper producer with mine production hitting 5.7 million metric tonnes in 2015 — more than the next four countries combined. State-owned Codelco is the largest copper producing company in the world, beating out the largest publicly traded company, Freeport McMoRan, by roughly 350 thousand metric tonnes as well.
Like Canada, Australia can’t be counted as an emerging market economy, but it’s rich in a variety of natural resources that impact the value of the Australian dollar. Iron and gold tend to be the largest mineral influences, while soft commodities such as grain and livestock make up a large chunk of Australia’s exports as well.
Other countries have a strong relationship with their currency and a particular commodity for different reasons. Countries that rely heavily on importing a commodity, such as Japan’s dependence on foreign oil, means that the yen behaves partly inverse to oil. As oil prices drop, the yen often rises, and vice versa. Investors need to keep in mind how a currency is influenced when investing in either commodities or currencies and understand how each behaves when the other moves up or down.