By Ben Strubel
This week’s Dumb Investment of the Week is commodity funds. Commodities are physical products such as corn, oil, or sugar. Commodity investments only used to be a way that Wall Street parted institutional investors from their money, but over the past decade banks have been increasingly targeting individual investors either directly or through financial advisors, brokers, and mutual fund companies.
Prior to 2000, commodity markets were strictly regulated. Then, in 2000, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was passed which, among other things, did away with position limits in commodities markets. While commodity index funds have existed since 1991, it wasn’t until recently that they became popular and could handle large inflows of funds. In 2003, several academics published research showing that commodities did not have strong correlations with other asset classes like stocks, bonds, or real estate. Wall Street, never having met a fee-generating idea it didn’t like, seized on this research and began creating and selling commodity index funds to retail and institutional investors. Over the better part of the next decade, $350B flowed to newly created commodity funds.