The Commodity Research Bureau has been publishing its yearbook, an invaluable resource for traders and investors who appreciate historical data, for over 70 years. It is an expensive book and is sold exclusively through the CRB, so don’t expect the Amazon-style discounting that we’ve all become accustomed to. But for your money you get 384 8 ½” x 11” pages chock full of charts and tables. And there’s data on 104 commodities, interest rates, and stock index futures, from aluminum to zinc—including some commodities you may never have heard of.
This is, of course, not a book you read from cover to cover. Personally, I look at the data for commodities in which I am interested and I also scan the book for some “things you should have learned in school (had you been paying attention).” For instance, I—who often make flaxseed whole wheat bread—didn’t know that flaxseed is also called linseed, as in linseed oil, used to finish furniture. Linseed oil is, of course, subjected to chemical treatment and not safe to consume. Flaxseed bread is delicious.
Or think, preferably not too long or hard, about all the varieties of tallow and grease: edible tallow, lard, top white tallow, all beef packer tallow, extra fancy tallow, fancy tallow, bleachable fancy tallow, prime tallow, choice white grease, and yellow grease. Edible tallow products, derived from rendering the fat of cattle, include margarine and cooking oil.
Then there’s fertilizer. The three primary ingredients that fertilizers provide are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Since most farmers don’t make their own fertilizer from manure, bones, and wood ash, they rely on commercially produced ammonia (nitrogen), phosphate rock, and potash. In 2011 U.S. consumption of potash rose 20.4% yy/yr, and imports, primarily from Canada, accounted for 83% of U.S. consumption.
I suppose that since I’m on a food kick here I might as well choose a commodity, corn, that has been in the news of late to illustrate the kind of data the CRB yearbook provides. As Bloomberg reported recently, the price spread between U.S. corn futures for July and December deliveries plunged to a 20-month low as traders bet the biggest annual planting in 75 years will be crimped by drought in Iowa and Illinois.
Most of the corn figures in the CRB yearbook are from 2002 thru 2011. Where appropriate, the data are broken down by month. Tables offer information on the world production of corn or maize, world supply and demand of coarse grains, acreage and supply of corn in the U.S., production of corn (for grain) in the U.S. by state, quarterly supply and disappearance of corn in the U.S., corn production estimates and cash price in the U.S., distribution of corn in the U.S., average cash price of corn (no. 2 yellow) in central Illinois, average cash price of corn (no. 2 yellow) at gulf ports, weekly outstanding export sales and cumulative exports of U.S. corn, average price received by farmers for corn in the U.S., corn price support data in the U.S., U.S. exports of corn by country of destination, stocks of corn (shelled and ear) in the U.S., volume of trading of corn futures in Chicago, and average open interest of corn futures in Chicago. In 2011-12, by the way, the value of the U.S. corn crop was a whopping $76.464 billion.
There’s an astonishing amount of data in the 2012 CRB Commodity Yearbook, a book by the way that is of value not only for commodity traders. Those who are interested in macro trends as well as investors in search of stock ideas could also profit from the careful data collection of the CRB. There’s a lot of meat (and little fat) here.