Monday, July 18, 2011

The CRB Commodity Yearbook 2011

Commodity traders, especially those who trade at least in part on fundamentals, recognize that the CRB commodity yearbooks are an invaluable resource. No, they don’t come cheap, and now that they are sold exclusively through the Commodity Research Bureau they are even pricier. But consider what you get for your money: 384 8 ½” x 11” pages, most filled with charts and tables (over 900 in all).

If I counted correctly, the yearbook covers 104 commodities, from aluminum to zinc. In addition to the exchange-traded commodities we’re all familiar with, there is somewhat perfunctory introductory information and data on such products as cassava, castor beans, eggs, honey, lard, plastics, rayon, and tallow and greases.

I happen to be fond of tapioca, whose primary source is cassava. So I was a tad distressed to learn that “one problem with cassava is the poisonous cyanides, which need to be destroyed before consumption.” At least we don’t eat castor beans (though there is the dreaded castor oil) since the potent toxin ricin is found naturally in them. But did you know that, according to the USDA, “a diet of whole milk and potatoes would supply almost all of the food elements necessary for the maintenance of the human body”? And those who think that onions add to the flavor of food paid for their culinary opinion last year: average onion prices in 2010 were up 108.3% over the 2009 level.

These tidbits of information are not actionable for a trader, but the massive amount of data in the yearbook, most covering the decade from January 2001 through December 2010, certainly should be. Where seasonal factors have an impact on commodity prices, there are monthly data. Otherwise the tables offer detailed yearly data.

Consider, for example, cotton, which was on a tear in 2010. The yearbook devotes eight pages to the commodity and provides the following tables (most covering a decade): supply and distribution of all cotton in the United States; world production of all cotton; world stocks and trade of cotton; world consumption of all cottons in specified countries; average spot cotton prices, C.I.F. Northern Europe; average producer price index of gray cotton broadwovens; average price of SLM 1 1/16”, cotton/5 at designated U.S. markets; average spot cotton, 1 3/32”, price (SLM) at designated U.S. markets; average spot prices of U.S. cotton, base quality (SLM) at designated markets; average price received by farmers for upland cotton in the United States; purchases reported by exchanged in designated U.S. spot markets; production of cotton (upland and American-pima) in the United States; cotton production and yield estimates; supply and distribution of upland cotton in the United States; average open interest of cotton #2 futures in New York; volume of trading of cotton #2 futures in New York; daily rate of upland cotton mill consumption on cotton-system spinning spindles in the United States; consumption of American and foreign cotton in the United States; exports of all cotton from the United States; U.S. exports of American cotton to countries of destination; cotton government loan program in the United States; production of cotton cloth in the United States; cotton ginnings in the United States; fiber prices in the United States. Whew!

Is the CRB commodity yearbook essential for those who trade technically? No. Could their trading be improved by including some fundamental data? Most likely. At the very least, the yearbook provides fodder for hypothesis generation. And for macro traders, even those who may not always be in the commodity markets, it’s a treasure trove of leads. It’s a book I know I will return to again and again.

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