The last contrarian play? Investors look to commodities as oil and gold rally

09 Sep 2013 | 12:29
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Investment Week

As concerns over the Syria crisis persist, oil and gold prices have risen, prompting investors to look at commodities as “the only contrarian play left in the market”.

WTI Crude oil is currently trading at $108.5 per barrel and Brent has shot up to $115.6, while gold topped the $1,400 mark last week to enter a new bull market.  

The last contrarian play?

The Thomson Reuters/Jefferies CRB Commodity index has climbed more than 6% from its June trough, up from 275.6 on 28 June to 292.7 on 3 September.

Flows data from BofA Merrill Lynch shows investors have begun cautiously returning to commodities in the two weeks to 28 August, after 27 straight weeks of redemptions.

Ardevora’s Jeremy Lang, who manages the group’s UK Income fund, is looking to add to his oil holdings, which only make up a small part of his portfolio.

“Oil does well when everything else does badly and seems to be relatively insensitive to bad news, but very sensitive to good news,” he said. “We already hold 5% of the fund in Royal Dutch Shell, and we are currently picking through the sector to find good buys.”

Pictet Asset Management has also shifted its house view on oil to overweight, driven by tensions in the Middle East, supply disruptions in Nigeria, Libya, and Iraq, as well as stronger global economic growth.

Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet, said: “Commodities stood out as the best-performing asset class in August, with oil and gold witnessing a strong rebound as tensions between Damascus and Washington escalated.”

Traditional safe havens in the form of US treasuries and the dollar have also benefited as investors sought safety in the face of macro uncertainty and the threat of Western military intervention in Syria.

Holding these assets as well as oil, gold, and energy companies is the right call in this environment, according to Psigma Investment Management’s CIO Tom Becket.

“If the Syria crisis spirals out of control, which is possible, and creates further shockwaves in the Arab world, then holding these assets will be very sensible,” he said.

Ben Willis, head of research at Whitechurch Securities, said he is considering investing in unloved commodities again as a contrarian trade.

“Commodities are the only true contrarian play left in the market,” he said. “We are tempted to go in early, but we still have not made a decision.”

His first choice would be the BlackRock World Mining trust, which is already held in some of the firm’s legacy aggressive portfolios and generates a 4% yield.

Willis holds the Artemis Global Energy fund but said so far this call has not paid off. The energy sector is not especially attractive, he added, as it does not reflect the rising oil price.

Other investors are looking to access the story through other routes, as well as the market’s best known unit trusts.

James Calder, research director at City Asset Management, said he is looking at structured products offering exposure to oil for his more aggressive portfolios, and already has a small allocation to the Artemis fund.

Last week, veteran investor Jim Rogers, a longtime commodity bull, told Reuters he expects the turmoil in the Middle East to boost asset prices.

“I own oil, I own gold,” he said. “If there is going to be a war, and it sounds like America is desperate to have a war, they are going much, much higher.”

Brent Crude oil price

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Categories: InvestmentCommodities

Topics: Merrill lynchUkRoyal dutch shellPictetPsigmaWhitechurch securitiesBlackrockArtemisCity asset managementGoldOil

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