Commodity ETFs or ETCs
Commodity ETFs invest in commodities, such as precious metals and futures. Among the first commodity ETFs were gold exchange-traded funds, which have been offered in a number of countries. The idea of a Gold ETF was first officially conceptualised by Benchmark Asset Management Company Private Ltd in India when they filed a proposal with the SEBI in May 2002. The first gold exchange-traded fund was Gold Bullion Securities launched on the ASX in 2003, and the first silver exchange-traded fund was iShares Silver Trust launched on the NYSE in 2006.
However, generally commodity ETFs are index funds tracking non-security indexes. Because they do not invest in securities, commodity ETFs are not regulated as investment companies under the Investment Company Act of 1940 in the United States, although their public offering is subject to SEC review and they need an SEC no-action letter under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. They may, however, be subject to regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Exchange-traded commodities (ETCs) are investment vehicles (asset backed bonds, fully collateralised) that track the performance of an underlying commodity index including total return indices based on a single commodity. Similar to ETFs and traded and settled exactly like normal shares on their own dedicated segment, ETCs have market maker support with guaranteed liquidity, enabling investors to gain exposure to commodities, on-Exchange, during market hours.
The earliest commodity ETFs (e.g. GLD and SLV) actually owned the physical commodity (e.g. gold and silver bars). Similar to these are NYSE: PALL (palladium) and NYSE: PPLT (platinum). However, most ETCs implement a futures trading strategy, which may produce quite different results from owning the commodity.
Commodity ETFs trade just like shares, are simple and efficient and provide exposure to an ever-increasing range of commodities and commodity indices, including energy, metals, softs and agriculture. However, it is important for an investor to realize that there are often other factors that affect the price of a commodity ETF that might not be immediately apparent. For example, buyers of an oil ETF such as USO might think that as long as oil goes up, they will profit roughly linearly. What isn't clear to the novice investor is the method by which these funds gain exposure to their underlying commodities. In the case of many commodity funds, they simply roll so-called front-month futures contracts from month to month. This does give exposure to the commodity, but subjects the investor to risks involved in different prices along the term structure, such as a high cost to roll.