2022’s Stores of Value: Gold, Oil and Grains
Gold, Oil and Grains Emerge as 2022’s Stores of Value
2022 started off with a slump for equity and cryptocurrency prices, but real assets like gold, crude oil, and agricultural commodities have more than held their dollar value.
Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in extreme uncertainty over energy and raw material exports from both nations, commodities had already started to outperform other assets.
This graphic looks at how five key assets have performed in 2022 thus far, comparing the prices of WTI crude oil, the Invesco DB Agriculture Fund, gold, the S&P 500, and bitcoin.
Commodities Surge to Start off 2022
Just a few months into 2022 and commodities have already surged by double digits while nearly every other asset class has struggled to hold its value. Equity indices have continued to slide downwards from their all-time highs set in January of this year, with the S&P 500 down 13.4% from its all-time high.
Although the Energy sector of the S&P 500 is up 33.4% and the Information Technology sector is down 18.9% YTD, tech makes up more than a quarter of the index at 28.1% while Energy only makes up 3.7%. Other speculative tech assets like bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have also significantly drawn down in 2022, with bitcoin down 16.3% and the total crypto sector’s market cap down by 22.4%.
|Asset||2021 Performance||2022 Performance YTD|
|WTI Crude Oil||+56.4%||+34.4%|
|Invesco DB Agriculture Fund||+22.4%||+10.4%|
Prices as of March 14, 2022
In the meantime, commodity investors have seen record-breaking rallies and volatility, especially in the energy and agricultural sectors. Crude oil is already up 34.4% in 2022 after WTI Crude reached highs of $129 a barrel, and the Invesco DB Agriculture fund which tracks wheat, corn, soybeans, and other agricultural commodities is up 10.4% YTD.
Gold Recovers 2021’s Losses as Rate Hike Looms
While 2021 saw metals and energy prices surge, precious metals like gold and silver lagged behind the pack with negative returns. However, the Fed’s suggestion of raising interest rates has seen investors move out of speculative growth assets and into gold which has historically outperformed other assets in tightening cycles.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also spurred investors towards gold in a flight to safety, with the yellow metal’s price rallying by more than six percent in February, the month of the invasion.
As Russia is cut off and cuts itself off from trade with the U.S. and other Western countries, a new trade system with China that primarily uses gold-backed settlement akin to the petroyuan could push gold prices even higher.
Sanctions and Supply Shocks Fuel Crude Oil and Wheat Rallies
Not long after the U.S. announced sanctions against Russia alongside the European Union and G7 nations, Russia immediately responded with comprehensive export bans against 48 different countries including the U.S. and the EU.
Currently, Russia is one of the biggest crude oil exporters in the world and exported around 4.7 million barrels of crude oil a day for a total export value of $110 billion in 2021.
Agriculture and specifically wheat prices have also surged as the invasion began, as both Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s biggest wheat exporters. As a result of the uncertainty around these vital agricultural exports, wheat prices have skyrocketed nearly 40% over the past two months, and Russia has added fuel to the fire with a temporary grain export ban against ex-Soviet nations.
While the start of 2022 has seen a sizable shift in value towards commodities, we’ll see if these prices stabilize while stocks and crypto recover, or if this year is the beginning of a new commodity supercycle.
Visualized: Real Interest Rates by Country
Currently, over half of the major economies have negative real interest rates.
Visualized: Real Interest Rates of Major World Economies
Interest rates play a crucial role in the economy because they affect consumers, businesses, and investors alike.
They can have significant implications for people’s ability to access credit, manage debts, and buy more expensive goods such as cars and houses.
This graphic uses data from Infinity Asset Management to visualize the real interest rates (ex ante) of 40 major world economies, by subtracting projected inflation over the next 12 months from current nominal rates.
Nominal Interest Rates vs. Real Interest Rates
Nominal interest rates refer to the rate at which money can be borrowed or lent at face value, without considering any other factors like inflation.
Meanwhile, the real interest rate is the nominal interest rate after taking into account inflation, reflecting the true cost of borrowing or lending. Real interest rates can fluctuate over time and are influenced by various factors such as inflation, central bank policies, and economic growth. They can also influence economic growth by affecting investment and consumption decisions.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), since the mid-1980s, real interest rates across several advanced economies have declined steadily.
As of March 2023, Brazil has the highest real interest rate among the 40 major economies shown in this dataset.
Below we look at Brazil’s situation, along with the data of the four other major economies with the highest real rates in the dataset:
|Nominal Interest Rate||Real Interest Rate|
In general, countries with high interest rates offer investors higher yields on their investments but also come with higher risks due to volatile economies and political instability.
Below are the five countries in the dataset with the lowest real rates:
|Nominal Interest Rate||Real Interest Rate|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||7.00%||-7.17%|
Hyperinflation, as seen in Argentina, can lead to anomalies in both real and nominal rates, causing problems for the country’s broader economy and financial system.
As you can see above, with a 78% nominal interest rate, Argentina’s real interest rates remain the lowest on the planet due to a staggering annual inflation rate of over 100%.
Interest Rate Outlook
Increasing inflation and tighter monetary policy have resulted in rapid increases in nominal interest rates recently in many countries.
However, IMF analysis suggests that recent increases could be temporary.
Central banks in advanced economies are likely to ease monetary policy and bring interest rates back to pre-pandemic levels when inflation is brought under control, according to the fund.
Visualizing the Assets and Liabilities of U.S. Banks
Banks play a crucial role in the U.S. economy, and understanding their balance sheets can offer insight into why they sometimes fail.
Understanding the Assets and Liabilities of U.S. Banks
The U.S. banking sector has more than 4,000 FDIC-insured banks that play a crucial role in the country’s economy by securely storing deposits and providing credit in the form of loans.
This infographic visualizes all of the deposits, loans, and other assets and liabilities that make up the collective balance sheet of U.S banks using data from the Federal Reserve.
With the spotlight on the banking sector after the collapses of Signature Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, and First Republic bank, understanding the assets and liabilities that make up banks’ balance sheets can give insight in how they operate and why they sometimes fail.
Assets: The Building Blocks of Banks’ Business
Assets are the foundation of a bank’s operations, serving as a base to provide loans and credit while also generating income.
A healthy asset portfolio with a mix of loans along with long-dated and short-dated securities is essential for a bank’s financial stability, especially since assets not marked to market may have a lower value than expected if liquidated early.
As of Q4 2022, U.S. banks generated an average interest income of 4.54% on all assets.
Loans and Leases
Loans and leases are the primary income-generating assets for banks, making up 53% of the assets held by U.S. banks.
- Real estate loans for residential and commercial properties (45% of all loans and leases)
- Commercial and industrial loans for business operations (23% of all loans and leases)
- Consumer loans for personal needs like credit cards and auto loans (15% of all loans and leases)
- Various other kinds of credit (17% of all loans and leases)
Securities make up the next largest portion of U.S. banks’ assets (23%) at $5.2 trillion. Banks primarily invest in Treasury and agency securities, which are debt instruments issued by the U.S. government and its agencies.
These securities can be categorized into three types:
- Held-to-maturity (HTM) securities, which are held until they mature and provide a stable income stream
- Available-for-sale (AFS) securities, which can be sold before maturity
- Trading securities, held for short-term trading to profit from price fluctuations
Along with Treasury and agency securities which make up the significant majority (80%) of U.S. banks’ securities, banks also invest in other securities which are non-government-issued debt instruments like corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, and asset-backed securities.
Cash assets are a small but essential part of U.S. banks’ balance sheets, making up $3.1 trillion or 13% of all assets. Having enough cash assets ensures adequate liquidity needed to meet short-term obligations and regulatory requirements.
Cash assets include physical currency held in bank vaults, pending collections, and cash balances in accounts with other banks.
Liabilities: Banks’ Financial Obligations
Liabilities represent the obligations banks must fulfill, including customer deposits and borrowings. Careful management of liabilities is essential to maintain liquidity, manage risk, and ensure a bank’s overall solvency.
Deposits make up the largest portion of banks’ liabilities as they represent the money that customers entrust to these institutions. It’s important to note that the FDIC insures deposit accounts up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each type of account (like single accounts, joint accounts, and retirement accounts).
There are two primary types of deposits, large time deposits and other deposits. Large time deposits are defined by the FDIC as time deposits exceeding $100,000, while other deposits include checking accounts, savings accounts, and smaller time deposits.
U.S. banks had $17.18 trillion in overall deposits as of April 12th 2023, with other deposits accounting for 74% of the overall liabilities while large time deposits made up 9%.
After deposits, borrowings are the next largest liability on the balance sheet of U.S. banks, making up nearly 12% of all liabilities at $2.4 trillion.
These include short-term borrowings from other banks or financial institutions such as Federal Funds and repurchase agreements, along with long-term borrowings like subordinated debt which ranks below other loans and securities in the event of a default.
How Deposits, Rates, and Balance Sheets Affect Bank Failures
Just like any other business, banks have to balance their finances to remain solvent; however, successful banking also relies heavily on the trust of depositors.
While in other businesses an erosion of trust with customers might lead to breakdowns in future business deals and revenues, only in banking can a dissolution in customer trust swiftly turn into the immediate removal of deposits that backstop all revenue-generating opportunities.
Although recent bank collapses aren’t solely due to depositors withdrawing funds, bank runs have played a significant role. Most recently, in First Republic’s case, depositors pulled out more than $101 billion in Q1 of 2023, which would’ve been more than 50% of their total deposits, had some of America’s largest banks not injected $30 billion in deposits on March 16th.
It’s important to remember that the rapidly spreading fires of bank runs are initially sparked by poor asset management, which can sometimes be detected on banks’ balance sheets.
A combination of excessive investment in long-dated held-to-maturity securities, one of the fastest rate hiking cycles in recent history, and many depositors fearing for and moving their uninsured deposits of over $250,000 has resulted in the worst year ever for bank failures in terms of total assets.
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