A Bumper Crop Of Agricultural Products

May 07, 2008

Managing editor of HardAssetsInvestor.com
Brad Zigler talks turkey about the plethora of
ag products coming to market.

  • Well-timed bonanza
  • Volume tells the story
  • The ETN skew

 

I should have seen this coming. Feedback from the "Making Sense of Commodity Products" article skewed heavily in favor of more side-by-side comparisons. Most particularly, folks are interested in the burgeoning array of agricultural products hitting the Street.

It's no wonder, really. There have been nine broadly based exchange-traded agriculture index products launched in the United States since the beginning of 2007. How's one supposed to tell one from the other?

Not to worry. That's why we're here at Hard Assets Investors.

All but the oldest agricultural products are exchange-traded notes. That shouldn't come as a surprise. By their nature, ETNs are easier to get through securities registration. Because ETNs come down the regulatory chute quicker, they can appear on the scene in a much more timely manner.

Certainly, the timing of Deutsche Bank's recent agriculture bonanza, including leveraged and inverse exposures, was well-timed. The party atmosphere in the grain pits has recently given way to more sodden thinking, so bearish products have found purchase.

Deutsche Bank staked out its ownership of the exchange-traded ag index space earlier when the PowerShares DB Agriculture Fund (AMEX: DBA) was launched in 2007. DBA tracks the Deutsche Bank Liquid Commodity Index-Optimum Yield Agriculture by investing in an equally weighted portfolio of corn, wheat, soybean and sugar futures collateralized by U.S. Treasury securities.

Four newly minted Deutsche Bank ETNs offer long and short takes on the ag index:

 

  • DB Agriculture Long ETN (NYSE Arca: AGF)
  • DB Agriculture Double Long ETN (NYSE Arca: DAG)
  • DB Agriculture Short ETN (NYSE Arca: ADZ)
  • DB Agriculture Double Short ETN (NYSE Arca: AGA)

 

The ELEMENTS Rogers International Commodity Agriculture ETN (AMEX: RJA) represents a basket of 20 agricultural commodity futures contracts and tracks a subindex of the Rogers International Commodity Index. Components are weighted by global consumption and liquidity. About 54% of RJA's underlying index weight is attributed to wheat, corn, cotton and soybeans.

A Barclays Bank-issued note, the iPath Dow Jones-AIG Agriculture Total Return Sub-Index ETN (NYSE Arca: JJA), provides exposure to a seven-commodity index comprised of wheat, corn, soybeans, soybean oil, coffee and cotton. Wheat, corn and soybeans alone make up two-thirds of the underlying index's weight.

The Opta Lehman Brothers Commodity Index Pure Beta Agriculture Total Return Index is tracked by the Opta LBCI Agriculture Pure Beta Total Return ETN (AMEX: EOH). The index is based upon eight commodities skewed heavily (39% presently) toward soybean exposure. The other components include corn, soybean meal, soybean oil, wheat, coffee, cotton and sugar.

The UBS E-TRACS CMCI Agriculture Total Return ETN (NYSE Arca: UAG) follows the performance of the UBS Bloomberg CMCI Agriculture Index-Total Return, a basket of a dozen futures contracts including two grades of wheat, corn, soybeans, soybean oil, soybean meal, two grades of sugar, cocoa, coffee and orange juice. Futures contracts are further diversified across three maturities based on relative liquidity.

 

 

 

Ticker

Assets/

Mkt. Cap.

($mm)

 

Inception

Expense/

Fee

(%)

Avg.

Volume

(Daily)

Avg.

Spread

(%)

Downside

Variance

(%)

Ann.

Volatility

(%)

 

Return[1]

(%)

DB Agriculture ETF

 

DBA

 

2,556.4

 

Jan-07

 

0.75

 

3,093,080

 

0.03

 

19.1

 

26.9

 

-7.9

DB Agriculture Double Short ETN

 

AGA2

 

573.2

 

Apr-08

 

0.75

 

59,469

 

0.19

 

18.5

 

47.4

 

17.5

DB Agriculture Short ETN

 

ADZ2

 

531.2

 

Apr-08

 

0.75

 

7,846

 

0.30

 

7.8

 

21.2

 

7.5

DB Agriculture Long ETN

 

AGF

 

473.2

 

Apr-08

 

0.75

 

4,571

 

0.17

 

15.5

 

17.8

 

-6.8

DB Agriculture Double Long ETN

 

DAG

 

430.6

 

Apr-08

 

0.75

 

29,357

 

0.37

 

38.1

 

56.9

 

-16.0

RICI Agriculture ETN

 

RJA

 

304.2

 

Oct-07

 

0.75

 

605,811

 

0.18

 

15.4

 

22.0

 

-6.9

DJ-AIG Agriculture ETN

 

JJA

 

138.1

 

Oct-07

 

0.75

 

98,286

 

0.24

 

17.0

 

26.0

 

-8.5

LBCI Agriculture Pure Beta ETN

 

EOH

 

4.6

 

Feb-08

 

0.85

 

3,853

 

0.11

 

18.6

 

27.5

 

-6.6

UBS CMCI Agriculture ETN

 

UAG

 

4.0

 

Feb-08

 

0.65

 

1,662

 

0.40

 

13.2

 

17.7

 

-7.6

1April 15-May 5, 2008

2Inverse product

 

The volume figures speak, well, volumes about investors' current thinking. The recent bearish tone in the agriculture sector has attracted investor interest in the short, and most particularly, the double short, notes.

There's yet another ETF in the agriculture space but, because it's based upon a stock index rather than a commodity index, it's not directly comparable to the securities we've just examined. That might not be such a bad thing, however, After all, seven of the nine products listed have yielded an average negative return of 8.6% over the past three weeks.

The Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF (AMEX: MOO) replicates the 44-stock DAXglobal Agribusiness Index, a benchmark of companies engaged in the production of foodstuffs, agricultural chemicals, farming equipment and biofuels. Buoyed by a resurgent equity market, MOO's share price has only dipped a half percent in the past three weeks.

Even counting the Market Vectors portfolio, the product tally for the agriculture sector remains heavily skewed toward exchange-traded notes.

That's entirely consistent with S. J. Perlman's rather acerbic description of agriculture's primary venue: "A farm is an irregular patch of nettles bounded by short-term notes."

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