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From coffee and crude oil to lithium, commodities had a stellar 2021. Here are the top 10 best-performers of the year.

Trader screen
Trader screen

  • Supply chain bottlenecks caused shortages across the global economy this year, sending commodity prices soaring.
  • Rising prices, particularly energy, were as much a reflection of soaring demand as a lack of supply.
  • Insider compiled a list of the top 10 best performing commodities in 2021.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

Commodities have been among the most volatile asset classes in 2021, with surging inflation and supply chain disruptions sending prices into the stratosphere.

2020 will be remembered not just for the pandemic, but also as the year oil prices went negative. As families left urban areas to relocate during the pandemic, demand for lumber drove up prices. With the global economy gradually reopening in 2021, oil demand rose and prompted a rally in prices to multi-year highs. 

With OPEC increasing production only slowly, energy markets tightened massively, as global inventories drained and boosted prices further. 

Still, spikes in oil prices were moderate in comparison to those elsewhere across the energy complex. A barrel of Brent crude cost nearly $87 at its peak this year, its highest in three years. But its gains of around 45% so far this year pale in comparison to those of other energy sources. 

In contrast, natural gas and coal rose far more rapidly than anyone expected when rising demand for power generation from countries including China and India met as shortfall in available supply head-on. 

At the start of 2021, Asia’s buoyant gas demand in particular led to a huge shortage of liquefied natural gas, partly because of production outages. This marked a huge turnaround from a year earlier, when the LNG market was buckling under excess supply.

Then as the year progressed, the tightening then shifted over towards the European market. This was exacerbated by political tensions with Russia, which is Europe’s most important gas supplier.

European natural gas prices are currently on track to regain their early-October record highs, seven times higher than they were when the year began. This had a knock-on effect on the coal market, as power generators switched away from pricier natural gas.

Precious metals were undoubtedly the underperformers this year, partly due to market participants opting for assets that perform well in an environment of rising interest rates and that bear yield.

These were the top 10 best-performing commodities of 2021 year-to-date, according to data from Trading Economics:


10. Crude Oil
YTD Performance: 57.75%
Price (Dec 31): $76.54 per barrel

crude oil pump jack in texas field sunset backdrop
The sun sets behind a crude oil pump jack on a drill pad in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, November 24, 2019.


9. Heating Oil

YTD Performance: 60.41%
Price (Dec 31): $2.74 per gallon

Central heating.
Central heating.

8. Naphtha
YTD Performance: 61.50%
Price (Dec 31): $3 per ton

Naphtha
Naphtha

7. Propane
YTD Performance: 60.64%
Price (Dec 31): $1.04 per gallon

Photo taken in Ban Khlong Chang Tai, Thailand
Photo taken in Ban Khlong Chang Tai, Thailand

6. Gasoline
YTD Performance: 61.70%
Price (Dec 31): $2.27 per gallon

Europea gas prices energy petrol diesel gasoline
Energy prices have surged in Europe and other commodities markets could soon feel the heat.

5. Coffee
YTD Performance: 78.44%
Price (Dec 30): $228.85 per pound

man serving a customer in a coffee shop
Nook Coffee Bar.

4. Oat
YTD Performance: 90.37%
Price (Dec 31): $686.75 per bushel

Overhead shot of a jar of oats, a spoon full of oats, and a glass of milk.

3. Coal
YTD Performance: 111.30%
Price (Dec 30): $170.10 per ton

Coal
Coal


2. Ethanol

YTD Performance: 124.79%
Price (Dec 30): $3 per gallon

Ethanol
Ethanol

1. Lithium
YTD Performance: 477.42%
Price (Dec 31): $42,256 per tonne

Sorting lithium-ion batteries
Sorting lithium-ion batteries

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