Home > What You Need To Know About The New Copper ETF (CPER, JJC, CUPM, FCX, COPX)

What You Need To Know About The New Copper ETF (CPER, JJC, CUPM, FCX, COPX)

November 29th, 2011

Michael Johnston: One of the latest innovations in the ETF industry came in the form of the first exchange-traded fund offering exposure to copper, one of the most widely used and heavily-traded commodities in the world. The recently-launched United States Copper Index Fund (NYSEARCA:CPER), which debuted earlier this month, is not the first exchange-traded product to offer investors access to copper; it comes along after two exchange-traded notes from iPath that focus exclusively on this natural resource. But the new fund from USCF is different from the other products on the market in a couple of key ways:

What Makes CPER Unique

For investors looking to bet on a jump in copper prices, exchange-traded products can represent the most efficient path. But it’s important to understand that not all ETPs are created equal–and to understand the impact of the differences between the various options. CPER is differentiated by both the structure of the product itself and the methodology used by the underlying index to achieve exposure to the target asset class:

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Both the iPath Dow Jones-UBS Copper ETN (NYSEARCA:JJC) and Pure Beta Copper ETN (NYSEARCA:CUPM), the two existing copper ETPs, are structured as exchange-traded notes. That means that they are debt instruments issued by a financial institution, and as such exposes investors to the credit risk of the related bank (in this case, Barclays). CPER is structured as a limited partnership that actually holds copper futures contracts, meaning that there is no associated credit risk.

There are several aspects of CPER’s structure that are worth noting. First, there may be tracking error relative to the underlying index, since the portfolio manager must go out into the market to buy and sell the underlying holdings. Second, commodity ETPs that use the partnership structure will generally require investors to submit a K-1 come tax time, and may result in tax liabilities being incurred even if positions generally weren’t liquidated. Commodity ETNs, on the other hand, generally are reported on Form 1099s and will only be taxable when sold.


While the structural differences of CPER might be appealing to those looking to steer clear of exchange-traded notes, perhaps the real appeal of CPER lies in the methodology employed by the underlying index. Whereas many commodity indexes are comprised of positions in predetermined futures contracts (e.g., front month and second month), CPER is “dynamic” in the sense that its allocation will vary depending on current market conditions.

When the market for copper futures is backwardated–meaning that long-dated contracts are cheaper than those close to expiration–the index will be split between contracts expiring in the next four months that exhibit the strongest backwardation. When copper markets are contangoed, however, exposure is pushed down the maturity curve to the following December; that strategy essentially moves the concentration away from front-month holdings that can result in contango-related return erosion.

So when markets are backwardated, CPER moves holdings to the contracts that result in the strongest winds at the back of this strategy. When the market for copper futures are contangoed, however, exposure is pushed out into the future into contracts that are generally less vulnerable to the impact of contango on returns.

Copper Potential

Exposure to copper isn’t for everyone; because it is used in a number of manufacturing activities, this metal can exhibit heightened sensitivity to the overall health of the global economy. Moreover, because all exchange-traded products that offer access to copper use futures contracts, some knowledge of futures-based strategies is a prerequisite to investing in these products. For those looking to make a bet on the popular industrial metal, CPER is an intriguing opportunity. The structure is unique from other products on the market, and should appeal to those who want to avoid taking on credit risk. And the methodology of the underlying index is sound, adjusting the techniques employed to respond to current market conditions.

Written By Michael Johnston From CommodityHQ Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.

CommodityHQ offers educational content, analysis, and commentary on global commodity markets. Whether you’re looking to speculate on a short-term jump in crude or establish a long-term allocation to natural resources, CommodityHQ has the information you need.



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  1. Roger Geyer
    December 3rd, 2011 at 07:24 | #1

    I meant to say I only USE physical ETF’s (in the ETP universe), in the previous post. (not avoid)

  2. Roger Geyer
    December 3rd, 2011 at 07:20 | #2

    I appreciate the article, the information on the structure of CPER (I think the credit risks of ETN’s are vastly underestimated in the modern world of fiscal and banking insanity.

    OTOH, the expense ratio of .95% (source – link for CPER in article) is ugly, though understandable given the low price (compred, say, to gold or silver) of physical copper.

    While I also appreciate the attempt to alleviate the commodity price curve risk — this is guessing by the management. Over time, who can predict how successful they will be? Hopefully they can roughly break even, and the switching will be absorbed by the high expense ratio.

    So, unless one wants to DEMAND a PURE play in the copper commodity, why not invest in a well run, well diversified, strong play that stands to have (solid) profit growth over time even if the price of copper doesn’t move much? Plus, avoid the potential risks/complexities of ETP’s in general? (I avoid pure physical ETF’s, and use strictly limit orders and use them as strategic (not trading) vehicles).

    So, IMO, unless one can’t stand the potential exposure some non-copper risk, something like an FCX seems to me to be a MUCH better bet, long term. High volatility implies all kinds of option income is possible (for example, selling short volatility “around the edges” of a large core position). The dividend is respectable, and gets far more respectable over time, especially if copper appreciates enough to drive large profits in CPER. Analysts also would expect good profit growth over time, even if CU prices remain about the same — due to production growth/expansion/development, which FCX management has an excellent track record for. Finally – there is mining risk, but FCX has global reach that greatly mitigates such risks, especially over an investment (vs. speculative) time-frame.

    (And no, I’m not an FCX tout, and don’t expect my opinion to have ANY effect on a huge, heavily traded security like FCX. I mention this purely as I’m interested in the author’s (or other seasoned investors’) opinions on FCX vs. CPER as a strategic holding, and the trade-offs.

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