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Commodities: A Resource Guide

Commodity Prices and Indexes

Garfield, James A., contributor. [New York Gold Room bulletin board on Black Friday, Sept. 24, 1869.] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Commodity prices are determined by global supply and demand imbalances and have generally been denominated in U.S. dollars. The spot price of a commodity is the price paid for a unit of a commodity immediately before it is to be delivered whereas the futures price is that agreed price for a unit of a specified commodity to be delivered at some specified point in the future. In calculating the future price of a commodity, storage costs are added to the risk-free rate of interest and a convenience yield is subtracted from it. The cash outflow for storage of a commodity is a cost borne by the owner of the physical commodity, but the convenience yield recognizes the potential benefit of leasing or arbitraging the physical commodity before delivery.

As early as 1934, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began computing a daily commodity index based on quotations for sensitive commodities. In 1952 BLS issued a Daily Index and Spot Market Prices, but in 1969, the Bureau discontinued the daily index and converted to a weekly computation. Founded in 1934, the Commodity Research Bureau (CRB) has been a major supplier of commodities data and indexes. It began calculating a daily Spot Market Price Index in 1981 and also computed indices for specific commodities groups, such as CRB BLS Metals, CRB BLS Raw Industrials. The Library holds most editions of its Commodity Year Book published since 1939 and the CRB Encyclopedia of Commodity and Financial Prices. CRB was acquired in 2001 by Barchart, which announced in 2019 that all CRB products would become part of its cmdty product line. Currently several organizations support commodity indexes that track price movements of baskets of commodities, such as the Thomson Reuters Equal Weight Commodity Index, the Dow Jones Commodity index, Bloomberg Commodity Indices (BCOM), Reuters/Jefferies CRB, Rogers International, and the S&P GSCI. Performance measured by the various composite, sector and sub-sector indexes is readily available through brokers and financial news services.

The International Monetary Fund provides primary commodity data and prices back to 1992. Current commodity price quotes are readily available online through news or business websites, while historical quotes can be searched in many archival newspaper databases. The University of Missouri Libraries has created a free web site, Prices and Wages by Decade, that links to government documents and primary sources listing retail prices for products and services for each decade back to the 1700s. The Allen-Unger Global Commodity Prices Database, 1260-1914, created by Robert C. Allen and Richard W. Unger, University of British Columbia, is available directly and through the International Institute of Social History Dataverse Project.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

The following are major reporters of commodity prices and commodity markets activity.