If first-half trends continue over the next six months, this could be the year of commodities. Stocks have fared poorly, bonds worse, but commodity investors have seen gains from the rising prices of everything from oil to steel to meat.

So, if you're looking for a piece of the action, investment professionals say it's best to spread the risk throughout the futures markets, rather than betting big on soybean contracts and taking a beating in these fast-moving and often volatile markets.

Whether investors buy into mutual funds that invest in commodity baskets or commodity-related equities, or take on a bigger commitment with some of the closed-end partnerships that follow futures indices such as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index or the Dow Jones AIG Commodity Index, financial advisers warn that any move into these volatile markets requires a good deal of research to make sure you know what you own. Most funds that offer some type of commodity exposure are heavily weighted to the energy sector, which has been especially volatile over the last several months.

But once you know what you're buying, many investment professionals say a small allocation of 5% to 10% of your portfolio is a smart move.

"That would be the maximum allocation," says Jim Baer, managing member of Uhlmann Price Securities, which sells the Rogers International Raw Materials Fund, a limited investment partnership based on an index devised by the high-profile investor Jim Rogers, best known for his book Investment Biker.

"As far as your portfolio's concerned, this will give you a noncorrelated investment that normally works the opposite of stocks and bonds, and real estate," Baer says.

Lynn Russell, a mutual fund analyst at Morningstar, says most small investors get exposure to commodities through funds, either the ( PCRAX) Pimco Real Return fund or the ( QRAAX) Oppenheimer Real Asset fund, which invest in commodity indices, or in any of the 40 or so natural resources equity funds, which led the fund tracker's performance categories last year with an average return of 32%, well ahead of the S&P 500's 22.3% gain.

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