As 2012 drew to a close, the SEC finally approved J.P. Morgan’s JPM XF Physical Copper Trust, the first exchange-traded product for physical copper in the U.S. At the same time, the SEC delayed its decision on a very similar Copper Trust from BlackRock’s iShares until February 22.

It’s been a very long process, starting in October 2010, when both JPM and BlackRock filed their original applications with the SEC. Back then, copper was in the first year of what became a three-year-long deficit, with demand exceeding supply, but now the market may be swinging into a surplus.

That leads to the question: While JPM and BlackRock were battling it out with a very dedicated group of opponents — a group of copper fabricators who fear the investment products will engage in hoarding intending to drive prices artificially higher — did they miss the right moment for a launch?

And with plenty of futures-based copper ETFs on the market, will investors be willing to take on the additional costs of storing and insuring physical copper, which is big and bulky unlike gold, silver, platinum and palladium?

There is currently only one physical copper exchange-traded product in the world, offered by ETF Securities of London. Launched in December 2010, the firm’s physical copper product (PHCU.LN) has barely gotten off the ground, with just $16.2 million in assets as of January 15, according to Bloomberg. By comparison, their futures-based copper product (COPA.LN), launched in September 2006, had a healthy $507.9 million in assets on the same date.

When it comes to comparing the two ETFs on returns, the picture is mixed and depends on many market variables, but right now things seem to favor the futures-based copper ETF. COPA, for example, had the better one-year return with -2.15 percent versus -2.91 percent on PHCU as of January 15, according to Bloomberg. And the physical product has also been handicapped by its high costs, including 41 cents per ton per day to store the metal, an expense ratio of 69 basis points and another 12 basis points for insurance. That brings the total cost to an investor to about 2.5 percent, says Ben Johnson, the director of passive-fund research at Morningstar in Chicago. By comparison, investors in the futures-based product pay just an expense ratio of 49 basis points, he notes.