We report new evidence that speculation in energy and precious metal futures are more prevalent in crisis periods and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, agricultural futures attract more hedging pressure. Post-GFC patterns mirror the 1980s’ recessions. Using quantile regression on a long-horizon sample we also find that speculative pressure generally coincides with abnormal returns in normal circumstances but not in the current pandemic. Instead, volatility is strongly and often non-linearly associated with speculation across instruments.