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Have Commodity Prices Run Ahead of Fundamentals?

Have commodity prices run ahead of fundamentals? Or is it that China has begun stock piling aggressively? Commodity prices have rallied since February on the belief that putative 'green shoots' around the world validated a V-shaped economic recovery in 2009. However, these 'green shoots' merely signal the stabilization of economic activity at low levels, rather than a return to trend growth. Even if GDP growth around the world has bottomed, growth will continue to be negative or sluggish until 2011. As such, commodity price gains are a false sign of economic recovery - like the recent spate of bear market rallies in stock markets. The strong uptrend in commodity prices has been propelled more by technicals (investment demand - arbitrage, opportunistic stockpiling at low prices) than fundamentals (real growth in physical demand and production). Commodity prices will likely snap back to reality before resuming a more moderate uptrend in line with a U-shaped global growth path:
  • 2 factors to mitigate global slowdown impact on commodities: 1) Growth to continue to be strongest in EM economies whose consumption is most commodity-intensive and 2) Investment to raise production capacity takes time - investment cuts and delays due to lower prices may lead to supply crunch in the future
  • Sectoral performance: Traditional sectors such as metals and energy remain fundamentally cyclical as they are more closely tied to industrial production than agriculturals. Agricultural commodities may outperform metals and energy due to less elastic demand and the increasing rarity of very good harvests
  • Review

  • Mar 19 2009: Commodities surged the most this year, led by precious metals and energy, on speculation that the Fed's steps to revive the U.S. economy will spur demand for raw materials as a hedge against inflation. Silver jumped 13%, the most since 1979. Gold had the biggest increase since September, and crude oil topped $52 a barrel. Every commodity in the Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index of 19 prices climbed
  • Worst annual performance: Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index of 19 raw materials fell 36% in 2008, the most since the gauge debuted in 1956, to 229.54. It rose to a record 473.97 on July 3, then dropped to the lowest since August 2002 on Dec 5
  • Biggest 1-day drop since 1956: Sep 29 2008, Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index fell 21.35 points or 5.8% to 343.2 after the House voted against US bailout plan
  • Steepest monthly drop since 1980: In July 2008, CRB Index fell 12%

  • Outlook

  • Despite current correction, the secular trend remains upward due to tight supply/demand fundamentals. In the medium term though, focus will be on global slowdown, easing inflationary pressures, dollar recovery, and credit tightening - all bearish for commodities
  • There is a risk that some commodity markets have decoupled from fundamentals. The fundamental outlook represented by e.g. stocks for aluminium, nickel and lead has not changed significantly in the last month. Demand for oil in the US is also still pretty weak. It seems that the commodity market has run a bit ahead of the fundamental picture. Both base metals and oil are quite vulnerable if we get a set-back in risk sentiment.
  • Supply has been a big support for industrial metals. Demand destruction has led to a correction in energy prices. Agricultural prices have corrected significantly based on improved crop conditions and concerns regarding increased regulation of commodities markets in the US. Prospects for higher inflation has been muted by the correction in energy and has depressed the gold price
  • There is only so much demand to accommodate price increases amid tightening in credit markets, falling asset prices and slowing nominal incomes. Maintaining the bull run in commodities in the face of sharply slowing US demand will require that decoupling theories hold

p/s photos: Fan Bing Bing


solomon said…
I think it is a more of heavy speculation and some re-stocking exercise. To substantiate this, it is known fact that a US investment bank is holding or trading oil in Asia (MOPS market). Maybe it is acting on client accounts??

In order for the green shoots to survive, it requires the sunshine (good economic data), water (more money) and fertile ground (good planning). All this depends on the farmer (goverment) to manage.

My take is the commodity price had run ahead of fundamental by 20-30%. The price re-adjustment might be quick this round due to tight demand-supply.

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