Commodity prices continue to tumble and are now down to the lowest levels since dinosaurs walked the earth.
But both the gold futures and spot market broke below $1100 an ounce this morning before rebounding to slightly above that level. That puts gold near a five year low.
And gold isn’t alone.
Both West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude have ended the recovery that had taken oil from a six-year low. U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate is back below $50 a barrel with futures touching $49.92 this morning. That’s the lowest intraday price since April 6. Brent crude has continued a decline that began in June to drop well below $60 to $56.51 in London.
And copper, widely seen as the commodity most sensitive to growth rates in the global economy because it is used in so many sectors from construction to electrical goods, continued to fall, declining another 1.44% in London to $5480 a metric ton.
I can see three reasons for the drop across all these commodity sectors.
First, the continued strength in the U.S. dollar is depressing the dollar price of all commodities. The widely held belief that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in 2015, perhaps as early as its September 17 meeting, contributes to a belief that the dollar will continue to climb.
Second, forecasts continue to say that the global economy in general and the Chinese economy in particular continue to slow and that in the absence of faster growth, supply is in excess of supply. This is especially true for commodities such as oil and iron ore where increases in supply have overwhelmed demand. Iron ore, for example, has recovered from the panic selling that accompanied what looked like an uncontrolled plunge in the Shanghai stock market. That panic took iron ore down to $44 a metric ton, a 10-year low. But even today’s price above $50 a ton is shockingly low when you remember that iron ore traded at $120 a metric ton as recently as June 2014.
And third, traders and investors simply have no appetite for commodity positions in their portfolios and without a reason to buy, they are cutting back their allocation to commodities in general. Whereas not so long ago, I heard recommendations for a 5% to 10% allocation to gold, for instance, today I’m hearing recommendations for 2% to 3%. Even a price drop to $1100 hasn’t led to an uptick in demand from the world’s two swing markets in gold—India and China. In Mumbai, for instance, gold typically trades at a premium to London, since jewelry demand in India helps support gold prices in that market, but right now gold in Mumbai is trading at a discount to London. It looks like Indian and Chinese retail purchasers of gold, known for waiting until the price is low before buying, have concluded that prices are still headed lower.
That seems likely, not just for gold but also for commodities in general. Inflation, a key driver in past commodity rallies, is conspicuously absent this go round. The Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in late 2015 or early 2016 and that will push the dollar higher. While it looks like the Greek debt crisis has been postponed and that China’s bear market in Shanghai and Shenzhen has stabilized, temporarily I believe, there’s not much evidence of a recovery in economic growth in emerging world economies, especially China, that would push demand for commodities higher. And, finally, from oil to iron ore, supply in key commodities looks likely to growth over the next 12 months.
In other words it looks like it’s too early to buy crushed commodities or the even more savagely depressed shares of commodity producers. For some of these commodities—gold is a prime example—asset sales are ramping up as the most stressed companies look to raise cash. Oil production is still climbing as Saudi Arabia and Iran both position themselves for a fight for market share. The big iron ore producers have cut back on capital spending but the pipeline is still full of new projects scheduled to come on line next year and into 2018. The one commodity to keep a close eye on is copper, where some projections show a supply deficit as early as 2016.
Food commodity prices are soaring. The Federal Reserve may not care since the core inflation number it watches takes food and energy prices out of the calculation. But commodity traders do. And so does your wallet, I’ll bet.
Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting of the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate-setting Open Market Committee, the Bureau of Labor Statistics today, March 18, reported a miniscule 0.1% increase in the core inflation rate in February. On an annual basis, core inflation is up just 1.6%. That’s well short of the Fed’s 2.5% target. The very low rate of inflation is one more reason to think that the Fed will hold its course at tomorrow’s meeting with another $10 billion reduction in what was once a program to buy $85 billion a month in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities and a pledge to keep short-term rates at their current low 0%-0. 25% range deep into 2015.
But for those of us who live in the real world—as opposed to the Fed’s world where energy and food prices don’t count in calculating inflation—the inflation trend is a little ominous. Food prices climbed 0.5% in February, the fastest monthly increase since September 2011. Prices for meat, poultry, eggs, and fish climbed 1.2% in the month.
The price increases don’t stop with those food items. Coffee prices are up 70% thanks to unseasonably dry weather in Brazil. An epidemic of pig virus has sent pork prices up 40%. Wheat is up on the crisis in the Ukraine and on extreme cold in the United States. Dairy prices are up on rising demand from China.
And current weather may not be the end of the problem. Read more
Okay, I know that news that China’s economy grew at a slower than expected 7.7% rate in the first quarter—coupled with worries about a deepening recession in much of the EuroZone and that the U.S. economy might itself be slowing—knocked the stuffing out stocks on Monday, April 15. And that the China news looks like it has broken the momentum of the recent rally, at least for a while. Believe me, I’m not fond of drops of this magnitude.
In slightly longer-term I think this slowing in China’s growth rate is good news.
You see I think it’s intentional. (Which means that a return of fears about an unintentional hard landing aren’t justified.) China’s government is trying to slow its growth rate because its afraid of setting off another bout of real estate speculation, of increasing the flow of hot money into China’s economy, and of the rising tide of borrowing and debt in China especially at the local level.
Investors around the world who had decided that they could count on China revving up its economy again to 9% or 10% growth were indeed disappointed. They’d placed their bets, especially in the commodities sector, based on those expectations. And when those expectations weren’t met they sold and sold.
But the only way China could meet those expectations would be to go back to the old days of stimulus, stimulus, stimulus based on massive spending on infrastructure and other hard assets financed by loans that stood almost no chance of being repaid.
China faces a choice—a slowdown today or a crash tomorrow. And I think that China’s new leaders have picked “slowdown.”
Now like most medicine this one isn’t the tastiest thing to swallow. Read more
As if April 15 wasn’t already painful enough…
Today we’ve got either a standard retracement of the April rally, a sell off in growth-related stocks on a disappointing report on first quarter GDP out of China, or a panicky plunge in oil, industrial materials, silver and gold.
It’s certainly a down market today but the nature of the “down-ness” depends on how your portfolio is positioned.
It’s hard to judge a downturn while it’s in progress—either for severity or duration—but here’s how I understand what we’re seeing today.
Doubts about growth prospects have been rising for months as analysts cut their earnings forecasts for U.S. stocks even as stock priced rose. Last week, earnings reports from Alcoa (AA), Wells Fargo (WFC), and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) that showed year over year declines in revenue. That added to a general sense of worry over economic growth resulting from projections for lower growth in the EuroZone and disappointing retails sales growth in the United States. The clincher for investors worried about growth came overnight when China announced first quarter GDP growth of “just” 7.7%. That was below economist projections of 8% and below the 7.9% growth posted in the fourth quarter of 2012.
If global growth is going to be lower than expected, you’d expect commodity prices to fall. That decline today, however, has been amplified by a previous retreat in commodity prices. So commodities aren’t just retreating today—they’re reacting to today’s move lower as if it is a continuation of a longer bearish pattern. Today benchmark Brent crude is down 2.2% and London Metal Exchange 3-month contracts on copper are down 2.7%.
The biggest damage, though, comes in gold and silver where today has just accelerated a move that turned from correction to plunge last week when Goldman Sachs recommended going short gold. Read more
It puzzles a lot of you I know from your emails and your posts on my sites. Frankly, it puzzles me. And I’d say that anyone who says this doesn’t puzzle them has more ego than sense.
The world’s central banks have flooded the global financial markets with cash—and they’re still hooking up more and bigger hoses. The Bank of Japan alone now promises to add $80 billion to the global money supply each month.
And yet there’s no inflation. There’s no sign of inflation. Investors aren’t afraid of inflation. And inflation hedges such as gold are sinking like a stone.
Does this make any sense?
You can find a potential key to unlocking this puzzle in The Vapors 1980 hit “I’m turning Japanese I really think so.”
Let’s start by trying to understand the logic of the Japanese market at the moment. Read more