Investors break commodities link with equities

October 23, 2009

Investors smelling profits in commodities are using the sector as an early cycle play, alongside equities, because a lack of production capacity means higher prices sooner rather than later. 

Historically, prices of natural resources lag equities, which typically front run the economic cycle by between 18 to 24 months. The change is also partly due to the tumbling dollar, a major driver in recent weeks.

The natural resources sector is also one of the last to price in economic expansion. But not this time.

Global capacity utilisation rates in petroleum products and mining between 2002 and 2007 averaged more than 90 percent. Analysts estimate those levels fell to 80 percent — still very high — in July 2009.

In contrast, utilisation rates among manufacturing companies was estimated at around 65 percent last July from about 80 percent between 2002 and 2007. Equivalent numbers for the auto sector were 45 percent and 80 percent respectively.

The large output gap in manufacturing and the auto sector means production can ramp up easily without any bottlenecks when the global economy sees stronger growth, albeit from low levels.

Not so in commodities, where firms are running a tight ship.

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