Global Investing

Commodities hedge funds feel the heat

rtx7ukh.jpgThe heat is on for hedge funds with commodities bets.

Earlier this week Ospraie Management told investors it is shutting its flagship fund after it plunged 27 percent in August. The fund’s energy and commodities stock positions fell as investors worried if a global economic slowdown will mean less demand for resources.

And now RAB Capital’s Philip Richards is giving up the CEO role to focus on his funds after an awful period of performance for his once high-flying Special Situations fund.

Losses on small-cap mining stocks, as well as its high-profile error in buying into troubled bank Northern Rock, meant its listed feeder fund fell 38.1 percent from the start of the year to Aug. 21.

One of the potential danger areas for hedge funds in this area is liquidity – how quickly they can dump stocks when investors decide enough is enough and want to pull their cash out.

The problem is that during the commodities boom of the last five years the flood of investor money has encouraged some funds to invest in less crowded areas such as smaller companies. These are easy to trade in a bull market but buyers can quickly disappear in a downturn.

Barrels and ounces

The price of oil was falling sharply on Tuesday after traders stopped worrying about former Hurricane Gustav’s winds, but by at least one calculation it remains very pricey – that is, its link to the price of gold.Some market watchers argue that there is a long-term relationship between the prices of the two commodities. Roughly speaking, this theory would have 10 barrels of crude oil costing the same as one ounce of gold.  Back in March, for example, gold hit a record of $1,030 an ounce and a barrel of oil brought around $105.Oil

By July, however, gold had fallen and oil had risen to the extent that the ratio was not 10 to 1, but 5.9 to1. Some argued at the time that hedge funds noticed this and began to short crude. With the latest tumble, oil is about 27 percent below its high. But against gold, the ratio is still at 7.4 to 1.

The problem is that gold won’t stop falling either, which rather undermines the ratio theory. Perhaps it is all just hooey. If it is not, however, oil would have to dive another 25 percent to reach equilibrium of $79 a barrel against today’s gold price.

Using terrorism to gauge oil’s impact

!-- /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} -->

Do oil price spikes cause recessions? It is a controversial question and one that is very much a propos. It is all very chicken-and-egg, of course. If oil is soaring because of overheating economic demand, is it the demand or the ensuing rise in oil prices that causes the crash?

 oil1.jpg

Britain’s Centre for Economic Policy Research has had a go at trying to answer this with a report written by Natalie Chen and Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick and Liam Graham from University College London. The twist was that the academics used terrorist incidents as an instrumental variable. Roughly, they looked at the impact of a sharp rise in oil prices on the profitability of various industries. By using terrorist events, they stripped out macroeconomic drivers and focused on something that was separate from the business cycle.

Steelmakers show industrial Germany is weathering downturn

steel2.jpgIt’s not all doom and gloom — just ask steelmakers.

Germany’s ThyssenKrupp and Salzgitter have both raised their profit forecasts, fuelled by demand from fast-growing China, India and Russia. Profits are soaring on sky-high prices for rolled and flat steel.

Both companies are cashing in on growth outside Europe, and they join Hochtief and Kloeckner who this week also showed that industrial Germany is insulated against a global economic slowdown.

Water, water everywhere

British water companies announced a plan earlier this week to
increase household water bills by up to 4.5 percent above
inflation between 2010 and 2015.

A pain for households, yes. But such increases underline a trend
that may prove tempting to investors searching for new commodity
assets as oil, gold etc tumble from their peaks.

The water index on the International Securities Exchange, which
includes companies engaged in water distribution, water
filtration, flow technology and other water solutions, has risen
more than 5 percent since January.

European industry feels the heat of high oil prices

Castle Cement furnace

European industry is suffering under soaring energy costs. Profit warnings are becoming more common and industry leaders predict plant closures and job losses may follow.

Companies say they are doing all they can to improve their game but want government help.

Britain’s Castle Cement, part of Germany’s Heidelberg Cement, is a case in point. Its cement furnace in Stamford, England, is replacing much of its coal with  alternatives  — tyres, bone meal, paper – as $140 a barrel oil sends all fuel costs skyrocketing.   

Nerves of steel as regulators probe iron ore

iron-ore-graphic.gifAre steel companies really hurting from huge rises in the price of raw materials like iron ore? The biggest miner BHP Billiton reckons they aren’t and hopes to sway anti-trust regulators who are reviewing its takeover bid for rival Rio Tinto.

Steel firms from China to Japan to Europe have cited rising raw material costs as they ramp up prices, with Germany’s Salzgitter the latest to push the blame upstream.

Rio Tinto agreed record prices rises with China’s Baosteel on Monday that nearly doubled the price of iron ore this year under long-term contracts and BHP may try to get even more .

Growth in oil futures outpaces oil consumption

oil_graph1.gif

Here’s a look at the average daily volume of oil futures on the NYMEX expressed in terms of global consumption of oil. As the chart makes clear, the number of paper barrels traded every day on the NYMEX is now over three times the number of actual barrels consumed every day worldwide. On Friday, as oil surged to a record $139 a barrel, the volume on the NYMEX was over 5.2 times average daily consumption. The chart gives some indication of the boom in oil and commodity futures in general.