The Great Debate

Real commodity prices and the U.S. rate cycle

– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own. –

Commodity prices exhibit a strong cyclical component — though it can be masked when producers are carrying a lot of excess capacity.

The attached chart shows the real price of various commodity baskets (Jan 1980=100) overlaid by U.S. interest rates (discount rate, later funds target), and the business cycle (NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee).

Prices began rising well ahead of interest rates after three of the last four recessions. Commodity markets anticipated future increases in demand even as policymakers prefered to hold back while recovery became more firmly established.

The current price rebound is unusual only for its strength.

Part of the explanation is the increasing weight of China and other emerging markets in global commodity consumption. As a result, the U.S. business and rate cycles and those of the other advanced economies now affect less than half the consumption of many commodities worldwide.

from Commentaries:

CFTC prepares to recant speculators’ influence

johnkempcrop-- John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own --

Like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer before he was burned at the stake for heresy, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) seems about to make a dramatic recantation.

Later today, the Commission will hold the first of three public hearings to discuss whether to impose tougher position limits in energy markets and restrict the availability of hedging exemptions. But it is already preparing to release a report that will accuse speculators of playing a significant role in last year's oil price spike, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

While it might seem a minor shift in emphasis, it is a radical reversal of the Commission's previously stated view that there was "no evidence" that investment flows had a material impact on prices. Commission staff have doggedly maintained that physical supply and demand factors could explain all the observed volatility in oil and other commodity prices over the past two years.

Africa and the global economic crisis

- Jorge Maia is head of Research and Information for Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, established in 1940 to promote economic growth and industrial development. The opinions expressed are his own –

Serious shockwaves are hitting Africa’s shores as the global economic crisis unfolds.

The extent and depth of the damage is extremely difficult to assess or project, but it is clear that the pattern of financial flows associated with investment, lending and trading activity has been dramatically altered, with detrimental economic and social implications for the continent at large. The adverse impact has been gradually spreading from a regional perspective – a serious setback to Africa’s recent growth performance, which had averaged 6 percent a year from 2003 to 2008.

Should there be limits on commodity investment?

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

The commodity boom and bust in the last 5 years suggests there is a natural limit on how much investment money these markets can absorb before price-setting mechanisms become distorted and prices unmoored from supply and demand fundamentals.

Exchange operators and dealers have a strong interest in increasing turnover and volume, since it boosts income from fees and commissions. But most also argue that increased turnover makes markets more efficient because it sharpens price discovery and makes them more liquid.

Commodities send coded clues on inflation

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

After an 8-year period of remarkable stability, the ratio between gold and oil prices has broken down spectacularly.

The relative rise in gold is consistent with other indications that the market is bracing for a delayed upturn in inflation between 2010 and 2012.

Commodities and the Great Conundrum

John Kemp– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist.  The views expressed are his own –

By John Kemp

LONDON (Reuters) – By driving up long-term real interest rates, the forthcoming flood of U.S Treasury borrowing threatens to crowd out the amount of capital for investing in other asset classes, creating a much tougher environment for commodity prices over the next two to three years.

Like many other asset classes, commodity prices have benefited from an influx of funds in recent years driven by three related factors:

Easing cost pressures on commodity producers

John Kemp(John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

LONDON (Reuters) – As the economic outlook darkens, and speculative interest in commodities and other risk assets wanes, prices have fallen back from the upper part of the trading range set by fundamentals, and the market is now hunting for the floor set by supply-side cost structures and producer strategies.

Two points are especially important to note. The first is that on the way up, prices for oil and other commodities were pushed far above levels that could have been sustained in the longer-term. Substantial demand destruction was already evident at prices above $100 a barrel, let alone above $130.

In the short term, demand destruction was limited by the delays and costs of changing products and processes to promote conservation and the use of substitutes. If prices had settled at this level for any length of time, however, far more demand would have been lost. Consumers would have had much more opportunity to adapt behaviour and consumption patterns to maximise substitution and conservation opportunities.