No sooner had we breathlessly reported April’s record highs for gold and silver, at over $1500 and close to $50 per troy ounce respectively, than commodities stage a ‘flash crash’, startling investors and traders alike. Last week silver slumped to below $35 and even gold lost 3.6%.
The oil benchmark, Brent Crude, recorded its biggest ever one-day fall, dropping further to $105.15 a barrel and other commodities including copper, sugar, cotton and cocoa were dragged down in their wake. Oil’
Perhaps the reported death of Osama Bin Laden had also brought with it improved prospects for calm in the Middle East. Whatever the reasons, ‘bull’ investors recorded big losses in an unseemly scramble for the exit, only for Brent Crude Oil prices to later stage a recovery to over $110 by mid-afternoon on Friday – credited to ‘bargain hunters’ and the more positive jobs picture emerging from the US.
Some commentators view this merely as a ‘correction’
“Ultimately the price increases that we saw of almost 12% since the beginning of 2011, due to instability in the Middle East, the Japanese earthquake and the nuclear crisis, were not sustainable.
" Does this indicate the end of a bull run which has driven the prices of many commodities
And for the world’s poorest, the price of food represents the difference between health and starvation.
However, according to Edward Meir, commodities analyst at broker MF Global in New York:
“This is one for the books: across the board you’re seeing a general unwinding of the commodity trade.”
Indeed many point to the announcement made the day before by Glencore, the world’s biggest commodities trader, of a multibillion-
For some this marks the peak for commodities, in much the same way as the initial public offerings of Goldman Sachs and private equity group Blackstone indicated the top of their respective markets. Markets could recover rapidly: Although high prices may be denting commodities, farmers, miners and oil companies alike still struggle to meet demand.
On the other hand, yet more negative economic news, such as lower-than-expected US growth figures for the first quarter, could continue to subdue prices. Besides which QE2 is ending soon in the US – with no sign of QE3 – so that less liquidity in the markets may check demand for risky assets such as commodities. This nervousness is also indicated by bond markets, with the 30-year US Treasury yield at its lowest since early December and also explains a flight to the relative safety of the dollar and the yen.
However not all commodities are the same. Many traders offer different prospects for different commodities, pointing at the unrest in Libya which may continue to impact on oil, while gold and silver remain supported by investors willing to buy during the dips. Ultimately, rampant demand from the newly aspirant populations of India, China et al for everything from oil and wheat to pork bellies and gold, may support the demand for this planet’s finite resources.
The rare earth metals so in demand by the high tech industry were largely unaffected by last week’s drama. ‘Rare’ of course indicates the limited nature of supply – perhaps the same term will become true of other commodities we currently take for granted. If so, speculators will be happy and profit-takers may continue to dictate future ‘corrections’
However, it offers scant relief for those hard- pressed families struggling to cope with mounting prices at the petrol pumps and supermarket
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