When will the next bull market for commodities arrive?

May 12th, 2009

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Following from what we wrote at Does the major Chinese economic slowdown signify the end of the commodities boom?, what is our view on the long-term prices of commodities? To understand our view, you will have to follow our explanations below…

No doubt, the global financial markets have experienced a serious bout of price deflation for financial assets and commodities (except US Treasury bonds), especially in the second half of 2008. So far, government stimulus, bailouts, rescues and money printing are minuscule compared to the overwhelming tide of de-leveraging. It has been said that a value of US$33 trillion was wiped out from the global financial markets. So far, government interventions had only forked out at around a few trillions of dollars at most. These numbers are not meant to be accurate, so please do not quote us on that. The point is, compared to the amount of ‘wealth’ lost in the financial asset markets, government injections of money so far are just a small fraction of what was lost. If you include the coming de-leveraging by consumers in the real-economy, then the outlook for the economy and asset prices is even bleaker. Having said that, if governments continue to inject even more money unceasingly, it’s only a matter of time reflation will occur. Indeed, the current rally in commodities and stock prices shows that reflation is working for now.

So, while asset (and commodity) prices are deflating at such unprecedented speed, what will happen to real physical investments in the real economy? Such volatility in prices will make it very difficult for businesses to engage in long-term real capital investments. Using the mining executive as an example in Real economy suffers while financial markets stuff around with prices,

For example, place yourself in the position of a mining company executive today. Commodity prices are falling precipitously over the past few months as the global economy is staring into a possible depression. At the same time, you know that China and India is still going to demand lots of commodities in the very long run in the coming decades. Besides knowing these two basic facts, there will still be great uncertainty in prices as the forces of deflation and inflation battles each other for supremacy, regardless of which forces will eventually win. Will we even be using US dollars to calibrate prices in the future? Who knows? In such an indeterminate environment, it is clear that many more mining projects will have to be shelved. Some have to be abandoned. You may be scratching your head, wondering whether to push forward your project plans.

As we have already seen in various news reports, mining companies are already losing mining, closing down their mines, laying off staffs, cutting production and so on. These will result in lower productive capacity in the long-term. Since the mining business is very capital intensive, it is not easy to ramp up production at a flick of the switch.

Now, let’s turn our eyes at China. As we explained before in Does the major Chinese economic slowdown signify the end of the commodities boom?, a major economic correction for China does not spell the end of Chinese economic growth. Eventually, they will recover and consume resources hungrily again (see Example of a secular trend- commodities and the upcoming rise of a potential superpower).

The question is, when will China recover? Will it happen within our life-time? Some reckon it’s a matter of waiting a couple of years. Others are more sceptical. But let’s assume that a Chinese recovery will happen in a few years time. At the same time, with the long-term productive capacity of mining companies severely impaired by the effects of the credit crunch, what will happen to commodity prices?

Please note that this does NOT mean that commodity prices will surge soon. Rather, this credit crisis is setting the stage for a new commodity bull market from a very low base. The question is, are the current prices near the low base? Or is there more deflation in prices to come?

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