Commodity Weekly: Weather woes keep agriculture commodities on top
Head of Commodity Strategy
Summary: The commodity sector, with the exception of some key food items, remains on the defensive this month as the current surge in virus cases in major economies clouds the short-term outlook for growth and demand. In this update we take a closer look at some of the winners and losers, including wheat, corn, gas, copper, gold and crude oil.
The commodity sector, with the exception of some key food items, remains on the defensive as the current surge in virus cases in major economies clouds the short-term outlook for growth and demand. In addition, the prospect for an earlier-than-expected return to a tightening regime by the US Federal Reserve has helped put upward pressure on bond yields and the dollar, thereby reducing the appeal for investment metals, such as gold and silver.
The macro-economic outlook remains clouded by the current third Covid-19 wave which continues to spread across Asia and parts of the US, thereby creating a great deal of uncertainty with regard to the short-term demand for key growth and demand-dependent commodities from crude oil and gasoline to copper and iron ore. With this in mind, the increased possibility of the US tapering its massive asset purchase program is unlikely to be followed by others, potentially leading to rising US Treasury yields and a stronger dollar.
As in the previous week, pockets of strength remained with several key agriculture commodities continuing to find support following what up until now has been a very volatile weather season across some of the key growing regions of the world. Cold weather in parts of Brazil has hit the sugar cane crop while also causing extensive damage to the region’s coffee as well. Elsewhere, extreme heat leading to dryness have sliced the expectations for this year’s grains crop, especially corn and wheat.
In its latest World Supply and Demand Outlook (WASDE) the US Department of Agriculture forecast the lowest US wheat harvest in 19 years with global supplies suffering a further downgrade in response to large reductions to estimates from drought-hit fields in Canada and Russia. The prospect for lower shipments from Russia, the world’s biggest exporter, saw the high protein milling wheat future traded in Paris jump to a three-month high above 255 per tons, some 35% above the five-year average.
Gas prices in Europe rose to another record before retreating with supply concerns being somewhat offset by weaker sentiment in the broader energy market given the latest wave of Covid-19. In the US, gas prices headed for their biggest weekly loss following a bigger-than-expected weekly rise in stocks, but forecast for another incoming heatwave will likely limit the correction with tight winter supplies, just as in Europe, a risk that may continue to support prices ahead of winter.
In Europe, an unexplained reduction in flows from Russia combined with rising competition from Asia for LNG shipments has made it harder to refill already-depleted storage sites ahead of the coming winter. These developments have led to rising demand for coal, thereby forcing industrial users and utilities to buy more pollution permits, the price of which are already trading at record prices. All in all, these developments have led to surging electricity prices which eventually will be forced upon consumers, thereby adding to the already rising cost of everything.
Gold spent most of the week trying to recover from the price collapse that followed the stronger-than-expected US jobs report on August 6. The sell-off culminated during the early hours of the Asian session last Monday when the yellow metal, within a short period, tanked more than 70 dollars. Coming into August, sentiment was already hurt by gold’s inability to rally in response to the July slump in Treasury yields. A drop in yields that concluded just days before the slump when US 10-year inflation-adjusted yields hit a record low at -1.22%.
Having struggled to rally amid favorable yields, gold immediately turned lower at the first sign of higher yields and once key technical levels in the $1750 to $1765 area were taken out, the flood of sell stops during a very illiquid time of day took it briefly down to the March double bottom below $1680, where fresh bids from physical gold buyers in Asia emerged once again.
The short-term outlook remains challenged by the risk of yields and the dollar both moving higher ahead of the late August meeting of central bankers at Jackson Hole. The annual symposium which in the past has been used to send signals of changing policies or priorities to the market.
A weekly close above $1765 in gold would create a bullish candle on the chart and it may help send a supportive signal to a market still dizzy following the latest rollercoaster ride. However, in order to look for a recovery, silver needs to join in as well and, so far, it is struggling with the XAUXAG ratio trading above 75 ounces of gold to one ounce of silver, its highest level and silver’s weakest against gold since December.
Copper’s recent and price-supportive focus on potential supply disruptions in Chile eased as BHP workers at the Escondida mine, representing 5% of global output, voted to accept a final wage proposal. In recent weeks, the threat of supply disruptions have offset surging Covid-19 cases and worries about a Chinese slowdown hitting demand. With the risk of disruptions fading the market could, just like oil, see a period of sideways trading while the current virus outbreak is being brought under control. While resistance has been established above $4.4/lb, support has been equally strong below $4.20/lb. Overall, however, we still see further upside with the price of High-Grade copper eventually reaching $5/lb, but perhaps not until 2022 when continued demand for copper towards the green transformation and infrastructure projects increasingly could leave the market undersupplied.
Crude oil remains one of the biggest losers so far this month, only surpassed by iron ore and silver. Following several months where the main focus was on OPEC+ and its ability to support prices by keeping the market relatively tight, the focus has once again reverted to an uncertain demand outlook caused by the rapid spreading of the Delta coronavirus variant, particularly in key importer China. A development that has led to growth downgrades and raise questions about the short-term demand outlook for oil and fuel products from the world’s biggest buyer.
While some of the major bulls on Wall Street see the disruption from the Delta variant being transitory and only negatively impacting demand for a couple of months, both the IEA and OPEC in their latest monthly oil market reports cut their demand outlook for the remainder of the year. The latest wave is leading to a renewed reduction in mobility around the world with the biggest concern being the flare-up in China, where a still-low number of infected has been met by an aggressive approach to contain the outbreak.
However, the flexibility exhibited by the OPEC+ group during the past year will likely prevent a deeper correction should demand growth suffer a bigger-than-expected headwind from the current outbreak. With this in mind and considering the lack of response from US producers despite high prices, we maintain a constructive view on the direction of prices into yearend.