Surging commodity prices is a double-edged sword
Søren Otto Simonsen
Senior Investment Editor
Summary: Commodities have seen hefty prices increases in the past two years, which is bad for inflation and for life in general but is one of very few asset classes where a profit can be made in very depressed markets.
It’s hardly news that the cost of living – or inflation – is going up at a rate which the world hasn’t seen for decades. Food is getting more expensive, electricity is going up, it is more costly to buy and build stuff. In short, everything you want to do and consume costs (a lot) more than it did a year ago.
There is one area – or in finance lingo, asset class – which is the root cause of this situation, and it has politicians and economists scratching their heads to find solutions: commodities. Commodities are the basic input to everything we do. It covers energy production, raw materials, metals, food, etc.
When you look at commodities from a societal point of view, there isn't a lot of good news:
“In short, what happens in the commodity sector is troubling. The Bloomberg Commodity Index is up 24% on the first quarter and if you look at average annual returns it has almost doubled since 2020,” says Ole Hansen, Head of commodity strategy at Saxo.
In this quote, Hansen points to something interesting when dealing with an asset class like commodities, because it affects both the financial markets, and day-to-day life. When investing in an index, which is up that much in such a short time, you would usually be celebrating, but it isn’t always a good thing for commodities to climb so high, so fast.
“Commodities are the basic input for everything we do, which means that when they get more expensive, so does everything else. Commodities need to find a more stable level for consumers and companies alike to feel comfortable, which no one is now,” says Hansen.
As Hansen describes, surging commodity prices can have grave effects on society at large especially in less wealthy parts of the world, and its solution can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Most people will have to wind back on their spending. This will cause an economic slowdown, which hurts, but unfortunately seems to be the only cure right now against high inflation,” he says.
The other edge
While commodities need to become more stable for its societal impact, the asset class remains an enticing investment opportunity in a market where it seems like it is almost the only one you can look for a profit, even if there’s an economic slowdown. This is due to the supply and demand dynamics we are experiencing right now.
Central banks are hiking rates to kill – or slow – the demand side, which is yet another reason why companies and thus equities are struggling. This should, in theory, also push the prices of commodities down, but then let’s turn our heads towards the supply side.
Here, especially the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the strict COVID-19 lockdowns in China, suppress the supply of many key commodities. This creates a dramatic imbalance between supply and demand, which means that even a global economic slowdown most likely wouldn’t bring it back to an equal footing.
“If I had to pick one area to look for inspiration, it would be the metal industry. There’s a lot of amped up construction in China due to the lockdowns, which means that once they are lifted, the metal space could see a substantial increase in demand from them,” says Hansen.
Queued up construction in China can push metal prices, which also could be a long play on the mining sector within equities.
"The equity market is probably the most difficult since the 2007-2009 financial crisis years due to a combined factor of persistently high inflation and equity valuation compression from higher interest rates. We believe that the world will be in a commodity super cycle and thus should be exposed to this through mining companies both short and long term. China's slowdown is just short-term noise. It changes nothing regarding mining companies over the coming years," says Peter Garnry, Head of Equity strategy.
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