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Comeback week for industrial and precious metals

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The commodity sector continued to find support this past week, despite the hurricane sweeping across global stock markets. US stocks posted their biggest daily drop in almost two years on Wednesday, driven by surging inflation, weak earnings and the prospect of aggressive monetary policy tightening hurting economic growth. Nevertheless, the Bloomberg Commodity Spot index managed to climb by 1.6 per cent and, while we are seeing the fourth biggest drawdown in the S&P 500 since 2010, the commodity sector continues to highlight the need for both supply and demand to keep prices stable.

With the supply of many key commodities – from grains and coffee to fuel products and some industrial metals – being challenged, the sector is likely to remain supported despite softer growth; especially considering the prospect for a government-supported stimulus boost to a post-lockdown China. Growth in the country has been increasingly challenged by its stubborn adherence to the dynamic zero-Covid policy despite mounting economic and social costs.

Gains this past week were concentrated in industrial and precious metals – sectors that have suffered setbacks during the past two months. In addition, the risk of a global food crisis continues to rise, with Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and poor weather conditions being the main culprits for the disruption to a lower supply of key food commodities.

The grains sector hit a fresh record high with the Bloomberg Grains Spot Index sprinting to a +30 per cent gain on the year. Soybeans led the rally, followed by wheat with corn registering a small loss in the week. Global worries about a food crisis persist with disruptions in shipments from the Ukraine, one of the world’s most important supplier of high-quality wheat and sunflower oil causing ripples around the world. Ukrainian farmers have almost completed the sowing of spring wheat for the 2022 harvest and the overall rate of this year's spring crop sowing is 25 per cent lower than at the same date in 2021, the agriculture ministry said on Friday.

A couple of positive supply news, however, helped ease but by no means remove worries about a global food crisis. Palm oil slumped after Indonesia ended its short-lived export ban. Wheat which earlier in the week surge to fresh highs in Europe and the US on worries about supplies from India saw prices ease on forecast for a bumper crop year in Russia. However, comments from agriculture analysis firm Gro Intelligence that the world only has 10 weeks’ worth of wheat consumption in reserve will keep prices supported. At least until we get some more clarity over production levels in Europe and North America, both areas that have seen a challenging weather-related start to the growing season.

Crude oil spent most of the week challenging the upper end of the trading range that has prevailed for the past six weeks. However, relative calm market action during this time has been hiding a market in continued turmoil where major opposing forces have managed to keep it rangebound. During this time, the US government has injected millions of barrels in a failed attempt to suppress the price while Chinese demand has suffered due to its zero-Covid strategy.

The fact the market has not fallen below $100 highlights the underlying strength with tight supply of key fuels, self-sanctioning of Russian crude oil, OPEC struggling to increase production and unrest in Libya all supporting the market. With China potentially starting to ease lockdowns and with unrest in Libya still growing, the short-term price risk remains firmly skewed to higher prices.

During the past few weeks, the focus has turned from a rangebound crude oil market to the product market where the cost of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel have surged to levels not seen in years (if ever). The combination of refinery maintenance, a post pandemic reduction in capacity as well as self-sanctioning of Russian products have all led to incredible tight markets. Especially in North American refineries, where they are running flat out to produce what they can and, in turn, benefitting from mouthwatering margins.

So, despite the prospect for slower global economic growth, the price of crude oil remains supported. If we stick to our wide $90 to $120 range call for Brent during the current quarter, while still considering structural issues (most importantly the continued level of underinvestment and OPEC’s struggle to increase production), this will continue to support prices over the coming quarters. (The writer is Head of Commodity Strategy at Saxo Bank)

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