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FIRST ACCESS to Nadeem Walayat’s Analysis and Trend Forecasts

China Demand Not Behind Commodities Boom?

Commodities / Commodities Trading Jul 24, 2013 - 10:41 AM GMT

By: Frank_Holmes

Commodities

There’s no denying China’s massive economic growth over the past decade, as the country recorded an average GDP of more than 10 percent per year. In only seven years, China’s economy doubled; in 13 years, it tripled.

With this incredible expansion, China began to import commodities at an incredible pace. In 2000, the country imported only 70 million tons of iron ore; today, it’s more than 10 times that amount, at 763 million tons. Copper imports increased dramatically too, growing from 1.6 million tons in 2000 to more than 4 million tons per year today, according to BCA Research data.


And when it comes to oil demand, 17 years ago, China was a net exporter. Today, it is the second-largest importer, transporting 5.4 million barrels of oil into the country every day.

That’s why it is widely accepted that the Asian giant spurred higher commodity prices in the past decade.

And if the country was the force behind the boom, then the assumption is that China’s lower, but still healthy growth will be a drag on commodity prices.

But recent research challenges this assumption.


According to BCA Research’s Chen Zhao, what is initially an “outrageous proposition” may not actually be. The analyst says the fact that China’s consumption of industrial commodities significantly increased at the same time prices rose may have only created “the impression that China was the main driving force behind the commodities boom. "

Consider that since the substantial growth early in the last decade, China has continued to import commodities at a remarkable pace. Since 2007, the Asian giant buys 2 times more iron ore, 1.5 times more copper and 6 times more coal from other countries.

“The level of Chinese commodity imports obviously reflects the size of its economy,” says BCA. So even if the growth rate has slowed down, “the absolute level of Chinese commodity demand continues to set new records every year.”

Then what’s really driving commodity prices?

If you can’t entirely blame weak commodity prices on Chinese demand, what is the culprit? Take a look at the chart below. The red line plots the 10-year rolling correlation of annual returns on the Thomson Reuters/Jefferies CRB Commodity Index (CRB) with China’s real GDP growth. The correlation between these two numbers has stayed close to 0.4 since the late 1990s.

Now take a look at the blue line, which shows a negative correlation between the CRB and the trade-weighted U.S. Dollar. The correlation since 2010 has hovered around -0.8, implying that “the dollar has much more explanatory power,” says BCA.

The data confirms BCA’s “long-term suspicion that the bull market in commodities last decade was mainly a reflection of a sustained fall in the U.S. dollar.”

This isn’t the only time we’ve experienced this phenomenon. In the 1990s, when the U.S. economy was booming and the dollar was strong, commodity prices were weak and oil prices fell to an all-time low of $10 per barrel.

Today, many emerging market economies that had no global footprint a few decades ago are now growing at a much faster pace than the developed countries. These emerging nations have young, growing populations who are moving to the cities, becoming wealthier, and consuming more goods and services.

However, like I shared recently, Credit Suisse is of the opinion that prices of commodities may no longer rise and fall together in unison, emphasizing that investors will need to focus on individual commodities depending on the supply and demand factors. This is why we advocate that investors hold a diversified basket of commodities actively managed by professionals who understand these specialized assets and the global trends affecting them.

Want to see more on commodities or emerging markets? Provide us with your email address and you’ll receive a note every time Frank Holmes updates his blog. You can also follow U.S. Global on Twitter or Facebook.

By Frank Holmes

CEO and Chief Investment Officer
U.S. Global Investors

U.S. Global Investors, Inc. is an investment management firm specializing in gold, natural resources, emerging markets and global infrastructure opportunities around the world. The company, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, manages 13 no-load mutual funds in the U.S. Global Investors fund family, as well as funds for international clients.

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.

Standard deviation is a measure of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean. The more spread apart the data, the higher the deviation. Standard deviation is also known as historical volatility. All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. The NYSE Arca Gold BUGS (Basket of Unhedged Gold Stocks) Index (HUI) is a modified equal dollar weighted index of companies involved in gold mining. The HUI Index was designed to provide significant exposure to near term movements in gold prices by including companies that do not hedge their gold production beyond 1.5 years. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure equity market performance in the global emerging markets. The U.S. Trade Weighted Dollar Index provides a general indication of the international value of the U.S. dollar.

Frank Holmes Archive

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