Commodities & Global Growth

Commodity prices warn that the global economy is still in a slump.

The Dow Jones – UBS Commodity Index remains at one-third of its 2007 peak, with no sign of recovery.

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

The fall in crude prices hasn’t been as severe, but Brent Crude is again weakening and looks set for another test of $50/barrel.

Brent Crude

Shipping rates for dry bulk goods, such as iron ore and coal, have fallen, with the Baltic Dry Index close to long-term support at 500.

Baltic Dry Index

Supply interruptions to iron ore production in Brazil have cushioned Australian producers from a sharp down-turn in iron ore prices. But coal exporters are feeling the pinch.

RBA Chart Pack: Bulk Commodity Prices

Recovery of Brazilian production over the next two years is expected to add downward pressure to iron ore prices.

The only positive appears to be container shipping rates. The Harpex Index rose steeply in 2019, reflecting increased demand for container shipping of finished goods.

Harpex Index

Somewhat surprising, since this coincided with US-China trade tensions and tariff increases. The answer may lie with importers on both sides of the Pacific attempting to front-run the imposition of tariffs and build inventories in case of supply interruptions and to allow time to adapt their supply chain. Expect the index to retreat in the early part of 2020.

It looks like low global growth will continue.

China’s infrastructure boom is over

China has been on a record-breaking infrastructure binge over the last decade, but that era is coming to an end. Fall of the Baltic Dry Index below its 2008 low illustrates the decline of bulk commodity imports like iron ore and coking and thermal coal, important inputs in the construction of new infrastructure and housing.

Baltic Dry Index

High-end commodities like copper held up far better since 2008, but they too are now on the decline.


With the end of the infrastructure boom, China’s economy may well prove to be a one-trick pony. Transition from a state-directed infrastructure ‘miracle’ to a broad-based consumer society will be a lot more difficult.

Falling crude prices are good news

Crude oil prices are falling sharply. Nymex Light Crude broke support at $98/barrel and Brent Crude is testing support at $104. Breach of that support level would confirm a primary down-trend.

Nymex WTI Crude

The theory has been bandied about that lower crude prices are a Barack Obama strategy to deter Vladimir Putin in East Ukraine. But there are signs of an economic slow-down in Europe, especially Italy, that would hurt demand for Brent Crude. And the Baltic Dry Index, which reflects bulk commodity shipping rates, indicates global trade is at a low ebb. Whichever is correct, low crude prices are welcome — good for the medium-term outlook of the global economy.

Baltic Dry Index

Commodities weaken on soft demand

Crude oil prices fell sharply in July, especially Brent Crude [pink] which is testing support at $104/$106 per barrel. Breach of that support level, or $98/$100 for Nymex Light Crude, would signal a primary down-trend.

Nymex WTI Crude

Commodity prices have weakened in sympathy, with Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index falling sharply since breaking support at 133. Expect another test of long-term support at 122/124. Reversal of 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero strengthens the bear signal.

Dow Jones UBS Commodities Index

Retreat of the Baltic Dry Index — which reflects bulk commodity shipping rates — to its 2008 low, shows similar weakness for iron ore and coal.

Baltic Dry Index

Waning demand from China is driving down prices.

China recovery

China’s Shanghai Composite Index is testing support at 2150 and the lower trend channel. Recovery above the descending trendline would suggest another rally, while failure of support would warn of a correction to primary support at 1950. The index hints at long-term recovery but further confirmation is necessary.
Shanghai Composite Index

The Harper Petersen Index, from ship brokers Harper Petersen & Co., indicates that shipping rates for container vessels remain depressed, suggesting a sluggish global trade in manufactured goods. Exporters like China would be severely affected.

Harper Petersen Index

The Baltic Dry Index — reflecting dry bulk shipping rates for commodities like iron ore and coal — jumped sharply, however, reflecting an upturn in demand for bulk commodities.
Baltic Dry Index

Bulk commodity prices remain depressed according to the RBA.
RBA Bulk Commodity Prices
But export volumes are rising, in step with the Baltic Dry Index, reflecting strong demand from infrastructure development.
RBA Bulk Commodity Exports

WSJ reports that monthly electricity consumption has reached a new high:

China on Tuesday posted an all-time record-high electricity output level of 498.7 billion kilowatt-hours in August, rising 13% from a year earlier.

Monthly fluctuations should largely be ignored because of weather variation — excessively hot months like August can boost electricity demand — but the rising long-term trend in electricity consumption (chart from IndexMundi) suggests a robust recovery. A recovery led primarily by infrastructure investment rather than manufactured exports may well prove unsustainable in the long-term, but should provide welcome relief to the resources sector in the next few years.
Electricity Consumption

Baltic Dry Index reflects falling demand from China

The Baltic Dry Index has fallen by more than 60 percent in the last 3 months, headed for a test of its 2008 low at 600. The index reflects bulk international shipping rates and is dominated by Capesize iron ore and coal shipments to China. Its fall coincides with a 23 percent drop in iron ore spot prices over the last quarter of 2011. Falling demand for raw materials from China warns that economic activity is slowing rapidly and there may not be a soft landing.

Baltic Dry Index

Australia and other resource-rich economies will need to brace themselves for a sharp fall in exports over the year ahead.