John Mauldin: Commodity Weakness Persists
In today’s Outside the Box, good friend Gary Shilling gives us deeper insight into the global economic trends that have led to China’s headline-making, market-shaking devaluation of the renminbi. He reminds us that today’s currency moves and lagging growth are the (perhaps inevitable) outcome of China massive expansion of output for many products that started more than a decade ago. China was at the epicenter of a commodity bubble that got underway in 2002, soon after China joined the World Trade Organization.
As manufacturing shifted from North America and Europe to China –with China now consuming more than 40% of annual global output of copper, tin, lead, zinc and other nonferrous metal while stockpiling increased quantities of iron ore, petroleum and other commodities – many thought a permanent commodity boom was here.
Think again, Australia; not so fast, Brazil. Copper prices, for instance, have been cut nearly in half as world growth, and Chinese internal demand, have weakened. Coal is another commodity that is taking a huge hit: China’s imports of coking coal used in steel production are down almost 50% from a year ago, and of course coal is being hammered here in the US, too.
And the litany continues. Grain prices, sugar prices, and – the biggee – oil prices have all cratered in a world where the spectre of deflation has persistently loomed in the lingering shadow of the Great Recession. (They just released grain estimates for the US, and apparently we’re going to be inundated with corn and soybeans. The yield figures are almost staggeringly higher than the highest previous estimates. Very bearish for grain prices.)
Also, most major commodities are priced in dollars; and now, as the US dollar soars and the Fed prepares to turn off the spigot, says Gary, “raw materials are more expensive and therefore less desirable to overseas users as well as foreign investors.” As investors flee commodities in favor of the US dollar and treasuries, there is bound to be a profound shakeout among commodity producers and their markets
See the conclusion of the article for a special offer to OTB readers for Gary Shilling’s INSIGHT.Gary’s letter really does provide exceptional value to his readers and clients. It’s packed with well-reasoned, outside-the-consensus analysis. He has consistently been one of the best investors and analysts out there.
There are times when you look at your travel schedule and realize that you just didn’t plan quite as well as you could have. On Monday morning I was in the Maine outback with my youngest son, Trey, and scheduled to return to Dallas and then leave the next morning to Vancouver and Whistler to spend a few days with Louis Gave. But I realized as Trey and I got on the plane that I no longer needed to hold his hand to escort him back from Maine. He’s a grown man now. I could’ve flown almost directly to Vancouver and cut out a lot of middlemen. By the time that became apparent, it was too late and too expensive to adjust.
Camp Kotok, as it has come to be called, was quite special this year. The fishing sucked, but the camaraderie was exceptional. I got to spend two hours one evening with former Philadelphia Fed president Charlie Plosser, as he went into full-on professor mode on one topic after another. I am in the midst of thinking about how my next book needs to be written and researched, and Charlie was interested in the topic, which is how the world will change in the next 20 years, what it means, and how to invest in it. Like a grad student proposing a thesis, I was forced by Charlie to apply outline and structure to what had been only rough thinking.
There may have been a dozen conversations like that one over the three days, some on the boat – momentarily interrupted by fish on the line – and some over dinner and well into the night. It is times like that when I realize my life is truly blessed. I get to talk with so many truly fascinating and brilliant people. And today I find myself with Louis Gave, one of the finest economic and investment thinkers in the world (as well as a first-class gentleman and friend), whose research is sought after by institutions and traders everywhere. In addition to talking about family and other important stuff, we do drift into macroeconomic talk. Neither of us were surprised by the Chinese currency move and expect that this is the first of many.
I did a few interviews while I was in Maine. Here is a short one from the Street.com. They wanted to talk about what I see happening in Europe. And below is a picture from the deck of Leen’s Lodge at sunset. Today I find myself in the splendor of the mountains of British Columbia. It’s been a good week and I hope you have a great one as well.
Oops, I’ve just been talked into going zip-trekking this afternoon with Louis and friends. Apparently they hang you on a rope and swing you over forests and canyons. Sounds interesting. Looks like we’ll do their latest and greatest, the Sasquatch. 2 km over a valley. Good gods.
Your keenly aware of what a blessing his life is analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
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Commodity Weakness Persists
(Excerpted from the August 2015 edition of A. Gary Shilling’s INSIGHT)
The sluggish economic growth here and abroad has spawned three significant developments – falling commodity prices, looming deflation and near-universal currency devaluations against the dollar. With slowing to negative economic growth throughout the world, it’s no surprise that commodity prices have been falling since early 2011 (Chart 1). While demand growth for most commodities is muted, supply jumps as a result of a huge expansion of output for many products a decade ago. China was the focus of the commodity bubble that started in early 2002, soon after China joined the World Trade Organization at the end of 2001.
China, The Manufacturer
As manufacturing shifted from North America and Europe to China – with China now consuming more than 40% of annual global output of copper, tin, lead, zinc and other nonferrous metal while stockpiling increased quantities of iron ore, petroleum and other commodities – many thought a permanent commodity boom was here.
So much so that many commodity producers hyped their investments a decade ago to expand capacity that, in the case of minerals, often take five to 10 years to reach fruition. In classic commodity boom-bust fashion, these capacity expansions came on stream just as demand atrophied due to slowing growth in export-dependent China, driven by slow growth in developed country importers. Still, some miners maintain production because shutdowns and restarts are expensive, and debts incurred to expand still need to be serviced. Also, some mineral producers are increasing output since they believe