Commodities have enjoyed a great start to 2018. From the low point mid-December they have rallied 6.7%. The performance has been broad-based too – driven not only by the Iran issues inflating the oil price – but a rally in industrial/precious metals and agriculture. Broad global economic growth has supported commodity prices, although we are wary of some who are interpreting this as being a positive sign broadly for commodities this year. Commodities as an asset class are a very heterogeneous group and we expect varied performance from each segment this year in particular.
Although we expect the Fed to continue to tighten policy, we think the downside risks to gold prices are limited because real interest rates will remain depressed as inflation gains pace in the US. However, a shock event, such as an equity market correction, could force gold prices higher. On balance we see little change in gold prices in the coming year.
We expect the best performer for 2018 to be industrial metals. They are likely to benefit the most from improving emerging market growth, at the same time we expect supply to remain in deficit in 2018 as the current lack of investment in mining infrastructure continues to bite. Historically we have found that metal markets begin to move towards a balance two years after miner profit margins hit rock-bottom. Miner margins fell to a low of 2% at the beginning of 2016 and since have recovered to just over 7%. So if we see a repeat of historical patterns, we should see supply begin to improve in late 2018, but it could take years to move back into balance.
- Global oversupply projected to continue for 2017/2018. The USDA January World Agricultural Supply and Demand (WASDE) report updates show most of the commodities in a surplus. Performance across the sector have been mixed over the past month. Cotton continues to benefit from strong Chinese demand while the prospects for the sugar market will likely keep prices subdued for longer.
- Weaker US Dollar provides additional support to the improving fundamentals for industrial metals. The IMF has upgraded its growth forecast for China in 2018 and 2019. With the global recovery continuing apace, the weaker US Dollar will remain supportive until the US Federal Reserve is forced to adjust monetary policy more aggressively than the market expects.
- Energy rally looking stretched. The energy complex rallied by 9.1% last month. Natural gas spiked as cold weather hit the US and signs of OPEC’s strategy bearing fruit pushed oil prices higher. However, demand for natural gas is likely to wane in line with seasonal trends and the decline in oil inventories is corollary of rising gasoline inventory.
- Further upside for precious metals amidst weaker US dollar. US dollar weakness driven by the US government shutdown and rumours that China could curb Treasury purchases are boosting gold’s safe haven appeal. Meanwhile platinum’s relative price attractiveness coupled with rising new car registrations in Europe (dominated by diesel engines) continue to support long term demand for platinum.