A Happy Holiday For Commodities Producers
The Scotiabank Commodity Price Index is likely to finish the year up 25 percent, with all sub-indices showing positive performance. The Oil & Gas index rose 55 percent year-to-November after both oil and natural gas reached cycle-lows in the first quarter of the year, while the Metals & Minerals index rallied convincingly, up 27 percent on coal and zinc strength.
“It’s a reasonably happy holiday season for commodity producers after one of their toughest collective years on record,” said Rory Johnston, commodity economist at Scotiabank. “We expect oil, natural gas, zinc, nickel and gold to gain ground in 2017, while copper, aluminium, coal and iron ore prices are expected to slide back from currently-inflated levels.”
Commodity outperformers of 2016: bulks, zinc, natural gas
Bulks: The rapid run-up in the prices of bulk commodities, most notably metallurgical coal, was the biggest commodity surprise of 2016. Prices were boosted by a perfect storm of supply disruptions together with stronger demand on the back of Beijing’s stimulus push, stoked higher still by bullish speculation concentrated on Chinese exchanges. But the surprise rally lost steam in the final weeks of the year.
Zinc: Acute supply reductions will support prices higher. Zinc prices began 2016 at 70 cents per pound and rose consistently through the year, reaching a year-to-date high of $1.32 per pound in early December. Zinc’s rise was a supply story through and through in an industry that hasn’t seemed able to reduce production despite a persistent low-price environment.
Natural Gas: Prices are heating up as temperatures fall. Natural gas prices had been weighed down to a 23-year low in early March by a substantial inventory overhand that had accumulated over the warmest winter in 121 years. The combination of higher structural demand and cooler temperatures has worked inventories back down to more typical levels and prices have recovered.
Commodity underperformers of 2016: gold, aluminium, copper
Gold: This was supposed to be gold’s year. Instead, gold is collapsing as inflation and resulting interest rate expectations rise on the back of pledges by the Trump campaign to cut taxes and spend $1 trillion on American infrastructure.
Aluminium: Aluminium managed to gain more ground than expected in 2016 but the aluminium industry remains in a state of chronic overcapacity, with subsidized Chinese smelters distorting any disincentive function that low prices would typically provide.
Copper: Despite its recent rally, copper remains weighed down by supply. Copper looked like a sure bet for worst performer during the first nine months of 2016 before a surprise rally lifted prices by nearly 30 percent on the year. However, copper’s fundamentals point to a two- to three-year period of surplus supply, and prices have already begun to recede.