Metals spring back up

As the global recession began to take hold during 2008, so many commodity prices plummeted. Oil prices fell from over $140 per barrel in mid July 2008 to around $35 per barrel by the end of the year (a mere quarter of the price just 6 months previously). From early 2009, however, prices started rising again and have continued to do so during 2010. By mid April 2010, the price of oil had risen to $85 per barrel.

And it’s not just oil prices that have been rising. The prices of metals such as copper, nickel and zinc have been soaring. Since the beginning of February 2010, copper prices have risen by 18%, zinc prices by 20% and nickel prices by 46%. As the article from the Independent states:

The Office for National Statistics said that the input price index for materials and fuels purchased by the manufacturing industry rose 10.1 per cent in the year to March and rose 3.6 per cent between February and March alone. The ONS added that prices of imported materials as a whole, including imported crude oil, rose 4.4 per cent between February and March.

Much of the explanation for this has been the global recovery. But while raw material prices have been rising, grain prices have been relatively steady and recently have fallen. So how can this be explained? The answer, as always with commodity prices, lies with demand and supply, as you will see when you read the following articles.

Articles
Commodity prices fuel inflation spike Independent, Sean O’Grady (10/4/10)
Interest rates may have to rise sooner after figures point to inflation rise Guardian, Katie Allen (9/4/10)
Pound rises as UK producer prices hint at inflation BBC News (9/4/10)
Petrol price hits record high BBC News (8/4/10)
China commodity imports soar despite high costs Reuters (10/4/10)
March Output Price Inflation Highest Since Nov 08 Marketnews.com (9/4/10)
Spring season: What is pushing up the price of copper and other base metals? The Economist (8/4/10)
Factory gate price rise leads to fear of inflation Financial Advice (9/4/10)
Corn Falls as Warm, Dry Weather Will Aid Planting in the U.S. BusinessWeek, Jeff Wilson (8/4/10)
Wheat Futures Fall as U.S. Exports Slump, Global Crop to Gain BusinessWeek, Tony C. Dreibus (9/4/10)
Commodities: Chinese imports defying commodity‚ąíprice rally for now FZstreet.com, Danske Research Team (12/4/10)

Data
Commodity prices can be found at the following sites:
Commodity price data BBC News: Markets
Commodity prices Index Mundi
World Crude Oil Prices U.S. Energy Information Administration (See, for example, Brent Crude Oil Prices)
UK factory gate prices can be found at:
Latest Producer Prices Office for National Statistics, and
Producer Prices portal Office for National Statistics

Questions

  1. Use supply and demand analysis to explain why raw material prices have risen so rapidly. Illustrate your answer with a diagram.
  2. Use supply and demand analysis to explain why grain prices have fallen. Again, illustrate your answer with a diagram.
  3. What is the significance of income elasticity of demand and price elasticities of demand and supply in explaining the price changes in questions 1 and 2?
  4. How would you estimate the likely effect of a 1% rise in (a) general raw material prices and (b) factory gate prices on the rate of consumer price inflation?
  5. Why has the price of petrol risen above the level of July 2008, given that oil prices now are only about 60% of those in 2008?
  6. Why has a rise in factory gate prices led to a rise in the sterling exchange rate?
  7. If inflation rises as a result of a rise in commodity prices, what type of inflation would this increase in inflation be? Does the answer depend on what caused the rise in commodity prices?