Commodity prices have been falling for the past three years and have reached a four-year low. Since early 2011, the IMF overall commodity price index (based on 2005 prices) has fallen by 16.5%: from 210.1 in April 2011 to 175.4 in August 2014. The last time it was this low was December 2010.
Some commodity prices have fallen by greater percentages, and in other cases the fall has been only slight. But in the past few months the falls have been more pronounced across most commodities. The chart below illustrates these falls in the case of three commodity groups: (a) food and beverages, (b) agricultural raw materials and (c) metals, ores and minerals. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
Commodity prices are determined by demand and supply, and factors on both the demand and supply sides have contributed to the falls.
With growth slowing in China and with zero growth in the eurozone, demand for commodities has shown little growth and in some cases has fallen as stockpiles have been reduced.
On the supply side, investment in mining has boosted the supply of minerals and good harvests in various parts of the world have boosted the supply of many agricultural commodities.
But in historical terms, prices are still relatively high. There was a huge surge in commodity prices in the period up to the financial crisis of 2008 and then another surge as the world economy began to recover from 2009–11. Nevertheless, taking a longer-term perspective still, commodity prices have risen in real terms since the 1960s, but with considerable fluctuations around this trend, reflecting demand and supply at the time.
Commodities Fall to 5-Year Low With Plenty of Supplies Bloomberg Businessweek, Chanyaporn Chanjaroen (11/9/14)
Commodity ETFs at Multi-Year Lows on Supply Glut ETF Trends, Tom Lydon (11/9/14)
What dropping commodity prices mean CNBC, Art Cashin (11/9/14)
Goldman sees demand hitting commodity price DMM FX (12/9/14)
Commodity price slump is a matter of perspective Sydney Morning Herald, Stephen Cauchi (11/9/14)
Commodities index tumbles to five-year low Financial Times, Neil Hume (12/9/14)
Commodities: More super, less cycle HSBC Global Research, Paul Bloxham (8/1/13)
Commodity prices in the (very) long run The Economist (12/3/13)
IMF Primary Commodity Prices IMF
UNCTADstat UNCTAD (Select: Commodities > Commodity price long-term trends)
Commodity prices Index Mundi
- Identify specific demand-and supply-side factors that have affected prices of (a) grains; (b) meat; (c) metal prices; (d) oil.
- Why is the demand for commodities likely to be relatively inelastic with respect to price, at least in the short term? What are the implications of this for price responses to changes in supply?
- Why may there currently be a ‘buying opportunity’ for potential commodity purchasers?
- What is meant by the ‘futures market’ and future prices? Why may the 6-month future price quoted today not necessarily be the same as the spot price (i.e. the actual price for immediate trading) in 6 months’ time?
- How does speculation affect commodity prices?
- How does a strong US dollar affect commodity prices (which are expressed in dollars)?
- How may changes in stockpiles give an indication of likely changes in commodity prices over the coming months?
- Distinguish between real and nominal commodity prices. Which have risen more and why?
- How do real commodity prices today compare with those in previous decades?
In the run-up to the Comprehensive Spending Review a battle is raging. On one side are those who argue that cuts are necessary to secure long-term growth and to maintain confidence on the UK economy. These people include leaders of 35 major companies in the UK who wrote a letter to the Telegraph (see below) suppporting George Osborne’s policy of cuts.
On the other side are those who maintain that the cuts will drive the economy back into recession or, at least, will hamper economic recovery. The Federation of Small Businesses warns that “Some small firms rely on public-sector contracts for 50 or 60 per cent of their turnover. If the cuts are swingeing and overnight, these companies will be lost to the UK economy forever.”
Read the following articles to get a clear understanding of the arguments on both sides. Hopefully this will then put you in a better position to assess the cuts and their impact.
Osborne’s cuts will strengthen Britain’s economy by allowing the private sector to generate more jobs Telegraph, letter from 35 business leaders (18/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: cut now or pay later, say business leaders Telegraph, Andrew Porter, and Robert Winnett (17/10/10)
35 business leaders back Osborne’s cuts BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (17/10/10)
Prominent Tory donors among business leaders who backed Osborne’s cuts Independent, Andrew Grice (19/10/10)
On the tight side The Economist (30/9/10)
History will see these cuts as one of the great acts of political folly Observer, Will Hutton (17/10/10)
Osborne has taken the coward’s route Guardian, David Blanchflower (18/10/10)
Osborne reading Christian Andersen, claims economist The Herald, Ian McConnell (19/10/10)
Time to broaden the debate on spending cuts Guardian, Ha-Joon Chang (19/10/10)
Slugging it out over spending cuts Independent, Sean O’Grady (19/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: We should all fear the darkness, David Cameron included Telegraph, Mary Riddell (18/10/10)
Spending cuts: Molehill and mountain BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (19/10/10)
Does fiscal austerity boost short-term growth? A new IMF paper thinks not The Economist (30/9/10)
Spending Review: Forecasts rely on ‘heroic assumptions’ BBC News (20/10/10)
Spending cuts: City divided on whether cuts are good for recovery Yorkshire Evening Post (20/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: Spending cuts will hit small businesses hardest Telegraph, James Hurley (20/10/10)
Rebalancing the Economy Speech by Mervyn King, Bank of England Governor (30/9/10)
Mervyn King warns of 1930s-style collapse (Extract from above speech) BBC News, Mervyn King (19/10/10)
- What are the main arguments for making large-scale cuts to government spending at the present time?
- What are the main arguments against making large-scale cuts to government spending at the present time?
- To what extent should the government’s poplicy on the size and timing of the cuts be influenced by international economic relations?
- What role might the ‘inventory cycle’ play in the economic recovery?
- Why may the government “pay heavily unless it learns to temper its bloody cuts with humanity”?
- How will large-scale spending cuts impact on (a) consumer confidence; (b) business confidence; (c) the confidence of international financiers?
- Will monetary policy allow fiscal policy to be tightened without causing a recession? Explain the effectiveness of monetary policy in these circumstances.