Anyone investing in commodities over the past few weeks will have been in for a bumpy ride. During the first part of 2011, commodity prices have soared (see A perfect storm brewing?). This has fuelled inflation and has caused the Bank of England to revise upwards its forecast for inflation (see Busy doing nothing see also Prospects for Inflation).
But then in the first week of May, commodity prices plumetted. On the 5 May, oil prices fell by 7.9% – their largest daily amount since January 2009. Between 28 April and 6 May silver prices fell from $48.35 per ounce to just over $33.60 per ounce – a fall of over 30%. And it was the same with many other commodities – metals, minerals, agricultural raw materials and foodstuffs.
Many financial institutions, companies and individuals speculate in commodities, hoping to make money buy buying at a low price and selling at a high price. When successful, speculators can make large percentage gains in a short period of time. But they can also lose by getting their predictions wrong. In uncertain times, speculation can be destabilising, exaggerating price rises and falls as speculators ‘jump on the bandwagon’, seeing price changes as signifying a trend. In more stable times, speculation can even out price changes as speculators buy when prices are temporarily low and sell when they are temporarily high.
Times are uncertain at present. Confidence fluctuates over the strength of the world recovery. On days of good economic news, demand for commodities rises as people believe that a growing world economy will drive up the demand for commodities and hence their prices. On days of bad economic news, the price of commodities can fall. The point is that when undertainty is great, commodity prices can fluctuates wildly.
Commodities plunge: Blip or turning point? BBC News, Laurence Knight (6/5/11)
Commodity hedge fund loses $400m in oil slide Financial Times, Sam Jones (8/5/11)
Commodities: ‘epic rout’ or the new normal? BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (6/5/11)
Commodities Still a Bubble – But Prices May Continue to Rise Seeking Alpha, ChartProphet (9/5/11)
When a sell-off is good news The Economist, Buttonwood (6/5/11)
Gilt-edged argument The Economist, Buttonwood (28/4/11)
Commodities: What volatility means for your portfolio Reuters blogs: Prism Money (9/5/11)
Gold, silver rise again on debt, inflation concerns Reuters, Frank Tang (10/5/11)
Commodities After The Crash, No Way But Up The Market Oracle, Andrew McKillop (9/5/11)
Outlook 2011:Three Dominant Factors Will Impact Precious Metals in 2011 GoldSeek (9/5/11)
Energy bills set to rise sharply next winter, Centrica warn Guardian, Graeme Wearden (9/5/11)
Dollar triggered commodities ‘flash crash’, not Bin Laden The Telegraph, Garry White, and Rowena Mason (9/5/11)
The outlook for commodity prices Live Mint@The Wall Steet Journal, Manas Chakravarty (11/5/11)
Three ways to play the next commodities bubble Market Watch, Keith Fitz-Gerald (11/5/11)
Commodity Prices Index Mundi
Commodities Financial Times
Commodities BBC Market Data
- Why did commodity prices fall so dramatically in early May, only to rise again rapidly afterwards?
- Why do commodity prices fluctuate more than house prices?
- What is the relevance of price elasticity of demand and supply in explaining the volatility of commodity prices?
- Under what circumstances is speculation likely to be (a) stabilising; (b) destabilising?
- To what extent are rising commodity prices (a) the cause of and (b) the effect of world inflation?
- If commodity prices go on rising every year, will inflation go on rising? Explain.
The prices of grains and other foodstuffs are rising rapidly. Wheat prices rose some 40 per cent in July and have continued to rise rapidly since. In June wheat futures were trading at around 450 US cents/bushel. By early September, they were trading at around 700 US cents/bushel. Global food prices generally rose by 5% over the two months July/August. And it’s not just food. Various other commodity prices, such as copper and oil, have also increased substantially.
At the beginning of September there were three days of food riots in Mozambique in protest against the 30% rise in the price of bread. Seven people were killed and 288 were injured. On 2 September Russia announced that it was extending a ban on wheat exports for another 12 months following a disastrous harvest. In Pakistan, the floods have destroyed a fifth of the country’s crops. Drought in Australia and floods in the Canadian prairies have reduced these countries’ grain production.
In response to the higher prices and fears of food riots spreading, the United Nations has called a special meeting on 24 September to bring food exporters and importers together to consider “appropriate reactions to the current market situation”. And yet, although global cereal production is down by some 5% on last year, it is still predicted to be the third largest harvest on record.
So what is causing the price rises? Is it simply a question of the balance of supply and demand and, if so, what has caused the relevant shifts in supply and/or demand? And what role does speculation play? The following articles look at the issues and at the outlook for commodity prices over the coming months.
Clearly changes in commodity prices affect the rate of inflation. The news item (Bank of England navigates choppy waters) amongst other issues looks at the outlook for inflation and the various factors influencing it.
Commodity prices soar as spectre of food inflation is back Guardian, Simon Bowers (6/8/10)
Food inflation is a rumble that won’t go away Telegraph, Garry White (8/8/10)
Global wheat supply forecast cut BBC News (12/8/10)
Commodity crisis sparks fear of food inflation on high street Independent, James Thompson and Sean O’Grady (10/8/10)
Should we be concerned about high wheat prices? BBC News, Will Smale (6/8/10)
Commodity prices: Wheat The Economist (12/8/10)
Interactive: What’s driving the wheat price spike? Financial Times, Akanksha Awal, Valentina Romei and Steven Bernard (20/8/10)
Wheat pushes world food prices up BBC News (1/9/10)
UN to hold crisis talks on food prices as riots hit Mozambique Guardian, David Smith (3/9/10)
Grain prices spark global supply fears CBC News, Kevin Sauvé (3/9/10)
GRAINS-US wheat firms after Russian ban extension Forex Yard (3/9/10)
Global food prices reach 20 year high BBC News, John Moylan (3/9/10)
Speculators ‘not to blame for higher food costs’ BBC Today Programme, David Hightower (4/9/10)
Q&A: Rising world food prices BBC News (3/9/10)
Don’t starve thy neighbour The Economist (9/9/10)
Commodity prices Index Mundi
Commodity prices BBC market data
Energy prices U.S. Energy Information Administration
- Use a supply and demand diagram to illustrate (a) what has been happening to wheat prices (b) what is likely to happen to wheat prices over the coming months?
- How relevant is the price elasticity of demand and supply and the income elasticity of demand to your analysis?
- What factors have caused the shifts in demand and/or supply of wheat and copper?
- What has been the role of speculation in the price rises? Is this role likely to change over the coming months?
- What is likely to happen to food prices in the shops over the coming months? Would you expect bread prices to rise by the same percentage as wheat? If so, why; if not, why not?
- If commodity prices generally rose by 5 per cent over the coming year, would you expect inflation to be 5 per cent? Again, if so, why; if not, why not?