Monday, January 16, 2012

Future of Commodities: Light and Dark

Commodities Now

No one holds a crystal ball which will give the commodities investor perfect advice for maximising his return on investment. So it is a good idea to consider a range of projections, and ponder the logic behind each prognostication most carefully. Here are excerpts from two recent projections, at somewhat different ends of the investment spectrum.
What will happen over the next 10 years? I believe the supercycle of growth across emerging markets will continue with rising urbanization and income rates. This bodes well for commodities, especially copper, coal, oil and gold, and we’ll continue to focus on companies that will benefit the most from these much-needed resources.

...10 years of tremendous income growth and little household debt, make China the “world’s best consumption story, for everything from instant noodles to luxury cars” in 2012.

According to December Chinese trade figures, month-over-month and year-over-year imports of aluminum and copper increased significantly. This may be a result of China restocking ahead of Chinese New Year, but M2 money supply growth rapidly rose in recent months, a sign the government is attempting to reaccelerate the economy. Also, the urban labor market has been robust over the past two years, with an annual change just below 5 percent—a record high over the past 15 years. _CommoditiesNow
Well, it is good to put a positive face on things if you can. The author of the piece excerpted below, takes a very jaundiced view of the coming world of commodities. When reading it, try to maintain a sense of perspective, and stay away from high places, loaded guns, and prescription drugs.
I'm interested in how both shadow and dark inventory phenomena pervert their respective markets, as well as the entire free market system as a whole, where everyone is supposed to have "full access to information". Something both dark and shadow inventories make impossible. Something the 99% general public are not aware of. At all.
If you are the accumulator of dark inventory, or privy to the flow, you are able to foresee the market rallies and position yourself accordingly. This is a profitable time.

Of course, in continually oversupplied markets you will begin to suffer the costs of hedging inventory, if you are bothering to hedge, (since forward curves may eventually flatten out) as well as the burden of balance sheet expansion. Eventually it will make sense to park that inventory off-balance sheet._Dark Inventory
...I certainly recommend reading Izabella's entire piece (like all other pieces I quote from). But even from the quote above alone, you can, even if you're not familiar with the topic, still get a genuinely queasy feeling. We're talking market manipulation here, a way to influence investment decisions without anyone ever knowing they’re being manipulated. And fully legal.

Chris Cook, former compliance and market supervision director of the International Petroleum Exchange, writes this about "dark oil inventory" at Naked Capitalism:
All is not as it appears in the global oil markets, which in my view have become entirely dysfunctional and no longer fit for its purpose. I believe that the market price is about to collapse as it did in 2008 and that this will mark the end of an era in which the market has been run by and on behalf of trading and financial intermediaries.

In this post I forecast the imminent death of the crude oil market [..] _Naked Oil
...In a nutshell: Cook argues that QE measures from the Fed and BOE have caused large investors to flee from dollars into commodities.

This in turn has led to a price bubble through contango (forward prices are higher than spot prices), for which they are all positioned, but this will down the line inevitably lead to the opposite - backwardation -, and the bubble must burst. Severely, says Cook: to as low as $45 a barrel. Given how conservative Cook is in the numbers he uses, even that may be a high estimate.

In yet another article at Naked Capitalism, Irish journalist Philip Pilkington summarizes Cook’s point so well it seems pointless to try and improve on it:
...if this is a bubble of fear and it bursts – the financial sector is going to see a huge wiping out of the profits they have been reaping from it. We have no way of knowing how much profitability is tied up in these dodgy markets – but my thinking is: a lot. _Fear and Loathing Bursting Bubbles
...while I think it's important for everyone to see and understand that, and how, manipulation sets market prices for commodities (and stocks, but that's another story) on a daily basis, and not some free market principle, I started out trying to figure out what connects dark oil inventory and shadow housing inventory.

Michael Olenick, founder and CEO of Legalprise, and creator of FindtheFraud, has - extensively- looked at the latter:
...if shadow inventory is large, housing prices have a good bit further to go before they hit bottom, which has dire consequences for communities, homeowners, and the broader economy. _Shadow Inventory in Housing
...I think perhaps the best way to make the connection between dark inventory in commodities and shadow inventory in real estate is to look at, no surprise, what pays for it. And that leads me to what I have long since coined "zombie money".

Zombie money is the money that seems, but only seems, to exist because of unrecognized losses. QE measures, for instance, basically serve to keep those losses unrecognized. That’s what they're for. To make markets, and ordinary people, believe that banks are still solvent when in reality they're not.

Funny thing is, even with all the accounting tricks that hide those losses, the entire system is still, and already, on the verge of collapse. And when it goes, the loser will be you, not the gamblers that lost fair and square. If dark inventory shows you anything, it’s that fair and square is a thing of some mythical fairy tale past. The reality for you and me is, and this is not the first time I put it like this: heads you lose, tails you die. _The Automatic Earth
Perhaps the truth is somewhat in between these two scenarios. But it is becoming more and more difficult to trust all the "happy talk" about China coming from those who stand to profit from your investments, one way or another.

The idea that markets are being manipulated behind the scenes may seem far-fetched. And yet, wherever there are profits to be made by any means, there are those who will take the risk. It is best to remember that.

Taken from an earlier article on abu al-fin

And don't forget this cautionary look at world commodities prices from our own Al Fin energy analysts.



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