Monday, January 09, 2012

Speculators Banking on Higher Commodities Prices...Just Like in 2008

Money managers expanded their combined net-long positions across 18 U.S. futures and options by 25 percent to 671,915 contracts (.MMLOSH) in the week ended Jan. 3, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Bullish bets on cotton rose the most since April 2009 and those on coffee doubled. Crude-oil holdings reached a three-week high. _Bloomberg
They are betting your pension and 401K money, university endowments, municipal holdings and more -- just as they did in 2008.
Commodities to be Volatile this Year

The recent history of commodity prices has not been so good, overall, and if recent unfavourable developments in China and Europe continue on their downward course, commodities prices could be subject to further significant drops.
Prices of raw materials have plunged this year. The prices of copper, coffee, aluminum, cotton, nickel, natural gas, wheat and silver are all down more than 20% since the end of April, according to Bloomberg. Gold, widely viewed as a barometer of inflation, has fallen 11% since its September high of $1,900 an ounce.

Inventories of commodities have gotten so high that metals dealers have had to buy extra warehouse space for them.

In November, copper warehouses in New Orleans were 98% full, and aluminum inventories in the U.S. are at an all-time peak, according to _USAToday

The prices of commodities futures depend upon anticipated demand from the big consumers of commodities. That would be China, the US, and Europe. But with a turbulent decline in Chinese real estate and stock markets, and a Eurozone crisis of confidence still building, what could be boosting the confidence of hedge funders and institutional investors?

Bloomberg attributes this aggressiveness by fund money managers to recent favourable economic news from the US government, such as improved job numbers. But these job numbers have already been shown to be unreliable at best and uniformly misleading at worst. Are money managers so easily manipulated by fudged numbers?

Many funds managers are particularly excited by the prospects of a huge runup in oil prices, just as they were in 2008. Looking at current prices of oil in dollars, prices do seem to be trending upward. But look at the chart below, showing the price of oil in gold:

Another aspect to consider when looking at historical price trends, is the inflation of the US dollar. One cannot compare today's prices of commodities such as oil with historical prices, unless one first adjusts for inflation.

Here is a table that shows the inflation adjusted price of oil beside the historical price of oil.

A handy US dollar inflation calculator

It is not possible to predict future prices of commodities with any great precision. But by understanding the bases of commodities demand, there are benchmarks which one can monitor.

Economic data from governments is apt to be fudged. Always confirm and corroborate.

12 Jan 2011: More: Please consider the information in this article in the context of the information presented by Chris Cook in the article "Naked Oil" on global oil markets. (via Brian Westenhaus)

There is always more going on under the surface than most observers will ever know.



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