Chinese Commodities in Sea of Red as Global Rout Spreads East

The global rout in commodities spread to China, with futures for iron ore to coal to soybeans tumbling, as markets were gripped by inflation fears and authorities in Beijing continued to try to jawbone prices lower.

Chinese exchanges saw some brutal declines, particularly in ferrous markets, with iron ore dropping as much as 7.6% and steel rebar falling 5.6%. Coking coal, used to make steel, plunged 7.5%, and soybeans slumped almost 3%.

The widespread declines followed a market meltdown in the U.S., where everything from equities to cryptos to raw materials plunged. The slump comes on the heels of a huge surge in commodities markets, both globally and in China, after talk of a new “supercycle” pushed prices to unprecedented levels.

Chinese Commodities in Sea of Red as Global Rout Spreads East

“After a year of gaining, investors in the market might have started thinking of an exit plan and looking for triggers,” said Zhang Chenfeng, a researcher at top Chinese commodity hedge fund Shanghai Chaos Investment Group Co. The recent rollback in commodity prices was partly attributed to some disputes in macroeconomic outlooks such as inflation, he added.

In China, traders fear the government’s increasingly strong language warning against what it calls “unreasonable” gains could cap further rallies. In recent weeks, Beijing has pledged more domestic supply to ease prices, tougher oversight on spot and futures markets, and vowed to crack down on speculation and hoarding.

At a meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang Wednesday, the State Council said more effort needs to be taken to prevent rising commodity prices from being passed through to consumers, according to reports carried in state media.

“China’s voice is getting louder,” Zhang said. Chinese officials “have been trying to calm down speculative price surges, especially in coal and coke markets.”

Aggregate open interest in some of China’s major industrial commodities has fallen near the lowest levels since late February, indicating net-long positions are being liquidated, Bloomberg calculations showed. Hedge funds have also trimmed bullish bets on global commodities for the first time in over a month, according to Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Intercontinental Exchange data.

Economic data for April suggest that both China’s economic expansion and its credit impulse -- new credit as a percentage of GDP -- may already have peaked, leaving the recent rally in prices to record highs looking precarious. The most obvious fallout would be on those metals keyed to real estate and infrastructure spending, from copper and aluminum, to steel and its main ingredient, iron ore.

The prospect of a taper on easy money conditions in the U.S., the world’s second major pillar of commodities demand, is compounding the worries over a tougher demand environment for raw materials.

Markets Latest
Copper -0.9% in ShanghaiCrude oil -1.8% in Shanghai
Iron ore -4.2% DalianSteel rebar -1.9% in Shanghai
Thermal coal -8.4% in ZhengzhouCoking coal -7.5% in Dalian
Live hogs -0.1% in DalianCorn -0.3% in Dalian
Soybeans -2% in DalianRubber +0.5% in Shanghai

On the Wire

China has tapped the U.S. for more than a third of next season’s expected corn imports, accelerating its buying from the world’s top supplier to fill its growing grain needs. Chinese traders say they’re importing record volumes of U.S. feed including soybeans, corn, and sorghum, according to a USDA report.

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The Week Ahead

Friday, May 21

  • China weekly iron ore port stockpiles
  • Shanghai exchange weekly commodities inventory, 15:30
  • SMM battery materials conference in Changsha, Hunan, day 2
  • AGMs: Cnooc, Tianqi Lithium, CATL

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