Nowhere to Hide From Inflation Fears as Commodities Join Rout
(Bloomberg) -- Even commodity futures aren’t safe from the inflation fears that are gripping global markets. Crude oil plunged 7%, coffee had its biggest loss in two months, while corn and copper also tumbled.
Fresh concerns that the Federal Reserve will let inflation accelerate sparked a selloff in most risk assets on Thursday. U.S. equities dropped from records and Treasury yields jumped. Those moves spilled over into commodities, with physical demand heavily tied into global growth expectations.
Still, it was a bit of a paradox for commodities. The markets can sometimes benefit from an inflationary environment since investors think of the raw materials as a good place to find yield. But the inflation equation needs to be just right: Too much, especially if it’s coupled with concerns over economic growth and a higher dollar, and the inflation boost quickly turns into a drag amid deflated demand expectations.
Commodities had a supercharged start to the year that saw crude surge more than 30% through Wednesday. Corn, soybeans and copper reached multi-year highs and lumber prices skyrocketed. Bulls took such a command that some traders were gearing up for a new supercycle of prolonged gains.
That enthusiasm has come to a halt this week as slow vaccine rollouts sparked concern over how long it will be before consumption of energy, metals and grains returns to pre-pandemic levels. That was compounded by gains in the dollar, which make greenback-priced commodities less attractive as a store of value.
“Treasury yields and the dollar are responding to the Fed, and that is currently having a negative impact on the commodities,” Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist at StoneX, said in an email.
The Bloomberg Commodity Spot Index slumped 2.4%, the biggest drop since mid-September.
West Texas Intermediate crude futures declined for a fifth session, the longest stretch of daily losses in more than a year. Global oil demand won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023, and growth will be subdued thereafter amid new working habits and a shift away from fossil fuels, the International Energy Agency said this week.
Grain prices also fell. There are signs of improving growing conditions for some crop producers. Beneficial rains for soybeans in Argentina weighed on the market, while favorable weather in the U.S., Russia and Ukraine pressured wheat prices.
Meanwhile, the gains for Treasury yields hurt demand for alternative assets like gold and silver, which don’t bear interest.
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