The Baltic Dry Index crashed by 50.4% to 893 on Friday from a high of 1,799 in the last week of 2011 and is 58.2% lower than October’s high of 2,136.
The Baltic Dry Index is generally viewed as a leading indicator of global economic activity as dry bulk primarily consists of commodities such as building materials, coal, metallic ores and grain. The massive growth in demand for commodities from 2005 to 2008 led to a surge in shipping rates as measured by the Baltic Dry Index. The demand and surging shipping rates subsequently resulted in a significant increase in capacity as the number of ships built increased sharply. Even during the great 2008/2009 crisis capacity continued to be increased as it takes two years to build a ship. Historically the capacity was generally tight and the supply seen as inelastic, resulting in marginal changes in demand causing rapid changes in shipping rates. The current significant surplus capacity in the industry means that supply exceeds potential demand to such an extent that supply elasticity has increased, resulting in rapid changes occurring in what is essentially a downtrend – yes, fundamentally the Baltic Dry Index is in a bear market as shown by the long-term chart below.
But what causes the rapid changes in demand and therefore the Baltic Dry Index? My research indicates that global manufacturing demand has very little to do with it. The answer is Chinese manufacturing demand but not the actual level of manufacturing measured by the CFLP Manufacturing PMI. In previous articles I referred to the CFLP Manufacturing PMI that is supposed to be seasonally adjusted. Despite the seasonal adjustment, a seasonal trend is clearly evident and I therefore seasonally adjusted the series further. I was amazed to find that the monthly seasonal factors and the Baltic Dry Index track each other. The reason why is not hard to find, as China is by far the world’s biggest consumer and importer of commodities and therefore the biggest player in dry bulk. Seasonally weak periods in the economy will lead to low physical demand for commodities and therefore low freight demand. On the other hand, strong periods in the economy will lead to high freight demand.
In the graph below I depicted my calculated PMI seasonal factor against the Baltic Dry Index. I have also indicated China’s New Year’s Golden Week holiday on the chart as it coincides with and explains the reasons for the weak seasonal pattern in January/February. The impact on China’s manufacturing sector is massive as the New Year’s Golden Week lasts for 15 days and includes three public holidays, while factory workers are allowed to take Sundays off. This year New Year will be celebrated on January 23, and the festival will last until February 6. The onset of the festive season/weak seasonal patch is therefore the reason behind the tumble in the Baltic Dry Index.
Sources: CFLP; Li & Fung; I-Net Bridge; Plexus Asset Management,
January/February could also mean a seasonal low for the Baltic Dry Index as from a seasonal perspective March and April are the strongest months in China’s manufacturing sector. In March and April last year the Baltic Dry Index failed to rise rapidly due to Japan’s twin disasters in March that severely restricted trade between China and Japan.
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The article below is a guest contribution by Frank Holmes, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of U.S. Global Investors.
What a decade! A rapidly urbanizing global population driven by tremendous growth in emerging markets has sent commodities on quite a run over the past 10 years. If you annualize the returns since 2002, you find that all 14 commodities are in positive territory.
A precious metal was the best performer but it’s probably not the one you were thinking of. With an impressive 20 percent annualized return, silver is king of the commodity space over the past decade with gold (19 percent annualized) and copper (18 percent annualized) following closely behind.
Notably, all commodities except natural gas outperformed the S&P 500 Index 10-year annualized return of 2.92 percent.
Last year did not seem reflective of the decade-long clamor for commodities. In 2011, only four commodities we track increased: gold (10 percent), oil (8 percent), coal (nearly 6 percent), and corn (nearly 3 percent). The remaining listed on our popular Periodic Table of Commodity Returns fell, with losses ranging from nearly 10 percent for silver to 32 percent for natural gas.
I think this chart is a “must-have” for investors and advisors because you can visually see how commodities have fluctuated from year to year. Take natural gas, for example, which posted outstanding increases in 2002 and 2005, but has been a cellar-dweller for the last four years as a result of overabundant supply and softening demand. The industry is also still trying to digest breakthrough technology that opened the door to vast shale deposits at a much lower cost.
On the other hand, oil finished in the top half of the commodity basket six out of the past 10 years. No stranger to volatile price swings, oil possesses much more attractive fundamentals as we continually see restricted supply coupled with rising demand.
After 11 consecutive years of gains, some are questioning whether gold can keep its winning streak alive in 2012. One of those skeptics is CNBC’s “Street Signs” co-host Brian Sullivan. In an appearance on Thursday, I explained how I believe the Fear Trade and Love Trade will continue to fortify gold prices at historically high levels.
I explained that one of the reasons the Fear Trade will persist in purchasing gold is the ever-rising government debt across numerous developed countries. During our Outlook 2012 webcast, John Mauldin kidded that the Mayans were not astrologers predicting the end of the world, but economists predicting the end of Europe. Whereas John believes the U.S. has wiggle room to decide on how to deal with deficits and debt, Europe and Japan are running out of time.
The situation is quite somber when you consider how much debt Europe, Japan and the U.S. owes this year alone, says global macro research provider Greg Weldon. In his preview of 2012, Weldon says that the maturing principal and interest on U.S. Treasury debt due this year totals just under $3 trillion. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain together face nearly $2 trillion in principal and interest payments. Japan is the leader in the clubhouse, owing just over $3 trillion in 2012. With the combined debt for these developed countries totaling nearly $8 trillion, the interest payments alone dwarf the total GDP of many countries in the world.
This post is a guest contribution by Dian Chu, market analyst, trader and author of the EconMatters blog.
Below are trading range charts for 10 major commodities from the Bespoke Group. All 10 commodities are currently at or below the bottom of their trading ranges, which would suggest at the moment, a good opportunity to get in at oversold levels for investors looking to gain long-term exposure.
However, the U.S. dollar has been strengthening as investors fled the Euro debt and financial crisis seeking safety in the dollar. Since most commodities are priced in dollar, dollar movement will have considerable impact on commodity prices. EconMatters guest author, Frank Holmes at US Global Investors, estimates that a 5% appreciation in the dollar could be associated with a 25% decline in commodity prices, based on the relationship between the CRB Index basket of 19 commodities and the Dollar Index.
So if the U.S. dollar continues to strengthen, which is quite probable with the burning Athens, and the lack of leadership and clarity in the Euro Zone, it would most likely put downward pressures on commodity prices.
But on the other hand, the U.S. Federal Reserve has already telegraphed the intention of yet another round of quantitative easing (QE3). So the effect on the dollar, and thus commodities, would depend on how QE3 is implemented. We suspect that the Fed now understands how QE2 has artificially jacked up commodity prices as well as inflaiton (although they will never admit it in public), and most likely will strive for a “commodity neutral” QE3.
However, if QE3 does translate into a similar effect to QE2, then commodities would be artificially inflated even further, which would suggest stagflation, and hyperinflation could be expected in most of the developed countries, and developing economies, respectively.
Source: Dian Chu, EconMatters, October 20, 2011.
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In the graphic below, Focus takes a look at some of the most striking commodity rises over the last decade, and the ones that crashed in 2011.
Please click here or on the image below for a larger graphic.
Despite the sharp falls in recent weeks, commodity prices remain in an upward trend, and will move higher in US dollar terms over the longer term, while the situation in Europe “does not look good,” Mark Mobius, Chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets, told CNBC in an interview.
“We’ve got a long-term bet on commodities, simply because of the supply/demand situation. Of course as I’ve always said there’s going to be fluctuations and sometimes there’ll be a fluctuation of 20% as much as that. But over the long term, there’s no question, commodities are going to be up, in US dollar terms,” Mobius said.
Regarding Europe, Mobius commented: “It does not look good. Unfortunately the medicine that is being applied is the same medicine that was applied during the Asian crisis you know, which didn’t work. You’ve got to have growth, otherwise there’s no way you’re going to pay back your debts. So it’s something that I hope the European central bankers and leaders will think about carefully.”
Source: CNBC, May 16, 2011.
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