Are commodities on the verge of becoming the hottest topic in finance again, or will AI remain in focus?
A year-long commodity sector correction showing signs of reversing
The commodity sector looks set to start the third quarter on a firmer footing after months of weakness saw a partial reversal during June. Multiple developments, some based on expectations and some on actual developments, have all contributed to the strong gains, the most important being renewed dollar weakness as interest rate gaps narrow, OPEC’s active management of oil production and prices, the not-yet-realised prospect for the Chinese government stepping up its support for the economy and, not least, the risk of higher food prices into the autumn, as several key growing regions battle with hot and dry weather conditions.
Despite continued demand worries led by recession concerns in the US and Europe, the energy sector is holding up – supported by Saudi Arabia’s unilateral production cut, rising refinery margins into the peak summer demand season and speculative traders’ and investors’ belief in higher prices being near the weakest in more than ten years, thereby reducing the risk of additional aggressive macroeconomic-related selling. Elsewhere, we are seeing hot and dry weather raising concerns across the agriculture sector, while also raising demand for natural gas around the world from power generators towards cooling.
The precious metal rally ran out of steam during the second quarter, as surging stock markets reduced the need for alternative investments while central banks continued to hike rates in order get inflation under control. Inflation may fall further but we increasingly see the risk of long-term inflation staying well above the 2% to 2.5% target area, and together with a growing bubble risk in stocks, continued strong demand from central banks, and the eventual peak in short-term rates as the FOMC shifts its focus, we see further upside for precious metals into the second half of the year.
From the recent price performance across the different sectors, we could be seeing the first signs of markets bottoming out, with current levels already pricing in some of the worst-case growth scenarios. Data on the US economy is still showing economic activity below trend growth but is also not showing recession dynamics, and earnings estimates have increased substantially, especially in Europe, since the Q1 earnings season started in mid-April. The potential for additional gains from here, however, will primarily depend on whether China can deliver additional stimulus, thereby supporting demand for key commodities from crude oil to copper and iron ore. Weather developments across the coming weeks across the Northern Hemisphere and their impact on crop production will also be key.
Gold pausing but a fresh record high remains the target
Following a strong run-up in prices since November, gold spent most of the second quarter consolidating after briefly reaching a fresh record high. Sentiment is currently challenged by the recent stock market rally and the prospect for additional US rate hikes, thereby delaying the timing of a gold supportive peak in rates. So while the short-term outlook points to further consolidation below 2,000 dollars per ounce as we await incoming economic data, we keep an overall bullish outlook for gold and silver, driven among others by: continued dollar weakness; an economic slowdown, making current stock market gains untenable, leading to fresh safe-haven demand for precious metals; continued central bank demand providing a floor under the market; sticky US inflation struggling to reach the 2.5% long-term target set out by the US Federal Reserve (and if realised, it will likely to trigger a gold-supportive repricing of real yields lower), and a multipolar world raising the geopolitical temperature. In addition, silver may benefit from additional industrial metal strength, which could see it outperform gold. Overall, and based on the expectations and assumptions mentioned, we see the potential for gold reaching a fresh record high above $2100 before year-end.