Guess what, it’s official: 2015 was a terrible year for commodities. Analysis is starting to flow into inboxes of those involved in the business, and all appear to confirm that 2015 was a crushing year for commodities, with little joy forecast for this year.
The Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM), a measure of investor returns in raw materials, tumbled 25% in 2015, a fifth straight annual loss and the longest slide since the data began in 1991.
Cotton was the only gainer out of 22 individual commodity indices for the year. Crude oil was the worst performer, tumbling 45% on a supply glut.
Copper, aluminum, zinc, and nickel capped annual losses, with nickel dropping 43%, the worst performer in the Bloomberg Industrial Metals Index (BCOMIN).
Citi strategist David Wilson said that a “significant proportion” of refined nickel drawn into China throughout 2015 could have been used to meet growing financing demand for nickel, rather than real end-use demand.
In the year to November, China imported around 258,000 mt of refined nickel and 626,000 mt (gross tonnes) of ferronickel, volumes being up 108% and 146% on the year, respectively, “levels not consistent with the negative stainless melt rate growth trends seen within China last year.” Nickel is a key alloy in stainless steel.
The first day of trading in 2016 saw nickel prices fall by around $300/mt, continuing the price downtrend seen through Q4 2015.
The three-months nickel price closed the London Metal Exchange kerb session Monday at $8,505/mt. The metal started 2015 around $15,500/mt.
Adding to the woe, Monday saw Chinese stock markets hit limit down restrictions, meaning that trading was suspended until the close of play as the main exchange ditched 7%.
Broader commodity indices posted significant negative returns in 2015.
According to Bank of America/Merrill Lynch on Tuesday, for 2016, a strong US dollar “coupled with subdued global growth and inflation will remain significant headwinds for commodities, maintaining downward pressure on prices.”
In response to the price slide across metals in 2015, certain markets saw significant production cuts in order to help support the situation.
However, “despite nickel prices ending 2015 around 42% lower than the year open, nickel supply adjustments have been negligible outside of China,” said Citi’s Wilson.
He believes that a target of $8,000/mt is required “to drive necessary supply adjustments.”
With end of year positioning out of the way, a renewed focus on the weak Chinese market should see downward pressure remain on commodity prices, according to ANZ.
Macquarie said that, according to its data, the December aggregate manufacturing PMI for the leading industrial powers was unchanged from November at 50.1, its lowest since the end of 2012 and barely above the 50 mark that officially denotes contraction/expansion.
The outlook for commodities isn’t shaping up to be rosy. Are there any bright sparks amid the gloom?
“With gold and silver prices having been the best of a bad bunch in 2015, despite their losses, there is an argument that commodity investment index rebalancing in the coming days (January 8-14) could see a selloff in these metals,” said Dr Jonathon Butler, an analyst at Mitsubishi.
UBS’ Joni Teves struggled for a positive.
“Concerns about China following a weak PMI print, global equities selloff and geopolitical tensions in the Middle East have boosted gold’s safehaven appeal early this year. But given much disappointment with gold’s performance and reliability as a safe haven asset in recent years, investors are understandably hesitant,” said the analyst.
As one dealer said late last year, “It looks like most people have already written 2016 off…”
Eyes on 2017, everyone.