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Posts Tagged ‘inflation’

Copper Falls as China Moves to Tame Inflation

March 18, 2011 Comments off

“Copper fell on the London Metal Exchange Friday on renewed fears that continued measures to curb inflation in China will ultimately curtail demand for industrial metals. Investors were reacting to a move by the People’s Bank of China to raise the reserve-requirement ratio for banks for the third time this year, by 0.5 percentage point, in a bid to tame inflation. China is the world’s largest consumer of base metals, and attempts to slow inflation could affect development and the demand for metals.

Other base metals, however, were trading higher, supported by a further weakness in the U.S. dollar. Interest in the dollar-denominated metals often rises as the greenback weakens, as it makes them cheaper to other currency holders.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, March 18 2011

Observations:

  • China’s central Bank, the People’s Bank of China, is increasing the reserve ratio for banks in an attempt to make banks hoard more cash and lend less, thus curtailing consumption and inflation. China’s government and banking system are in a continuous struggle to adjust currency rate, interest rates and other financial parameters to stabilize growth around 8-10%.
  • Copper is going through a period of unstable prices as there is a production shortage, many new large scale projects are under development, and high prices trigger a wave of industry consolidation.

Implications:

  • Wall Street Journal’s conclusion that the lower copper price is caused by China’s reserve rate increase might be a bit farfetched, as this increase should have the same effect on other commodities. The increase in the reserve rates does however give a signal that China is still struggling with controlling growth, as discussed in the ‘Red Wave’ industry scenario for the mining industry presented last week.
  • A large part of copper production takes place in areas were the currency is pegged, strongly linked, or correlated to the dollar. As a result the copper price is relatively insensitive to changes in the strength of the dollar.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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Oliver Wyman: Commodities bubble

February 15, 2011 Comments off

2015: Based on favorable demographic trends and continued liberalization, the growth story for emerging markets was accepted by almost everyone. However, much of the economic activity in these markets was buoyed by cheap money being pumped into the system by Western central banks. Commodities prices had acted as a sponge to soak up the excess global money supply, and commodities-rich emerging economies such as Brazil and Russia were the main beneficiaries. High commodities prices created strong incentives for these emerging economies to launch expensive development projects to dig more commodities out of the ground, creating a massive oversupply of commodities relative to the demand coming from the real economy. In the same way that over-valued property prices in the US had allowed people to go on debt-fueled spending sprees, the governments of commodities-rich economies started spending beyond their means. They fell into the familiar trap of borrowing from foreign investors to finance huge development projects justified by unrealistic valuations.

Once the Chinese economy began to slow, investors quickly realized that the demand for commodities was unsustainable. Combined with the massive oversupply that had built up during the boom, this led to a collapse of commodities prices. Having borrowed to finance expensive development projects, the commodities-rich countries in Latin America and Africa and some of the world’s leading mining companies were suddenly the focus of a new debt crisis. In the same way that the sub-prime crisis led to a plethora of half-completed real estate development projects in the US, Ireland and Spain, the commodities crisis of 2013 left many expensive commodity exploration projects unfinished.”

Source: Oliver Wyman: The Financial Crisis of 2015, February 2011

Observations:

  • Oliver Wyman, the international consulting firm, recently published a report in which it describes ‘the avoidable history’ of the next financial crisis. It foresees a bubble of commodity prices, caused by cheap money supply to developing countries in reaction to increased regulation in the developed world.
  • Wyman lists a number of prevention measures that should help to prevent the scenario sketched above from happening, removal of subsidies and scenario planning for development decisions being the most applicable to the mining sector.

Implications:

  • The factors Wyman does not include in its analysis are the long development lag of natural resources projects, causing supply to trail demand changes by several years, and competitive dynamics in the industry. Both factors might eventually strenghten the effects described, but a burst 2015 might be a too aggressive timeline.
  • Careful analysis of the sustainability of demand growth in Asia, in particular in China, is crucial for the investment decisions for long term projects in all mining firms, not only the companies that have Chinese customers. Once Chinese demand slows down the global fulfillment dynamics will change, making the low cost suppliers (totalling production and transportation costs) survive.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

Rio Tinto: Reinvigorated, but worried about volatility

February 10, 2011 Comments off

“Chairman Jan du Plessis said ‘This year’s record results reflect a combination of strong
commodity markets
, first class assets and excellent operational performance at our managed
operations. We are in a significant growth phase and have multiple opportunities to pursue. Our strategy
remains the same, and our strengthened balance sheet means we are in a good position to
deliver on this. We will continue to make substantial investments in value-adding organic
growth
and targeted small to medium-sized acquisitions.’

Chief executive Tom Albanese said ‘Rio Tinto is reinvigorated, running strongly and benefiting from favourable markets. GDP growth in emerging markets and supply constraints mean the
general market and pricing outlook for commodities remain positive, albeit with elevated risk.
In particular, the timing and speed at which post-global financial crisis stimulus packages are
removed have the potential to generate both volatility and substantial swings in commodity
prices
. We are well placed to cope with the risks of both short term volatility and long term
demand growth. In 2010, by safely running many of our operations at full capacity we more than doubled our underlying earnings to $14 billion. Our leadership in operational performance was
demonstrated by record iron ore production from our world class Pilbara operations.'”

Source: Rio Tinto press release, February 10 2011

Observations:

  • Gross revenue for the year was $60.3bln, about 8% above analyst concensus estimate. Key revenue drivers were high iron ore, coal, and copper prices.
  • Earnings increased 122% to $14bln. Price increases led to a 151% increase, but exchange rates, inflation, energy costs, and increasing operational costs reduced the increase. Volumes increased slightly, primarily in the Pilbara iron ore operations.
  • Earnings Per Share of 735$ct are in the range of analyst expectations.
  • Rio Tinto launched an extensive report on the outlook for metals and minerals by Vivek Tupulé, the group’s Chief Economist. The report expresses concern about the high inflation in China and the potential impact of interest rate resulting increases for the resources industry.

Implications:

  • The prudent growth outlook, framed by both the chief economist and CEO Albanese, refuel the industry debate about the short and long term sustainability of Chinese growth. Shares of Rio Tinto dropped over 2% pre-market in New York (vs. just over 1% for basic materials peers), indicating that worries come as a surprise to part of the investor community.
  • The high commodity prices have helped the company to rebuild a healthy balance sheet. With current level of cash generation the announced share buybacks and the $11bln capital expenditure for 2011 should not impede the company to continue searching and bidding for sizeable acquisitions. The company might benefit from its relative low activity in acquisitions in the past years to gain regulatory and public approval for deals around the world that would currently be harder for rival BHP Billiton to pursue.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com