By Sumit Roy
Natural gas easily captures the No. 1 spot, while corn fares the worst.
Commodities were relatively tame this week, with moves of 1 percent or less seen in most names. Only natural gas, which has a reputation for being volatile, put in an outsized move. Meanwhile, the stock market notched a fresh all-time high. The S&P reached upward of 1,850 before falling back slightly. In the end, the stock index finished the week unchanged, leaving its year-to-date loss at 0.3 percent.
There were a number of economic reports released over the past week, but none were major market movers. The Census Bureau reported that retail sales in the United States rose by 0.2 percent in December, better than expected.
At the same time, the Census Bureau also said that housing starts in the U.S. fell by 9.8 percent to 999K units annualized in December, while building permits fell by 3 percent to 986K units. However, the declines came off lofty levels; in November, both starts and permits hit the highest levels since 2008.
In inflation news, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Consumer Price Index in the United States grew by 0.3 percent in December, matching expectations. However, the core CPI-excluding food and energy-grew by only 0.1 percent. On a year-over-year basis, the headline and core CPI were up by 1.5 and 1.7 percent, respectively.
Finally, the corporate earnings season in the U.S. kicked into gear this week. A number of big names released their earnings, including Bank of America and General Electric. According to Reuters, of the 6 percent of S&P 500 companies that have reported, about 48 percent have beaten estimates, less than the 63 percent in a typical quarter.
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A minor correction sent gold lower early in the week, but by Friday, the yellow metal pushed back above $1,250, leaving prices fractionally higher for the period as a whole. The modest rebound rally in gold coming off December's potential "double bottom" looks to be intact.
While analysts are conflicted about whether gold will eventually break $1,180, CPM's Group's Jeff Christian told us that he thinks the level will ultimately hold, and that prices for all of the precious metals and the miners of the precious metals will move higher by the end of the year:
"…We think 2014 is going to be the year where we see the prices bottom out, not necessarily run away to the upside," he said. "But we expect that, by the end of the year, gold and silver and platinum and palladium will all be higher than they are now, and that gold equities also will be a lot stronger."
Crude was mixed this week and it was finally WTI that outperformed. The U.S. benchmark benefited from a reported steep drop in inventories on Wednesday, which was aided by record-low net imports into the country. At the same time, Brent suffered after the Libyan government said that the country's output has tripled in recent weeks to 650,000 barrels per day thanks to an agreement with protestors.
We continue to see a narrowing of the WTI-Brent spread throughout the year, but a decline in overall crude oil pricing.
The grain complex didn't see much movement over the past several days, but wheat finished at a fresh 3 ½-year low. The grain is essentially in a free fall from a technical perspective and we would be sellers on any rallies.
Copper finished the week where it began, as traders await clues on the health of the Chinese economy. For now, the important $3.40 level is resistance for prices.
Natural gas took the No. 1 spot for performance this week, but at $4.31/mmbtu, prices finished well off the weekly high of $4.50.
Thursday's inventory data from the Energy Information Administration was a mixed blessing for the fuel. On the one hand, the reported 287 bcf withdrawal was a record. On the other hand, it fell short of analyst estimates in the 300 bcf range.
Still, the bullish outlook remains in place, particularly as another arctic blast is forecast for the Midwest and Northeast later this month. Thus, eventually, the $4.50 resistance level should give way to higher prices.