China is one of the top steel-consuming countries due to infrastructure development, but it can supply most of its demand with domestic production. Rather, iron ore producing countries and base metal focused exchange traded funds would take a harder hit if steel demand softens in China.
"To identify the repercussions of cooling fixed-asset investment here, we may need to look further upstream. True, China produces most of its steel, but it does so with imported iron ore. The nation has long been the top consumer and importer of the base metal, but the impacts of a shift would be felt in places such as Brazil and Australia. The world's largest iron ore producers are Vale, Rio Tinto (both Brazilian), and BHP Billiton," Abraham Bailin wrote in a recent Morningstar article.
The lowered steel demand from China would hit commodity exchange traded fund investments such as the SPDR S&P International Materials Sector (NYSEARCA:IRV) which has about 20% of the portfolio dedicated to the aforementioned iron ore-producing companies. Likewise, iShares S&P Global Materials (NYSEARCA:MXI) has similar exposure, but also has U.S. domiciled holdings, reports Bailin.
If the infrastructure bubble were to fall flat in China, copper is another metal that would take a hit. The First Trust ISE Global Copper Index (NASDAQ:CU) and the Global X Copper Miners (NYSEARCA:COPX) both give investors exposure to some of the biggest copper producers in the world.
Thus far, China has kept up its share of global copper consumption, and analysts anticipate that the country will drive price support for the metal going forward. However, copper is correlated to the health of the construction sector and like steel and iron ore, would be adversely impacted by a slowdown in China's infrastructure development.
The weaker global economy has deflated the country's export driven economy without another outlet for growth. Further, the passage of the nation's 12th five-year economic plan, the shift toward a consumer-led economy is officially underway, says Bailin. This shift could take the strength out of the commodity market, which had been fortified by China over the past decade.
Tisha Guerrero contributed to this article.