"China’s economic transition and the inability of other emerging markets to pick up the slack are driving slower demand growth across the commodities complex,” says the team at Citi. "The extent of slowdown is likely to vary by commodity.”
Hardest hit, says Citi, will be bulk commodities like coal, iron ore, and steel thanks to their exposure to China's manufacturing, infrastructure, and property sectors.
Oil consumption growth in China and the "Emerging 5" - India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa - will be 2.7% from 2014-2020, and 2.3% from 2020-2025 vs. 4% from 2001-2011.
The upside from China no longer being as dominant: “Global demand as a whole should become less cyclical as a downturn in one key economy has a lesser impact on overall demand."
Notable for being at the bottom of the list for what is now three years running are commodities, which fell 18.6% in 2014, following an 11.1% decline in 2013, and a 2.1% drop the year before that. Will the last become first?
A tough year for commodity prices continues all the way into the close of the last session, with precious metals, energy, grains, and most of the softs slumping sharply. 2014's big commodity winner, naturally, stands alone in the green today - coffee is up 2%.
The PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracker (DBC -1.9%)
Alongside the commodity slump, both this year and this session, is a stronger dollar, set to close 2014 out at its highest level in at least five years.
The PowerShares DB Optimum Yield Diversified Commodity Strategy Portfolio (NASDAQ:PDBC) offers broad commodity futures contracts through a Cayman Islands-based unit, which allows its investors to avoid K-1 tax forms.
This is a key feature to the fund; K-1 forms can be a burden for investors as they potentially delay filings and may require investors to report and pay taxes on gains annually, even if the security has not been sold.
This is the 4th actively managed ETF from Invesco (NYSE:IVZ), which now offers 165 funds for investors.
With most asset classes at or near record levels, no one seems to want commodities - oil is at just $80 per barrel, gold just took out a multi-year low, and corn is off more than 50% from its 2012 high. Contrarians may want to take a look, writes Andrew Bary in Barron's, noting commodity markets tend to be self-correcting - lower prices cool production and stimulate demand.
Low rates help too: The opportunity cost of holding commodities, and the price of rolling forward contracts is reduced.
Bary also reminds that much of the institutional money which was in love with commodities in 2008 (with oil at $140 per barrel) has exited. The Harvard endowment, for instance, has scaled back its commodity exposure to zero from 8% six years ago.
Another sign of the times: Fidelity cut direct commodity exposure in its Freedom target-date mutual funds last year, with the Fidelity Freedom 2030 fund (MUTF:FFFEX) dropping its commodity weighting to 1.2% from 7.5%.
The iShares Commodities Select Strategy ETF (NASDAQ:COMT) currently holds 21 futures contracts and stock from 180 commodity producers, and the fund manager will use a futures "roll process" to minimize the negative impacts of contango, and will seek to benefit from backwardation, where possible.
The fee of 0.48% per year compares favorably with many actively managed ETFs.
El Niño has a reputation for triggering sharp run-ups for prices in markets as diverse as nickel, coffee and soybeans, and commodities investors, traders and analysts are bracing for impact at a time when global supplies of many raw materials already are stretched.
Global food prices - which at the start of 2014 were expected to be largely flat this year - could easily climb 15% to record highs in as a little as three months after an El Niño occurs, says World Bank economist James Baffes.
But Société Générale analysts say it is miners, not farmers, who have the most to worry about; since 1991, nickel prices rose the most (13.9%) during El Niño years among commodities the bank tracks.
US Steel (X -1.3%) is downgraded to Underperform from Neutral at Credit Suisse due to relative valuation and expected lower iron ore pricing in H2 2014.
Equity prices, and particularly US Steel, seem to be overlooking recent commodity price weakness as a short-term destock related phenomenon - perhaps not surprising given the 2012 collapse and rebound in iron ore prices - but Credit Suisse believes that, unlike 2012, structural changes to the global ferrous supply/demand balance through mid-year will see commodity prices settle at a lower level in H2 than they did after the 2012 destock shock.
Also, the firm thinks US Steel's relative outperformance vs. international peers including ArcelorMittal (AT) likely is due to EM/DM exposure trade, but the gap will close at some point.
After losing 10% in 2013 while the MSCI World Index of stocks gained 24%, the Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index made up some ground in January, eking out a small advance while the MSCI index slid 3.7%.
But as rallies go, it was a pretty lame one. The DJ-UBS index's biggest weighting is for natural gas at nearly 14.5%, and gas futures surged 18% amid the coldest January in memory. Spring will come soon though, and then what?
Second in the index weighting is gold which gained 3% in January - not the greatest bounce considering a 29% dive in 2013.
Commodities tied more closely to global economic activity - oil and industrial metals - make up 42% of the sector's weighting and they were pretty much uniformly in the red.
Nearly 8 years after the launch of the PowerShares DB Commodity Tracking Fund (DBC), the firm filed paperwork for an actively managed version of the fund, offering exposure to a diversified set of commodities through futures contracts.
By investing in 14 heavily traded sectors of the commodity market, this fund hopes to hedge against individual sector falls, creating consistent return for investors.
DBC is down about 7.5% this year as equities stole the spotlight in 2013, but with $5.5 billion in assets under management it has considerable stability and did exceedingly well in years where equities fell.
The WSJ shines a light onto "shadow warehouses," a hidden system of facilities that store tens of millions of tons of aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc across the globe for banks, hedge funds and commodity merchants.
The warehouses operate outside the London Metal Exchange's system, are unregulated, and don't provide details of their holdings. As a result, it's unclear how much metal is held in the shadow system. This lack of visibility could cause major price swings.
The WSJ article follows allegations that warehousing companies have artificially boosted the price of metals, particularly aluminum.
Companies that operate metals warehouses include Goldman Sachs (GS), Glencore Xstrata (GLCNF) and JPMorgan (JPM), although the latter is looking to sell its commodities unit.
Launching today is the actively-managed First Trust Global Tactical Commodity Strategy Fund (FTGC). Twenty-five percent of the fund's assets will be invested in futures contacts and ETPs, with the rest invested in cash, money markets, and investment-grade fixed income securities.
"By attempting to pick the most attractive maturity futures contract for each commodity, FTGC may provide higher returns over a market cycle," says the fund's senior portfolio manager Rob Guttschow, referring to the well-known negative roll effects of buying into markets in contango.