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    Sunday, June 12, 2005


    Recession in the West - Effect on Commodities

    I have spent a lot of time thinking about what effect a recession would have on commodity prices. Most of my investments are in commodity related stocks and a synchronized western economy recession would be expected to reduce commodity prices but by how much.

    Firstly I scoured sources to determine reasonable 2005 copper consumption in Tonnes for China, India and all of Asia. I also found copper consumption growth rates for China and India. (Copper is meant as a proxy for a range of industrial / growth commodities all of which should display similar characteristics). I then built the model in the table below. It assumes that Chinese demand continues at 20%, Indian demand accelerates by 1 percentage point per year, the rest of Asian demand remains constant and that the world ex-Asia reduces it's copper demand by 26% in 2006. These numbers are shown in the growth columns for 2006. As you can see these assumptions lead to a 5% decline in copper consumption. In 2007, if we assume that copper consumption does not grow anywhere but China and India, we are already back to today's copper consumption. So it takes about a year for a 20% decline in World ex-Asia copper demand to be caught up in China's growth (and to a much lesser extent India's growth too).

    So where does the 26% decline in the US and rest of the world come from? Well that's pretty simple, it's about the highest decline in copper consumption in the US since the 40's. Incidentally big declines are usually followed by at least small increases and this model assumes no increase.

    Furthermore it is generally accepted that China is following a path that is leading to increased copper consumption per capita as GDP is rising. This path has an accelerating copper demand for a linear increase in GDP (up to a point). Therefore a fixed 20% increase for China is probably low.

    So even given a very severe recession in the US and the rest of the world ex-Asia, copper demand is likely to bounce back to today's level within 2 years. Many of the stocks I've invested in assume metals prices are going to fall back to their previous low levels (60-70c in copper). It seems EVEN given a severe and long recession in the west, that commodity prices will be higher 3-4 years from now.

    Demand (M Tonnes) China India Rest of Asia USA Rest of WorldTotal

    GrowthGrowthGrowthGrowth Growth% Change
     from 2005
    2005 3,500,000 347,270 3,955,250 4,980,000  3,038,480 15,821,000
    2006 4,200,000 20% 385,47010%  3,955,250 0% 3,685,200-26%  2,248,475 -26% 14,955,504-5%
    2007 5,040,00020% 431,72611% 3,955,2500%  3,685,200 0% 2,248,4750%  15,360,651 -3%
    2008  6,048,000 20% 487,850 12%  3,955,2500%  3,685,200 0% 2,248,4750%  16,424,776 +4%
    2005 % of
    Worldwide Demand
    22% 2% 25% 31%19% 100%
    All Asia 49%

    If you change the model to assume Rest of Asia, US and Rest of World grow demand at 3% (The US long term average) then by 2008, demand will have increased by 25%.

    Chinese and to a lesser extent Indian growth are going to support the price of commodities regardless of the performance of western economies. If there is a western slowdown, the resulting (post recession) recovery is going to push commodity prices to levels well beyond today's.

    Saturday, June 04, 2005


    A recession forecast for Australia

    Arturo Estrella at the New York Federal reserve published research that linked the yield curve to the probability of an upcoming recession. His research was US based but I thought it would be interesting to see how effective it may be applied to Australian data. (Subsequent research has shown a good correlation in Germany).

    Time since last recession Date Yield Curve First Inverted Next Recession Length inversion (months) Weeks to slowdown Length -VE GROW(months) Years since last recession
    Dec-71 Sep-73 Sep-75 15 104.00 6.0 3.75
    Sep-75 May-76 Mar-77 2 43.31 3.0 1.50
    Mar-77 Apr-77 Sep-77 20 21.80 6.0 0.50
    Sep-77 Apr-79 Jun-79 2 8.69 3.0 1.75
    Jun-79 Feb-81 Dec-81 8 39.18 6.0 2.50
    Dec-81 Dec-81 Sep-82 10 39.04 9.0 0.75
    Sep-82 Mar-85 May-86 28 60.69 3.0 3.67
    May-86 May-88 Dec-89 28 82.49 3.0 3.59
    Dec-89 Oct-90 Mar-91 7 21.51 9.0 1.25
    Mar-91 Aug-00 Dec-00 7 17.38 3.0 9.76
    avg weeks to slow 43.81
    Median 39.11

    Using this data it seems that every inverted yield curve leads to at least an economic slowdown (only one quarter of negative economic growth) if not a recession (2 quarters of negative growth). The time differences were pretty long but looking at the correlations between the yield curve and future economic growth it seems that 19 months has the highest correlation. (I tested actual yield curve against actual growth and combinations of a binary inverted or not and a binary economic growth or not indicator).

    The correlation at 19 months never got above 0.3 so I think that the median or mean are probably the better indicators. Given that the standard deviation is around 30 weeks (because there are so few observations), it seems reasonable to assume that you will see a quarter of negative economic growth within 12-18 months of an inverted yield curve.

    Probability of a recession

    The size of the inversion has also been linked to the probability of recession.

    Probability of recession Spread (in percentage points)
    5% 1.21
    10% 0.76
    15% 0.46
    20% 0.22
    25% 0.02
    30% -0.17
    40% -0.50
    50% -0.82
    60% -0.08
    70% -1.46
    80% -1.85
    90% -2.40
    Source: Federal Reserve Four Quarters Ahead
    Note: The yield curve is defined as the spread between the interest rates on the 10-year Treasury note and the three-month Treasury bill.

    In the US the yield curve has been shown to be predictive at 6 months. There is a weak positive correlation in Australia also, so it is reasonable to also assume that as the inverted yield curve becomes even more inverted the chance of a recession increases. This isn't really borne out in my very limited sample;

    Date Yield Curve First Inverted Length inversion Weeks to slowdown max inversion average inversion median
    Sep-73 15.00 104.00 -12.03 -3.07 -1.02
    May-76 2.00 43.31 -0.07 -0.06 -0.06
    Apr-77 20.00 21.80 -1.56 -0.51 -0.34
    Apr-79 2.00 8.69 -0.52 -0.43 -0.43
    Feb-81 8.00 43.17 -3.39 -1.26 -0.93
    Dec-81 10.00 39.04 -4.79 -1.82 -1.77
    Mar-85 28.00 60.69 -5.49 -2.41 -2.09
    May-88 28.00 82.49 -5.15 -2.57 -1.79
    Oct-90 7.00 21.51 -0.64 -0.32 -0.31
    Aug-00 7.00 17.38 -0.68 -0.38 -0.45
    Average 12.7 44.21 -3.43 -1.28 -0.92

    Reserve Bank of Australia
    It is very likely that the Reserve Bank of Australia will continue to raise interest rates especially as the resource boom accelerates. There are already significant capacity constraints in the economy including employment and infrastructure. Here are a couple of articles on the infrastructure problems: The Australian, DOW JONES . There will be significant inflation in Australia if rates aren't raised quite a bit higher. The reasoning is simple, if I need to ship my coal I will pay more and more for the limited supply of infrastructure or people (demand is up and supply is constant). The reserve bank can head this off by increasing the risk free rate and making less profitable projects suspend or fold thereby reducing demand. They will also free up resources from the non-resources parts of the economy.

    The UK and New Zealand already have inverted yield curves and the US is quite close.

    What about the resources sector
    It is likely that the economy will behave as two separate economies, the resources economy and the rest. Mining and agriculture make up about 8% of GDP. It is easy to see how a recession could still leave agriculture and mining (including drilling) in positive territory as a result of supply and demand imbalances discussed at length elsewhere.

  • The non-resource economy will contract somewhat from here and we will see a recession in the next 18 months.
  • This will have little impact on the resource sector as the demand from China and India has only just begun (even though demand as a result of global growth has probably peaked).
  • Short term interest rates in Australia will go higher than everyone expects.
  • A synchronized slowdown in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US will reduce global commodity demand and will reduce prices but not from today's levels, instead there will be 1 year or so of additional demand at this peak before prices drop in a globally synchronized recession. Prices will not drop to levels seen in 2000 because China and Indian growth are the backstop.
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    Disclaimer and Disclosure Analyses are prepared from sources and data believed to be reliable, but no representation is made as to their accuracy or completeness. I am not paid by covered companies. Strategies or ideas are presented for informational purposes and should not be used as a basis for any financial decisions.
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