The price of iron ore hit a record high on Monday in the latest sign of booming commodity markets, which have gone into overdrive in recent weeks as large economies recover from the pandemic.
The steelmaking ingredient, an important source of income for the mining industry, rose 8.5 per cent to a record high of almost $230 a tonne fuelled by strong demand from China where mills have cranked up production.
Other commodities also rose sharply, including copper, which hit a record high of $10,747 a tonne before paring gains. The increases are part of a broad surge in the cost of raw materials that has lasted more than a year and which is fanning talk of another supercycle — a prolonged period where prices remain significantly above their long term trend.
The price of timber has also hit a record high as US sawmills struggle to keep pace with demand in the run-up to peak homebuilding season in the summer.
“Commodity demand signals are firing on all cylinders amid a synchronised recovery across the world’s economic powerhouses,” said Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at TD Securities.
Strong demand from China, the world’s biggest consumer of commodities, international spending on post-pandemic recovery programmes, supply disruptions and big bets on the green energy transition explain the surge in commodity prices.
Commodities have also been boosted by a weaker US dollar and moves by investors to stock up on assets that can act as a hedge against inflation.
The S&P GSCI spot index, which tracks price movements for 24 raw materials, is up 26 per cent this year.
Strong investor demand pushed commodity assets held by fund managers to a new record of $648bn in April, according to Citigroup. All sectors saw monthly gains with agriculture and precious metals leading the way, the bank said.
Agricultural commodities have had an especially strong run owing to rising Chinese demand and concerns of a drought in Brazil. Dryness in the US, where planting for this year is under way, is also adding to the upward rise in prices. Corn, which is trading at $7.60 a bushel and soyabeans at $16.22, are at levels not seen since 2013.
“From a macro economic environment to strong demand and production concerns, the ingredients are all there for the supercycle,” said Dave Whitcomb of commodity specialist Peak Trading Research.
Rising copper and iron ore prices are a boon for big miners, which are on course to record earnings that will surpass records set during the China-driven commodity boom of the early 2000s.
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JPMorgan reckons Rio Tinto and BHP will be the largest corporate dividend payers in Europe this year, paying out almost $40bn to shareholders. Shares in Rio, the world’s biggest iron ore producer, hit a record high above £67 on Monday.
Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, has crept back up
towards $70 a barrel, which it surpassed in March for the first time in
more than a year, recovering ground lost as the pandemic
slashed demand for crude and roiled markets.
Supply cuts by leading oil producers have helped to bolster the market
as consumption has begun to recover around the world.
While some Wall Street banks have hailed the start of a new supercycle, with some traders talking of a return to $100 a barrel oil, others are less convinced. The International Energy Agency said oil supplies still remain plentiful meaning any talk of a supercycle is premature.