China’s economy appears to have picked up steam over the past month, according to a range of economic indicators, despite widespread concerns among its critics.
The U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to slow down the pace of its interest rate hikes helped ease capital outflows, while signs of an improving economy helped stabilize the yuan versus a basket of international currencies. The Minxin Index, which surveys more than 4,000 companies, suggested that both the manufacturing and services sectors of the economy were on the mend, although readings remained below the 50 mark that would suggest growth.
These improvements have encouraged speculators to bet on a rebound in commodities. Crude oil prices rallied for the third straight week to $45 per barrel, while many other natural resources have tracked oil higher. Steel futures jumped 14% to their highest levels in over a year during the week of April 22, while aluminum prices rose more than 4% over the same timeframe amid growing confidence in China’s economic rebound.
Below, CommodityHQ.com takes a closer look at the key drivers behind these price movements and what it means for traders over the coming months.
Chinese Trading Drives Commodities
Chinese trading has become a predominant force in the pricing of commodities. According to Reuters data, six of the top 10 global futures contracts are traded on Chinese exchanges with record levels of contracts changing hands over the past few weeks.
Some exchanges are growing concerned that trading may be overheating as Chinese traders bet on the country’s economic recovery. The Dalian Commodity Exchange responded by increasing margins for iron-ore futures, while other exchanges plan on raising transaction fees on popular futures contracts like rebar and hot-rolled coil. These exchanges hope to reduce speculative trading and the volatility that it causes in the financial markets.
China’s financial markets are no stranger to massive volatility caused by speculators. Margin trading blossomed from 403 billion yuan ($64.02 billion) to 2.2 trillion yuan ($338.7 billion) between June 2014 and June 2015, which helped propel the stock market by some 150%. These individual traders panicked last year and sent the country’s major indexes more than 30% lower in just weeks. The government stepped in and introduced new controls, but many of these problems with leverage remain.
Critics Remain Skeptical
Critics warn that the rebound in the Chinese economy and subsequent jump in commodity prices may be short-lived since many of the same underlying issues remain, while others maintain that the country could still see a worst-case hard landing scenario.
According to MCM Partners, transportation data – including data from shipping, rail, and road sources – indicated that there’s no justification for the recent upticks in the economic readings. Goldman Sachs analysts added that demand for commodities isn’t strong enough to support a sustained rally higher and expects the glut in the market to remain. These two factors suggest that the current rally is speculative in nature rather than grounded in real data.
Billionaire investor George Soros also caused a stir by saying that China’s economy would eventually see an “unavoidable” hard landing. The investor famous for bringing down the Bank of England in 1992 compared the country’s debt-fueled economy to the United States economy before the global financial crisis hit in 2008. He argues that credit growth figures cited as a positive factor by the media are actually a warning sign for investors.
The Bottom Line
China’s economy may be on the mend based on a number of private economic indicators, which led commodity prices to rally higher. Critics warn that the rebound may be temporary given the economy’s poor fundamentals and the financial markets’ speculative nature. Traders may want to take these latest moves with a grain of salt and watch for further signs of tangible improvements in the economy before jumping into long-term trades.