The world's six most significant industrial metals are demonstrating supply shortages for the first time in more than a decade as logistical shocks and high demand cause anxiety among buyers.
Spot prices for base metals (from aluminum to zinc) on the London Metal Exchange are rapidly exceeding futures, a condition known as backwardation that has occurred for the first time since 2007. Buyers are paying a premium for access to metal amid a slump in inventory exchanges, delays in the supply chain, production disruptions and rising demand for industrial goods from construction to consumer electronics.
As for copper and tin, the magnitude of the reversal development reached record highs in recent months, provoking panic among industrial consumers, who have faced escalating supply problems since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Signs of tight physical supply in the metals market also act as a counterbalance to growing nervousness about the broader macroeconomic outlook for major industrialized countries and especially China, the largest consumer of commodities. Spreads have reduced considerably over the past month, regarding aluminum, despite prices having fallen from multi-year highs.
Oliver Nugent, a base metals analyst at Citigroup Inc. said that taking into account diverse use and supply dynamics of individual metals, the unusual synchronized tightness of the six major LME contracts was a sign of the logistical shocks and demand growth widely distribution since the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nugent noted that this aspect was obvious. He said that consumers mostly faced logistic problems. Nugent highlighted that this fact indicated very robust demand.
Evidently, complete tightness may not last long. Backwardation in copper and lead markets is disappearing, even as aluminum and nickel spreads reduce. Nugent stated that one of the consequences of supply chain disorder was that price spreads on other global exchanges could reduce further, even as the LME market softened.
As for copper, for example, there is a growing backwardation of contracts on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, despite LME spreads retreating from the record highs observed during last month's unprecedented supply contraction.
Copper futures fell 0.9% to $9,472 a tonne at 11:57 a.m. in London, with metal shipments to LME warehouses in the United States helping to partially dispel supply fears after the cuts.
Aluminum prices on the London Metal Exchange rose 0.8% to $2,594.50 a tonne on Wednesday, compared to a high above $3,200 last month.
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