LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Industrial metals are on track for the worst quarter since the 2008 global financial crisis as prices are pummelled by recession worries.
Copper, the great economic bellwether, has ricocheted into a bear market from a record four months ago, while tin just tumbled 21 per cent in its worst week since a 1980s crisis froze trading for four years.
It's a dramatic reversal from the past two years, when metals surged on a wave of post-lockdown optimism, inflationary predictions and supply snarls. Now, inflation is here and supplies are still tight. But prices are plummeting as worries about a slowdown in industrial activity across major economies dovetail with slumping demand in China.
For a metal like copper, its uses in everything from heavy industrial machinery to advanced electronics mean the market is tightly linked to economic shifts, and the retreat marks a signal from commodity markets that efforts to get prices back under control are having some early successes. The mood in metals has soured even as China's Covid-19 lockdowns start to ease, and there are signs that traders there are betting copper prices will fall further.
"Even if China recovers in the second half, it won't be able to single-handedly boost prices back to new highs - that age has gone," Amelia Xiao Fu, head of commodities strategy at BOCI Global Commodities, said by phone from London. "If other major economies are heading towards a recession, China won't be growing at exceptional rates either."
Chinese manufacturing activity is already shrinking, and S&P Global gauges on Thursday (June 23) showed European manufacturing output contracting for the first time in two years, while US output hit a 23-month low. Even so, the magnitude of the accelerating sell-off in copper and other industrial metals suggests that investors are betting on much steeper declines in demand in the coming weeks.
Copper hit a 16-month low of US$8,122.50 a ton on the London Metal Exchange on Friday, with an 11 per cent drop so far in June putting it on course for one of the biggest monthly losses of the past 30 years. Metals from aluminium to zinc have also plunged and the Bloomberg Industrial Metals Spot Subindex is down 26 per cent this quarter, headed for the biggest drop since the end of 2008. Tin has more than halved from its March peak.