The Commodity Super Cycle: Is This Time Different?
Some analysts believe that the commodity price boom of the new millennium has played itself out. However, naturalresource–based commodity prices (with the exception of shale gas and its downward pressure on U.S. natural gas prices)have remained high by historical records over the last few years, despite the feeble global economic recovery (Canuto2014).
The commodity price spike that started at the end of the 1990s has not been significantly affected by the globaldownturn, with average prices similar to 2008 levels (figure 1). Indeed, commodity prices have occasionally shown signsof reviving more quickly than the global economic output level (figure 2).
So the question is: Have we entered a phase ofdescending commodity prices? This note argues that it may be too soon to say that the commodity super-cycle phenomenonis a thing of the past.Can History Shed Some Light Here?Several authors have recently revisited a long, historic series ofcommodity prices—including Ocampo and Erten (2013),Jacks (2013), and Arezki et al. (2013).
所以问题是：我们是否进入了商品价格下降的阶段？本文认为，现在说商品超级周期现象已成为过去可能还为时尚早。历史可以在这里贬值吗？一些作者最近重新审视了一系列历史悠久的商品价格 – 包括Ocampo和Erten（2013），Jacks（2013）和Arezki等。（2013年）。
The focus has been either on the old Prebisch-Singer hypothesis—according towhich the “terms of trade” between primary products andmanufactured goods tended to fall in the very long run—and/or on the frequency and shapes of past price cycles.Since the late 19th century, commodity prices movedalong three long-term general cycles, with a fourth cycle justrecently identified. The first two cycles spanned roughly fourdecades, and the third one lasted 28 years.
重点是旧的Prebisch-Singer假设 – 根据该假设，初级产品和制成品之间的“贸易条件”往往会在很长一段时间内和/或过去价格周期的频率和形状下降。自19世纪后期以来，商品价格沿着三个长期的一般周期发展，最近刚刚确定了第四个周期。前两个周期大约四十年，第三个周期持续了28年。
All four upwardphases were primarily driven by rising global demand, thoughthe main sources of that demand differed for each. This time,China’s rapid economic growth since the beginning of thenew millennium is propelling demand, as illustrated by thecountry’s rising proportion of global natural resource–basedcommodities use (Canuto 2008a).The direction, either upward or downward, of longterm price trends emerging from these studies, varies acrossdifferent types of commodities and depends on the startingpoints used as a reference. The picture gets blurrier in caseswhere commodities themselves have evolved and are hard tocompare over time—for example, poultry or soybean production today is very different from what it was several decades ago.
所有四个上升阶段主要是由全球需求上升所驱动，尽管这种需求的主要来源各不相同。这一次，中国自新千年开始以来的快速经济增长正在推动需求，正如该国日益增加的全球自然资源商品使用比例所示（Canuto，2008a）。从这些研究中产生的长期价格趋势向上或向下的方向因不同类型的商品而异，并取决于作为参考的起点。在商品本身已经发展并且难以随时间进行比较的情况下，情况变得模糊 – 例如，今天的家禽或大豆生产与几十年前的情况大不相同。
Reports on previous cycles and rising price volatility havebeen more convergent. Those works tend to agree on the localization of at least three commodity super cycles since the19th century, as well as one beginning at the end of the 1990s.Typically 20-year boom periods are characterized by strongdemand associated with moments of rapid industrializationand urbanization—as in the case of the United States in the1890s, or China in the 2000s—in which supply takes a longtime to match that demand.
关于以往周期和价格波动上升的报告更为趋同。这些作品倾向于同意自19世纪以来至少三个商品超级周期的本地化，以及从20世纪90年代末开始的一个。通常20年的繁荣时期的特点是与快速工业化和城市化时期相关的强劲需求 – 如19世纪90年代的美国或2000年代的中国 – 其中供应需要很长时间来满足这种需求。
When this happens, periods ofmuch lower commodity prices have followed.Spotting trends or previous cycles is a highly useful exercise because it calls attention to the interplay between demand and supply over time. However, past trends cannot beused to forecast future paths of specific or general commodityprices at a certain point in time—as illustrated by the non-homogeneity of shapes of previous cycles.As shown clearly in figure 3, commodity prices relative tomanufactured goods may move and stay significantly lower orhigher for substantial periods regardless of the presence of along-run trend or drift. Movement or lack thereof hinges onthe strength of forces behind the demand for primary commodities relative to the demand for manufactures and thesupply of commodities relative to the supply of manufactures(Brahmbhatt and Canuto 2010). When looking ahead to acertain point in time, the first step is to approach the nature,intensity, and time length of factors on each side of the equation at that specific moment: one cannot look for any predetermined historic shape of commodity super cycles.
当发生这种情况时，商品价格会低得多。发现趋势或之前的周期非常有用，因为它会引起人们对需求与供应之间相互作用的关注。但是，过去的趋势不能用于预测特定时间点的特定或一般商品价格的未来路径 – 如先前周期的形状的非均匀性所示。如图3清楚所示，无论是否存在长期趋势或漂移，相对于制成品的商品价格可能在相当长的时期内移动并保持显着更低或更高。运动或缺乏运动取决于对初级商品的需求背后的力量，相对于制成品的需求和相对于制成品供应的商品供应（Brahmbhatt和Canuto，2010）。当展望某个时间点时，第一步是在特定时刻接近等式每一边的因子的性质，强度和时间长度：人们不能寻找任何预定的商品超级周期的历史形状。
Whither the Prebisch-Singer Dynamics?
When independently raising their very long-term gloomyprospects regarding commodity prices, Hans Singer and RaulPrebisch in 1949 emphasized two different sides of the equation. Singer’s price pessimism was based on strong beliefs regarding the relatively unfavorable price and income elasticities of demand for commodities, whereas Prebisch’spessimism was based on an asymmetry in the appropriationof productivity gains between commodity-dependent and industrialized countries. While eventual productivity gains onthe former’s side were automatically transmitted into lowerprices, they were captured in the form of stable prices and rising wages and profit volumes in the latter, given the prevalence of cost-plus pricing and labor unionization in industry.
在独立提高商品价格的长期前景时，Hans Singer和Raul Prebisch在1949年强调了两个不同方面。辛格的价格悲观主义基于对商品需求相对不利的价格和收入弹性的强烈信念，而普雷维什的悲观主义基于商品依赖和工业化国家之间生产率增长的不对称。虽然前者的最终生产率增长自动转化为较低的价格，但由于工业成本加成定价和工会化的普遍存在，它们以稳定的价格和后者的工资和利润增长的形式被捕获。
This fit well with Prebisch’s critical views about social andpolitical structures inherited by Latin America from its pastas a leading commodity producer, compared to evolution toward a welfare state in advanced, industrialized countriessuch as the United States and in Europe. From this came hisbelief that Latin America should diversify toward a manufacturing industry–based society, like other natural resource–rich advanced economies such as Canada and Australia.This is not the time or place for any evaluation of howdated or incomplete those “structuralist” views were/are,much less of the policy proposals that came to be associatedwith them over time. However, it remains useful to think ofthe evolution of commodity prices relative to manufacturedgoods as reflecting the relative paths of demand elasticities,productivity, and supply bottlenecks.
Has the Descending Phase of the SuperCycle Begun?
It is worth highlighting two distinctive features of the currentcommodity super cycle, the peak of which has supposedlybeen reached. First, the correlation between resource pricesover the past 30 years has substantially increased (Dobbs et al.2013). Beyond the strong demand pull on all commoditieswrought by China’s industrialization-cum-urbanization,there is a higher correlation induced by the technological evolution. Natural resource–based products have risen as inputand, therefore, as costs to other commodities (for example,fertilizers in agriculture). Furthermore, substitution (for example, sugarcane can turn into either ethanol or sugar) andsources (for example, alternative fuels and forms of powergeneration) have increased, making price shock transmissionmore widespread.Second, volatility has increased and continues to rise incomparison to the past (Arezki et al. 2013). This is often associated with the increased size of commodities as a class offinancial assets, even if supply and demand fundamentals ultimately operate as gravity centers (Canuto 2008). There isalso discussion of the role played by an increasing incidence ofnatural phenomena (floods, droughts, variable temperatures)on agriculture production, as well as the social and politicalfactors that accompany oil, metal, and mineral extraction(conflicts, labor strikes).
值得强调的是当前商品超级周期的两个显着特征，据说已达到峰值。首先，过去30年间资源价格之间的相关性大幅增加（Dobbs等人，2013年）。除了对中国工业化和城市化带来的所有大宗商品的强劲需求拉动之外，技术演变引发了更高的相关性。以自然资源为基础的产品作为投入而增加，因此成为其他商品（例如农业肥料）的成本。此外，替代（例如，甘蔗可以变成乙醇或糖）和来源（例如，替代燃料和发电形式）已经增加，使得价格冲击传播更加普遍。其次，与过去相比，波动性增加并持续上升（Arezki等人，2013年）。这通常与作为一类金融资产的商品规模增加有关，即使供需基本面最终作为重心运行（Canuto 2008）。还讨论了自然现象（洪水，干旱，变温）对农业生产日益增加的影响，以及伴随石油，金属和矿物开采（冲突，劳工罢工）的社会和政治因素。 。
Nevertheless, these factors are largelyassociated with short-term volatility.Beyond short-term supply and price fluctuations, morestructural factors seem to be at play behind the persistentvolatility:Supply appears to be progressively less able toadjust rapidly to changes in demand becausenew reserves are more challenging and expensive to access. For example, offshore oil requiresmore sophisticated production techniques.
Available arable land is not connected to markets through infrastructure. Mineral resourcesincreasingly need to be developed in regionsthat have high political risks. Such factors notonly increase the risk of disruptions to supplybut also make supply even more inelastic. Assupply becomes increasingly unresponsive todemand, even small changes in that demandcan result in significant changes in prices. Investors may be deterred by the volatility in resourceprices and become less inclined to invest in newsupply or resource productivity initiatives.(Dobbs et al. 2013, 1)At the margin, supply-side costs are still pointing upwardalmost everywhere in the commodities universe, with the exception of shale gas.
可用的耕地不通过基础设施与市场连接。在具有高政治风险的地区，越来越需要开发矿产资源。这些因素不仅增加了供应中断的风险，而且使供应更加无弹性。随着供应对需求的反应越来越不敏感，即使需求的微小变化也会导致价格的重大变化。投资者可能会被资源价格的波动所吓倒，并且不太愿意投资新的供应或资源生产力计划。（Dobbs et al.2013,1）在边际，除了页岩气之外，供应方成本几乎在商品领域的任何地方都呈现上升趋势。
However, the pace of innovation andphysical investment is not enough to grant the supply elasticity necessary for the price-descending phase of the supercycleto unfold. And, as promising as the shale-gas revolution maylook to the U.S. economy in the years ahead, it seems a stretchto expect it—through substitution and correlation—to be afully countervailing factor to rising marginal costs of othernatural resource-based products.
On the other side of the equation, in turn, the currentgrowth soft patch faced by many emerging markets does notpoint to any drastic future reversal of commodity demand.Urbanization and poverty reduction have remained steady inthe developing world, and there is no sign of a major macroeconomic downturn beyond the recent accommodation tolower growth rates (Canuto 2013a).There may be changes in demand intensity for differenttypes of commodities. For instance, China’s changing growthpattern (Canuto 2013b) may lead to a less metal-intensivegrowth, but this is not necessarily the case for foodstuffs.
另一方面，反过来，许多新兴市场面临的当前增长疲软并未指出未来商品需求的大幅逆转。发展中国家的城市化和减贫状况保持稳定，除了近期适应低增长率之外，没有出现重大宏观经济衰退的迹象（Canuto 2013a）。不同类型商品的需求强度可能会发生变化。例如，中国不断变化的增长模式（Canuto 2013b）可能导致金属密集度增长减少，但食品的情况并非如此。
Asseen in figure 1, trajectories of commodity prices do not necessarily follow similar paths.Canuto (2008b) argues that:If one may paraphrase Mark Twain, recentnews about the death of the commodity supercycle and of a ‘commodity bust’ were somewhat exaggerated.Six years later, this still applies.
About the Author
Otaviano Canuto is Senior Advisor and former Vice President ofthe World Bank.
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