As economies reopen in various parts of the world, the price of some commodities has soared, including the prices of prominent industrial metals. The extent to which the metals price rally may lose steam depends on how multiple factors will play out.
As our latest chart of the week shows, metals prices have increased by 72 percent relative to their pre-pandemic levels—reaching a nine-year high in May (in inflation adjusted terms). The increase has been broad-based across industrial metals—copper is up 89 percent in May (year-over-year), iron ore is up 116 percent, and nickel is up 41 percent. The prices of most agricultural and energy commodities are also tracking upward, but at a slower rate. Energy commodities (oil, coal, and natural gas), in particular, sit only a few percentage points above pre-pandemic levels.
Why have metals prices increased much more than other commodities? There are four reasons:
Will metals’ prices keep increasing or retrench? This is a challenging question.
Market participants seem to expect a peak in metals prices relatively soon, as factors (1) and (2) are supposedly temporary in nature. Indeed, futures markets suggest an increase of industrial metal prices by 50 percent in 2021 (year-over-year), but a decrease by 4 percent in 2022.
Still, prices are expected to remain high and could rise further, especially if demand from an energy transition accelerates. On the flip side, prices may decrease more than expected if legislative approval and government actions required for the energy transition and infrastructure programs do not materialize as expected.
Martin Stuermer is an economist in the Commodities Unit of the IMF’s Research Department.
Nico Valckx is a senior economist in the Commodities Unit of the IMF’s Research Department.
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