Hedge funds cut bullish commodity bets for the first time this month as weaker manufacturing from China and Europe eclipsed central banks’ efforts to boost growth, driving down prices the most since June.
Money managers decreased their net-long positions across 18 U.S. futures and options by 1.7 percent to 1.307 million contracts in the week ended Sept. 18, halting two weeks of gains that had sent holdings to a 16-month high, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index of 24 raw materials dropped 4.4 percent last week, the first retreat since the end of July.
Chinese manufacturing may contract for an 11th month in September, and euro-area services and output plunged to a 39-month low, according to reports on Sept. 20. U.S. jobless claims were higher than expected by analysts, Labor Department data showed. Global equity markets lost $603.2 billion of value last week amid increasing concern that the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, People’s Bank of China and the Bank of Japan have failed to do enough to accelerate growth.
“A structural shift in China’s economy and European economic woes will put pressure on prices of commodities,” said Chad Morganlander, the Florham Park, New Jersey-based fund manager at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., which oversees about $120 billion of assets. “China over the last few years has artificially torqued their economy, which has created demand for industrial commodities and energy. The world is starting to see sobering signs of a hangover from those actions.”
The drop by the S&P GSCI last week was the first since July 27. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities fell 0.7 percent last week, and the dollar gained 0.6 percent against a measure of six major trading partners. Treasuries returned 0.5 percent, a Bank of America Corp. index showed.
Nineteen commodities tracked by the S&P GSCI fell last week, led by a 6.7 percent drop in soybeans and a 6.2 percent plunge in crude oil. Cocoa declined 4.6 percent and corn slid 4.3 percent. The gauge dropped as much as 1.5 percent today, led cocoa, silver and aluminum.
China’s equities slumped after the purchasing managers’ index report by HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics showed the gauge fell to 47.8 so far this month from 47.6 in August, poised for the longest streak below the expansion-contraction line of 50 in the survey’s eight-year history. China is the world’s biggest consumer of everything from copper to pork to soybeans. The U.S. is the largest user of crude oil and corn.
The Shanghai Composite Index fell 4.6 percent last week, the most since the end of October, on the manufacturing report and escalating tension with Japan over ownership of islands in the East China Sea that may threaten trade.
Dongfeng Automobile Co., which makes light trucks in China with Nissan Motor Co., slumped to the lowest in 11 months as a Japanese auto group said the island dispute will hurt car sales. Jiangxi Copper Co., the country’s biggest copper producer, fell 2.1 percent last week, the first decline since Aug. 31.
China’s largest ship owners said on Sept. 21 that a slump may continue as more vessels enter service and economic growth slows. The industry globally probably won’t “bottom out” for at least another two years, said Xu Lirong, the general manager of China Shipping Group Co., the country’s second-largest shipping company.
Euro-area services and manufacturing output fell as European leaders struggled to reverse the single-currency bloc’s slide into recession, London-based Markit Economics said. A composite index based on a survey of purchasing managers in both industries in the 17-nation euro area dropped to 45.9 from 46.3 in August, the lowest since 1973 and below economists’ forecast for a reading of 46.6, Markit said.
The euro-area’s economy is heading for a second straight quarterly contraction after a 0.2 percent decline in the three months through June, as fallout from the debt crisis damps consumer spending and corporate investment. ECB President Mario Draghi pledged Sept. 6 an unlimited bond-purchase program to regain control of interest rates and fight speculation of a currency breakup.
Advances in commodities may be ending on mounting concern that the Federal Reserve’s plan to revive U.S. economic growth won’t work. The central bank said Sept. 13 that it will buy $40 billion of mortgage debt a month and hold the benchmark interest rate near zero percent through at least mid-2015. The moves are the Fed’s third round of stimulus, known as quantitative easing.
“It is very clear that Europe’s economic and debt problems are by no means behind us,” said Adrian Day, who manages about $170 million of assets as president of Adrian Day Asset Management in Annapolis, Maryland. “For stimulus to have a meaningful, sustained impact on commodities other than gold, stimulus must translate into great economic activity, and that has not happened so far.”
Output concerns globally will underpin commodity prices, and they will rally, said Jonathan Guyer, the chief investment officer of Longview Funds Management LLC in Columbia, Maryland, which oversees about $19 million of assets.
“There are many drivers of commodities returns, including weather issues and supply disruptions,” Guyer said. Prices will continue to get a boost as the worst U.S. drought since 1956 curbs grain and oilseed production and as tension in the Middle East crimp oil output, he said.
Investors added $2.36 billion to raw-material funds in the week ended Sept. 19, according to EPFR Global. Precious metals accounted for $1.8 billion of the inflows, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company said.
Funds increased their bets on higher crude prices by 5.6 percent to 214,647 contracts, the fifth consecutive gain. Prices dropped to a six-week low of $90.66 a barrel on Sept. 20.
Gold holdings rose 7.7 percent to 178,426 contracts, the fifth straight advance and the most since Feb. 28, CFTC data show. Futures, which rose to $1,790 an ounce on Sept. 21 in New York, the highest since Feb. 29, dropped today as much as 1.1 percent before trading down 0.8 percent at $1,763 an ounce.
A measure of 11 U.S. farm goods showed speculators decreased bullish bets in agricultural commodities by 7.3 percent to 774,580 contracts, the second decline and the biggest since June. Soybean futures reached a five-week low of $16.075 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade. Cocoa slid to $2,521 a metric ton on ICE Futures U.S. in New York.
“The commodity super-cycle is over,” said Jack Ablin, who helps oversee about $60 billion of assets as chief investment officer of BMO Private Bank in Chicago. “In the past 10 years, we’ve seen a spectacular move into commodities. We don’t think we’ll see a repeat of that.”