Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Investors in Metals Look Past Gloomy View of the Economy

Tighter supply, stronger demand seen giving fresh boost to metals

Not even the dimming global growth outlook is enough to scare away investors in metals and mining.

Money is pouring into industrial metals and the companies that produce them. Those investors seems undeterred by World Bank and International Monetary Fund forecasts of sluggish economies after the U.K.'s decision in June to leave the European Union added to uncertainty. 

The enthusiasm for metals comes as expectations mount that policy makers around the world will take stronger action to counter the slowdown. The market also is beginning to look beyond Brexit and turn its attention toward the rising demand for key metals and slower production. Copper, zinc and nickel are pointing to tighter supplies, Commerzbank AG said in a report last week.

"These are investors speculating that future demand will grow as a result of increased industrial activity from fiscal and monetary support," said Darwei Kung, a portfolio manager at the $2.5 billion Deutsche Enhanced Commodity Strategy Fund. “Since 2015, there hasn’t been much incremental investment. It takes so long for capacity to come online. The balance should shift from surplus to deficit.”

There are signs fueling the optimism for demand.

In China, the largest user of industrial metals, the real-estate sector grew faster than the overall economy in the second quarter. It may spur the country to speed up expansion of power-distribution networks and related construction through 2020, according to Economic Information Daily. In the U.S., purchases of new single-family homes rose in June to the highest level in more than eight years.  

Construction accounts for about 30 percent of global copper demand, while electrical networks represent almost a fifth, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd. Zinc and nickel are used to rust-proof steel, while aluminum can be used as a substitute for copper in some applications.

A gauge of growth rates for raw materials used in factories — including metals, rubber, plywood and burlap — has been signaling expansion since April. The JoC-ECRI Industrial Materials Price Index has reached the highest level since 2011, when the world economy grew 4.2 percent. This year, the IMF forecasts 3.1 percent expansion. The index includes commodities that aren’t traded on futures exchanges like ethylene and red oak, and are less influenced by investor sentiment.

 

Copper, long considered a bellwether for economic growth, has rebounded 14 percent from a six-year low in January on the Comex in New York, as imports by China surged in the first half to a record. Even with slower economic growth in the world's No. 2 economy and elsewhere, along with smaller mine disruptions and new supply coming online, the market isn't flooded, according to Freeport-McMoran Inc., the largest publicly traded copper producer.

“In the projected medium term, it looks like we’re going to be having deficits even with very modest demand growth,” Richard Adkerson, the chief executive officer of Freeport, said last month. 

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