China Goes on $26 Trillion Commodity Binge as Shortages Seen

  • Commodity futures turnover, aggregate volume rise for 5th year
  • Intervention by Chinese regulators curbed trading frenzy

The Year in Commodities

Chinese investors traded a record volume of commodity futures last year as speculators poured in and out of the market on bets that shortages are looming.

Combined aggregate trading volume on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, Dalian Commodity Exchange and Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange jumped 27 percent from 2015 levels to 4.1 billion contracts, according to data e-mailed by the China Futures Association. Turnover across the bourses rose 30 percent to a record 177.4 trillion yuan ($25.5 trillion), the data show.

Chinese investors, flush with credit and hunting for returns, piled into commodities futures last year, spurred by bets that the government’s efforts to cut industrial capacity would lead to shortages of raw materials. They charged into markets several times in 2016 and bought everything from iron ore to cotton, driving up prices and stoking fears of a bubble. Authorities introduced curbs on excessive speculation to quell the mania.

“With the hope that supply-side reform will successfully reduce overcapacity in China, especially in the country’s coal and steel sectors, some commodities futures surged amid a trading frenzy last year,” says Jia Zheng, trader at Shanghai Minhong Investment Management. “Price volatility increased too because of low inventories following low prices in the past.”

Trading volume in Chinese commodities futures has been heaviest in the world for the seventh consecutive year, Fang Xinghai, Vice Chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, told an industry conference last month, according to a transcript posted on the CSRC website.

Turnover Lags

In terms of turnover, the Chinese bourses probably still lag behind international rivals. The notional value of the commodity futures and options traded on CME Group’s exchanges in 2015 was $41.15 trillion, according to the World Federation of Exchanges. CME said Wednesday that its total daily volume averaged 15.6 million contracts last year, up 12 percent. That included a 49 percent surge in metals volume in the fourth quarter.

During the year, prices of everything from steel to coal, soymeal and zinc surged to multi-year highs in China and in some cases record high levels. Over the period, the Bloomberg Commodity Index advanced 11 percent, the first gain since 2010.

Chinese exchanges usually double count volumes, open interest and turnover to reflect the long and short side of a trade, while the China Futures Association counts only one side of transaction, which is in line with the standards of most bourses in the world.

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