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Commodity Bull Market Alive and Well

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Strong fundamentals to drive prices higher.

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As most of you know, commodities went through an overdue correction last week. This shouldn't have been a big deal.

Here's the problem. As a result of that correction, some folks are making assumptions that don't make sense. In fact, some of these assumptions are downright dangerous.

For example, the media and others are giving Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke credit for "putting an end to commodity inflation" with his brilliant strategies. On March 21st, Bloomberg stated that "the biggest commodity collapse in at least five decades may signal Federal reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has revived confidence in financial firms."

Or how about this: Ron Goodis, a trader with the Equidex Brokerage group, tells us "Bernanke took care of the commodity bubble."

This is faulty thinking. To imagine that Bernanke deserves credit as the commodity dragon slayer, even as he lowers interest rates and continues to stoke inflation, is mind-boggling.

Sources of the Sell-off

So what exactly caused the vicious sell-off in commodities? When all was said and done, by last Thursday's close, gold had its biggest weekly loss since August 1990. Oil had plunged almost $10 over three days. The corn market was off by 9%.

There were a number of things that contributed to the sell-off. First, the commodity markets had gotten ahead of themselves, and were in a classic "overbought" situation.

Second, derivative trading losses and shrinking credit lines forced hedge funds to liquidate their winning trades -- many of those trades in commodities -- in order to free up capital.

There was also fear the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC, was on the verge of raising margin requirements for commodity positions. This happened at the end of the last big commodity bull market, when the Hunt brothers were forced to liquidate their silver positions. (I was on the trading floor at the time - it wasn't pretty.)

Furthermore, the dollar was oversold and ready for a bounce. All these factors combined to create a swift break, which has now taken many commodities back to more attractive buying levels.

Facing the Facts

To say the commodity bull market is over is just, well, a bunch of bull. Let's take a look at the facts.

Energy prices, precious metals, agriculture prices, and other commodities have been in a bull market trend since 2000. The UBS Bloomberg Constant Maturity Commodity Index has gained 20 percent every year since 2001. For 2008 the index is already up over 10%.

The big picture has not changed. We still have central banks pumping money like mad into the global financial system. This is long-term inflationary. Helicopter Ben is not going away. Nor is his one-trick strategy to save the world - running a printing press. This is long-term bullish for gold and silver.

In regard to agricultural commodities, the 2008 crops are not even in the ground. Demand issues are pressing and widespread. There are still record high rice prices in Asia. Egypt is in the midst of a serious "bread crisis" from lack of grain. An outbreak of "sharp eyespot disease," or SED, now threatens 4.83 million hectares of wheat in major producing areas throughout China. Water is increasingly scarce.

In regard to energy, no major new finds have been tapped in recent memory, North American natural gas demand is set to out-pace supply over time, and the global supply-demand situation is still supportive of high oil prices. (That said, crude oil's parabolic move from $85 has been enormous, and a trading range may be in order for crude.)

Three Billion Strong


In the macro picture, we still have the incredible growth stories of China, India, Brazil and Russia under way, not to mention many other fast-growing countries that get less attention in the headlines.

While there is talk of "recoupling" -- the tongue in cheek opposite of decoupling -- it's hard to argue with the fact that 5.6 billion people currently consume just one third of the world's raw materials. That 5.6 billion grows more successful, and more hungry, every day.

As my good friend Clyde Harrison said,"the industrial revolution involved 300 million people. The emerging nation revolution involves 3 billion."

When discussing the general supply-demand imbalance for commodities, I am referring to a very, very big trend. In fact, we now have two "megatrends" colliding. Thirty years of restrained and neglected natural resource supply are coming face-to-face with three billion people intent on discovering capitalism. Irresistible force meets immovable object? We haven't seen anything yet.

Reversing the Reversal

Monday's trading action in commodities saw a "reversal of the reversal," with solid moves higher in many different areas. Today we are seeing follow through on the upside. Soybeans have tacked on $1.00 per bushel since the Thursday's lows and are limit up today. Wheat is up over 10% and corn has rallied 8%. The metals are recovering as well with gold, silver and copper all gaining between 3-5%.

The commodity bull market is alive and well. Last week's correction let some much needed air out of the balloon, that's all.

It would be healthy at this point to see some consolidation, but we might not get it. Already it looks like commodities could be off to the races once again.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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