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Commodities Not Ready to Roll Over Just Yet


Predictions of higher prices ring hollow.

Despite the trillions of dollars in unprecedented stimulus we've seen in the over the past 24 months, investors are still reducing their bets on rising commodity prices.

According to Bloomberg, hedge funds and other speculators reduced commodity exposure by 23% in the 2 weeks ending June 23. Though this can be attributed, in part, to profit-taking after the first quarterly increase since early 2008, traders aren't convinced that excess inventories will be corrected any time soon.

The effect of any future economic growth on commodity prices is likely to be mixed. Even as higher demand from consumers and businesses for raw materials expands, so too will capacity, because miners, farmers, and drillers will ramp up production.

And the debate is heating up as to whether the longest recession since World War II is on its way out. While George Soros declared the worst of the financial crisis over, and the Federal Reserve said economic contraction is slowing, the World Bank lowered global economic growth forecasts, and economist Nouriel Roubini said higher fuel costs could deepen the ongoing slump.

On Wall Street, investors have been betting on a recovery, as oil-service firms Transocean (RIG) and Schlumberger (SLB) have risen 82% and 55% from recent lows, respectively. And, despite a recent pullback, miners like Freeport MacMoran (FCX) Newpont Mining (NEM), along with steel producers ArcelorMittal (MT) and US Steel (X), have had exceedingly strong years to date after some downright abysmal months.

Well-known hedge managers have jumped on the rising-prices bandwagon: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, threw his weight behind the commodity trade earlier this month, announcing that his hedge fund, Universa Investments, planned on betting on massively higher prices.

But rising commodity prices -- indeed, all rising prices -- are a result of not only constricted supply, but of higher demand. As the US and the world as a whole prepare for a future devoid of cheap and easy credit, old expectations about economic growth must be tossed aside.

We're entering a transitional period, one in which economies in both developing and developed nations must readjust to the notion that debt isn't a sustainable vehicle for growth, and that true productivity and innovation must drive any increase in the standard of living. In the long run, this return to traditional capitalistic values will result in a rising tide that lifts all boats.
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