By Martin Farrer
The rout in commodities prices that has wiped billions from the value of energy and mining companies across the world in the past 12 months will continue in 2016, according to economists, analysts and executives on the front line.
Prices in a range of key industrial commodities plunged in 2015 as China’s factories and appetite for raw materials slowed while supply, especially of oil and iron ore, increased.
Bob Dudley, the boss of BP, said the price of oil, which lost 34% in 2015, could continue to fall in the first few months of 2016. “A low point could be in the first quarter,” Dudley has told BBC radio.
Dudley predicted that prices could stabilise towards the end of the year, but would remain low for the forseeable future.
“Prices are going to stay lower for longer, we have said it and I think we are in this for a couple of years. For sure, there is a boom-and-bust cycle here,” Dudley said.
His words will sound a warning for investors across the globe when markets reopen on Monday, especially those in the resource-heavy UK and Australian markets.
The commodity index used by Thomson Reuters fell by a quarter over the year to hit its lowest level since 2002.
“The chances of an optimistic 2016 are bleak,” Mark To, head of research at Hong Kong’s Wing Fung Financial Group, said. “Slowing economic growth and structural reforms in China might contribute to decreased demand for commodities.“
Further interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve will add to the pain by strengthening the US dollar and making many commodities more expensive for international buyers, he said.
The smallest, niche agricultural commodities were the only bright spots in sight as weather and disease roiled crops, raising concerns about tightening supplies and boosting cocoa, cotton and orange juice.
Among industrial commodities, iron ore prices tumbled 40% last year due to global oversupply and shrinking Chinese steel demand, marking a third year of losses.
The rout is seen stretching into next year and will mean prolonged pain for resource giants such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Brazil’s Vale, as well as for Australia’s third largest producer Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metal group.
“We have a modestly higher price for iron ore of just over $50 by end-2016 but that does not rule out prices falling below $30,” Caroline Bain of Capital Economics told Bloomberg.
With all four committed to increased supply in a fight to the death against higher-cost producers, Bain predicted there would be casualties.
“It is hard to see the big four cutting production by much. But we think production elsewhere – notably in China – will be cut at current prices or lower,” Bain said.
In coal, thermal prices fell almost a third in 2015, also hurt by waning Chinese demand and the rise of renewable energy, with Goldman Sachs and the International Energy Agency saying China’s coal demand has peaked.
Both iron ore and coal have shed around 80% in value since their respective historical peaks in 2011 and 2008.