Monday, May 07, 2007

Renewed talk of a metals bubble

There is renewed talk of a possible bubble in the industrial metals market, as Bloomberg.com reports in their May 7 piece, "Metals Bubble Poised to Burst on Increasing Supplies".

Here's an excerpt from that article:

Copper, nickel and lead, the best performing commodities in the past four months, may be the worst by year-end.

On Wall Street, the chorus is getting louder that rising metal supplies are outpacing demand. From Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to JPMorgan Chase & Co. to Societe Generale, there are warnings of a mania that is showing all the signs of a climax.

``This is a real bubble,'' says metals trader David Threlkeld, who first got the world's attention in 1996 when he showed that Sumitomo Corp.'s copper hoarding would lead to a market collapse. Once again, ``we have an enormous amount of unsold copper,'' says Threlkeld, president of Resolved Inc. in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The metals bears are convinced that consumption may drop partly because China, the biggest user, is attempting to reduce investment through interest-rate increases and lending curbs after the economy expanded 11.1 percent in the first quarter.

It seems that, once again, a chorus has gone up among investors and analysts who warn metals prices are overextended and due to fall within "x" number of months.

We heard this refrain around this time last year, but many of the individual commodities have continued to march higher in price.

Copper prices plunged from their highs near $4 a lb. last spring, but have stage an impressive comeback since bottoming out in February. Meanwhile, metals such as nickel, lead, and tin have all gone to set new highs.

Still, many investors, even noted commodity bulls like Jim Rogers, remain wary of the action in the metals markets (while recently admitting that they have missed the recent spectacular gains in metals like Nickel). Will further upwards movement confound the metal bears?

Bloomberg picks up on that note:

To be sure, many of the bears were wrong so far this year. An investor who acted on the advice of JPMorgan, the third- largest U.S. bank, missed gains of 67 percent for nickel, 30 percent for copper and 41 percent for lead, the best-performing commodities in the 26-member UBS Bloomberg CMCI Index.

That compares with a 6.2 percent increase for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index and 2 percent for U.S. Treasuries, according to Merrill Lynch & Co. indexes.

``We're sticking to our guns'' because ``prices are unsustainable,'' said London-based Jon Bergtheil, head of global metals strategy at the bank, on May 2. Nickel may average $35,328 a ton in 2007, down from $51,600, because stainless steelmakers might buy less in the second half, he said.

Bergtheil in February said that nickel would decline 25 percent in 2007. The metal, used to make stainless steel, has since gained 40 percent.

Who can tell for sure when prices for industrial metals will reverse course? In the meantime, check the fundamentals and the technicals, and see Zeal LLC's article series on base metals for more info.