Has the Commodities Boom Come to an End?
The commodities boom was as severe and swift as ever in history, but tremors have entered the markets over the last few weeks as investors begin to wonder: Could it all be over?
Copper futures have marched to record highs, rising more than 40% since the middle of last year.
And Freeport McMoRan , the largest publicly traded miner of copper in the world, saw its share price double, going from $30 to just above $60 in January before sliding back.
Iron ore prices surged. So did the shares of Vale , BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto , which have added between 50% and 90% since last summer.
Coal? Ditto. Peabody Energy has doubled in value since the summer of 2010.
Partly because of this commodities rocket ride, there have been some rumblings in basic-materials land over the last week or so — and we're not talking about the landslides in Indonesia near Freeport McMoRan's Grasberg copper mine. The supply-demand fundamentals may still look strong for many types of commodities: tight describing the former, brisk the latter.
But the stakes are high for producers of commodities. If oil prices keep rising, if food prices keep rising, central banks around the world will want to start fighting inflation. And if they start fighting off inflation, economic recovery might be endangered.
China, of course, already is. And the European Union's central banker, Jean-Claude Trichet, recently signaled that a rate-hike could be in the Continent's future.
Then there's the U.S. quantitative-easing program, which some have likened to dropping bills from the sky and onto a commodities pit. Having grabbed free money, speculators will speculate.
And so we put the question of the moment to readers: Has the commodities boom exhausted itself? Take our poll at TheStreet to see what your fellow investors think.
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