Is a ‘global industrial recession’ clobbering metals?

A worldwide slump in industry lies behind this year's tumble in precious and base metal prices, a commodities expert has told CNBC.

"What we have at the moment is a global industrial recession, I would suggest," Colin Hamilton, head of commodities research at Australian investment bank Macquarie, told CNBC on Monday.

While some analysts have blamed the fall in prices squarely on the Chinese economic slowdown, Hamilton pointed his finger at the U.S. as well.

"We have a situation where China has slowed aggressively, ex-China hasn't been able to pick up and the U.S. has lost competitiveness with the dollar being so strong," he said.

"Therefore, while we have had lots of cheap money and that has generated lots of supply capacity, it just hasn't generated the demand."


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In a conversation with Hamilton on CNBC, Christian Keller, the head of economics research at Barclays, said the impact of China's slowdown on industrial metals "probably cannot be underestimated."

He said that China accounted for 40-50 percent of demand for metals such as copper, steel and iron ore—up from 4 percent at the turn of the century—and that the upturn had been driven by a real estate boom that had now ended.

"That market is now in a prolonged slowdown. It may not crash, but it is just no longer there," Keller told CNBC.

Three-month copper futures traded 0.3 percent higher on the day at $5,234 per ton on the London Metal Exchange on Tuesday, up from $5,220 late on Monday. The red metal is down around 17 percent since the start of the year, however, and at its lowest price in over a decade.

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Gold losing its luster?

Hamilton said that while base metals like copper and aluminum were struggling with excess supply, the gold market had also suffered from a falloff in demand.

Spot gold traded around 0.5 percent higher on the day at $1,091 per ounce on Tuesday, up from $1,086 late on Monday. The precious metal is down around 7.5 percent since the start of the year and at its lowest since the start of 2010.

"Most commodities you say, actually now we need supply cuts. Now gold is a different beast. The problem for gold at the moment is, people do not want it as a commodity and people don't want it as a currency—and that has been the two main reasons to own gold in the past," Hamilton told CNBC.

Keller and Hamilton agreed that demand from emerging market stalwarts like India was failing to compensate for the dip in China.

"Countries like India, they may still have good demographics, but they have a different growth model," said Keller.

Hamilton added that despite strong economic growth from India—the country is seen expanding by 7.5 percent this year and next by the International Monetary Fund—its demand for industrial commodities was roughly one-tenth of that of China.

"The emerging market consumer here should be critical. The emerging market consumer should have lots of cash," he said.

"Historically they have always over-allocated to gold. Now, India has put some restrictions in place. China, we have seen market flow into the A-share market rather than gold. We haven't seen that natural pick up."