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Public infrastructure push will help construction, raw materials

The capital city of Tokyo in Japan will undergo massive infrastructure investment ahead of the Olympics in 2020.
Toru Yamanaka | AFP | Getty Images

Chinese cities may be scrambling to contain a private housing bubble, but industrial metals' prices will be supported by a global public infrastructure spending boom, according to a BMI Research report.

Copper and steel is used extensively in building and infrastructure construction, so their prices are gauges of how the economy is doing, while iron ore is a key steel-making ingredient. Copper prices have risen 20 percent year-to-date, while iron ore prices have risen over 30 percent.

Chinese city governments have recently announced a flurry of curbs on property purchases, which could be seen as a dampener on industrial metals, but new building construction is expected to continue at a rapid rate at least into the new year.

ANZ said in a report last week that given the construction cycle lasted some 12 to 18 months, building completions in China were likely to remain relatively strong through 2017 — a positive for steel demand, and thus iron ore prices. In the longer term, however, steel demand may be slightly lower because construction activity has been brought forward due to robust state-owned-enterprise investment.

"As such, we are likely to see less urban residential housing completions later this decade," ANZ commodity strategist Daniel Hynes wrote.

Meanwhile, continued state infrastructure spending in China and a move away from post-Global Financial Crisis austerity in the U.S., EU and Japan signaled upside to prices, Fitch's BMI Research said in a report last week.

"A policy shift in major developed and emerging markets, away from austerity and towards fiscal expansion, will drive a new wave of infrastructure stimulus, the likes of which we have not seen on such a global, synchronized scale since the global financial crisis of 2009," the report said.

China working on 310mph passenger trains

BMI forecast a state-led ramp up in global infrastructure spending over the three years from 2017 to 2019.

Global construction sector growth in particular would recover to a rate of 3.7 percent in 2017, compared to an average of 3.5 percent from 2014-16.

Here's what major economies are expected to boost public spending on infrastructure construction:

China: Three major policy banks have amassed $300 billion in capital and have been instructed by Beijing to focus on funding investment projects.

U.S. (under a Clinton presidency): $250 billion in direct public investment, with a further $25 billion for the establishment of a infrastructure bank.

U.S. (under a Trump presidency): He has pledged to at least double what Clinton has proposed.

Japan: A potential $100 billion to be spent on public projects such as the Tokyo-Osaka magnetic levitation train system and post-earthquake reconstruction in Kyushu.

U.K.: Greater use of Treasury-backed infrastructure bonds, plus scrapping of governmental deficit and austerity targets, and the prospect of lower interest rates that would help increase government borrowing.

EU: $270 billion in potential infrastructure expenditure via a combination of European Investment Bank guarantees and direct investment.

If the countries go ahead with this planned spending, global construction growth would be pushed above 5 percent through 2020, BMI said, boosting copper and steel demand because China, the U.S., Japan and Europe combined accounted for 75 percent and 65 percent of global copper and steel demand respectively.

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