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Wall Street sees signs of inflation at long last

  • Commodity prices are rising at the fastest pace in five years, according to Larry McDonald, author of The Bear Traps Report. That could drive inflation to healthy levels.
  • Over the past year, oil rose 24 percent and copper gained 30 percent, remarkable considering their lows at the beginning of 2016.
  • Canadian commodity veteran Leon Tuey sees oil prices in the $70 to $80 range in the next two to three years.
An employee inspects coils of copper rod.
Munshi Ahmed | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An employee inspects coils of copper rod.

At long last, signs of inflation are "lurking beneath the surface" in commodities, as multiple Wall Street analysts focus on what they expect will be price gains in copper and oil.

"Commodity prices are rising at the fastest pace in five years," wrote Larry McDonald, author of The Bear Traps Report blog, on Wednesday. He says copper recently surged to its highest level in more than two years, and it is up 30 percent since last year. Oil is up 24 percent since last year.

The recent price gains have yet to sway the Federal Reserve, which last month declined to raise interest rates as it struggles to determine whether the economy and inflation are strong enough to endure a rate jump. Investors are now betting that the Fed doesn't take action before the end of 2017.

"The global reflation picture is nearly on the Fed's doorstep," McDonald said. "In our view, there's a surging probability the Fed gets thrown off track in the second half of 2017, they are behind the curve."

Demand is boosting copper. Chris LaFemina, an analyst at Jefferies, says he expects the metal to continue to rise, especially as China, the world's largest copper consumer, continues to ramp up its appetite. The use of copper in auto manufacturing is also growing.

"Demand growth should be GDP-driven, but an increased penetration of electric vehicles could be an additional structural tailwind as the average electric vehicle has about three times as much copper as the average gasoline/diesel powered vehicle," he said.

One-year copper price

Source: FactSet

The analyst noted that the time to buy copper is likely soon, as near-term weakness leaves much room for meaningful upside over the next two years. Copper is trading at $2.88 per pound, but Jefferies is forecasting it to be nearly 22 percent higher in the next three to six years.

"While the copper equities are discounting a copper price above the current spot, they are all discounting a price well below the $3.50/lb that we forecast for the 2020-2023 period," the analyst wrote in a note.

But copper isn't the only commodity Wall Street is optimistic about.

Though oil prices recently tanked to a low of $42.53 in mid-June, West Texas Intermediate crude has since recovered over the month of July, now trading around $49.50.

Raymond James Chief Investment Strategist Jeff Saut released on Monday the contents of an email conversation he had with veteran Canadian commodities analyst Leon Tuey. In it, Tuey predicted a glorious return for crude.

"Despite the universal pessimism, oil is poised to break out," Tuey wrote. "As mentioned in my previous reports, oil will likely reach $70 - $80 in two or three years."

One-year WTI crude price

To be sure, classic metrics of inflation have yet to lead the Federal Reserve to such optimistic conclusions.

The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, closely watched by the Fed for signs of inflation, rose 0.1 percent in June after a similar gain in May, hinting at lethargic prices even as the Fed looks to hike rates and curtail its balance sheet. The Consumer Price Index, also watched closely as an indicator of inflation in the economy, was unchanged in June.

Despite the Fed's dovish approach to raising rates, Wall Street will be watching commodities in the months to come.

"Stay invested," Tuey advised in his email chain with Saut. "This great bull market remains in the early stages of the second leg which is the longest and strongest as it is driven by improving economic conditions and accelerating earnings."

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