A freight train carrying iron ore travels along a rail track towards Port Hedland, Australia, on Monday, March 18, 2019.
Ian Waldie | Bloomberg via Getty Images
The next phase of the economic recovery is likely to be driven by commodity-intensive infrastructure investment, analysts have told CNBC, potentially setting the stage for further gains across the industrial space in the coming months.
The prediction comes at a time when market participants are closely monitoring the strength of the global economic recovery, as many countries grapple with an upsurge in the number of reported Covid-19 infections.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted forecasters to issue dire economic projections this year, with the OECD warning on Wednesday that the outlook remains “exceptionally uncertain.”
One sign the recovery may be gaining momentum, however, came as the world’s second-largest economy reported industrial output expanded the most in eight months in August.
China, which has been in recovery mode for months now, published data on Tuesday that showed industrial output growth accelerated to 5.6% in August when compared to a year earlier. It bolsters the view that Beijing’s demand recovery continues to gather pace, with government stimulus helping to fuel a rebound.
“We’ve already seen a metals-intensive response in China, highly metals-intensive,” Max Layton, head of EMEA commodities research at Citi, told CNBC via telephone.
“It has been absolutely stunning how strong China has rebounded on the construction side of things,” he continued, reflecting on the “spectacular” rally seen across the industrial commodity space as a result.
I’m watching things like iron ore very closely now because those sorts of industrial commodities are going to skyrocket if we do get this bounce-back driven by infrastructure.
Head of news in EMEA at S&P Global Platts
Layton identified “three big catalysts” for commodity investors to track through to the end of the year: Coronavirus vaccine news; the strength of China’s economic recovery; and the scale of the U.S. easing package.
Iron ore prices could ‘skyrocket’
“I do think that a lot of the stimulus will be infrastructure driven. We already know that there is a massive infrastructure deficit in a lot of developed countries and that is something that could be addressed in this period,” Nitesh Shah, director of research at New York-based WisdomTree Investments, told CNBC via telephone.
“Why waste a good crisis? You can actually get through a lot of the infrastructure programs that you’ve been waiting decades to actually get through the door in this time,” Shah continued. “I’m not as optimistic on a big ‘V-shaped,’ rigorous recovery but even some sort of recovery is good for the industrial space.”
A V-shaped recovery refers to a sharp decline in economic activity which is then matched by an abrupt rebound.
“Ultimately, if you look at the response economies are making to (the coronavirus crisis), we’ve had the fiscal response, we’ve had central banks slashing interest rates, we’ve had central banks pumping more money into economies, the next phase is massive investment in infrastructure and that’s going to come globally,” Andy Critchlow, head of news in EMEA at S&P Global Platts, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” last month.
“We saw this back in 2008-2009 in response to the financial crisis (and) what did we get out of that? We got a rally in some of the industrial commodity markets — it was a super-cycle,” he said.
“I’m watching things like iron ore very closely now because those sorts of industrial commodities are going to skyrocket if we do get this bounce-back driven by infrastructure and then that will filter into oil.”
Spot iron ore prices climbed to fresh six-and-a-half-year highs on Monday, trading close to $129 a dry metric ton on the back of a construction boom in China.
The steelmaking ingredient has since pared gains, changing hands at $126.59 on Friday. Iron ore prices have climbed more than 37% year-to-date.
Twenty kilogram gold and silver bricks sit at the ABC Refinery smelter in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on Thursday, July 2, 2020.
David Gray | Bloomberg via Getty Images
Alongside net-zero interest rates globally, demand for a hedge against a perceived inflation risk has helped spot gold futures jump more than 28% so far this year, while silver has gained around 50% over the same period.
Looking ahead to 2021, Critchlow suggested some of the world’s largest economies could soon announce “big” infrastructure developments.
These projects were likely to be led by China, India and the U.S., he argued, noting that both candidates in the upcoming U.S. presidential election had pledged to spend an “awful lot of money” on infrastructure. “That’s got to be good for oil demand and it’s got to be good for commodities across the board.”
Trump vs. Biden on infrastructure
President Donald Trump was rumored to be preparing a $1 trillion infrastructure plan earlier in the year, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed source. However, his position on future investment into infrastructure has remained vague ahead of the November 3 presidential election.
The Trump campaign announced the president’s second term agenda last month, pledging to “build the world’s greatest infrastructure system.” The press release offered no further detail on how Trump planned to fulfill this promise if re-elected. In 2016, the incumbent Republican famously committed to spending $1 trillion on infrastructure, but nothing much has happened since.
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about climate change during a campaign event at the Delaware Museum of Natural History in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., September 14, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
By comparison, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged to spend $2 trillion “to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future.” Biden has said, if elected, he plans to rebuild roads, bridges, green spaces and water systems as well as providing universal broadband.
“To the degree the market believes they are going to put through infrastructure easing, then yes, it is good news either way for the commodities that are going to be exposed to both candidates’ proposals,” Citi’s Layton said.
He suggested Trump’s prior commitments to “old school” infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges, would likely be “steels-intensive.”
Biden’s commitment to develop solar and wind technologies would likely benefit copper and, to a lesser degree, silver, he added.