By James McCormack, Fitch

The strength of the US dollar is the single most important issue of the many facing emerging market (EM) economies. At the same time – and in some cases as a corollary of the dollar’s strength – they are struggling with lower commodity prices, increasing rates of inflation, heightened political and geopolitical risks, greater financial market volatility, large capital outflows and an extended period of weakness in global trade.

It is critical to consider nominal dollar incomes in assessing countries’ relative economic performance and prospects because the dollar continues to dominate the pricing of global commodities, the settlement of international trade, the extension of cross-border credit and the foreign reserve assets held by EM central banks. Although the international roles of several other currencies, including the Chinese renminbi, are expanding, there is no convincing evidence that the dollar’s supremacy is under any immediate threat. Read more

Commodity prices could well have further to fall, now China’s business model has changed. It is no longer aiming to achieve high levels of economic growth by operating an export-focused development model, supported by vast infrastructure spending. Instead, its New Normal policies aim to boost domestic consumption, by creating a services-led model based on exploiting the opportunities created by the power of the internet.

The only problem is that markets have failed to notice this change. They have fallen victim to the phenomenon of “anchoring” as identified by Nobel Prizewinner Daniel Kahneman, and assume the New Normal is similar to the Old Normal. Thus, much analysis on commodity markets still focuses on guessing “when will the rally begin?” Read more

The global commodity super-bubble is coming to an end. It is exactly a year since we forecast that a Great Unwinding of stimulus policies was underway, due to a major slowdown in China. As we warned on beyondbrics:

Oil and commodity prices are falling sharply as supply/demand once again becomes the key driver for prices; the US dollar is strengthening and liquidity is tightening across the world; equity markets risk sharp falls, as investors realise they have overpaid for future growth and rush for the exits; China’s economy is slowing fast as the new leadership implements the World Bank’s ‘China 2030’ plan; interest rates are becoming volatile as some investors seek a ‘safe haven’, while others worry that stimulus policy debt may never be repaid.

Today, it is clear that risks are rising in all these areas. And fewer people now believe that the problems can be magically wished away by a further round of stimulus – even if this was economically and politically possible. Read more

By Thomas Lassourd and David Manley, Natural Resource Governance Institute

Probably the most dramatic aspect of the early 2015 global economy is the historically low level of commodity prices. Crude oil prices have fallen by 50 per cent since June. But oil is not the only commodity that has stumbled. Since their peak in February 2011, copper prices have dropped 38 per cent and iron ore prices have fallen a staggering 63 per cent.

Predicting the future is a dangerous occupation. Most observers – and the market -did not foresee the dramatic fall that has occurred. Some analysts and the forwards market expect prices to go even lower, before increasing to $65 per barrel in the next two to three years, while others believe prices will slowly rise to $100 per barrel within the same time frame. Read more

In the years since the financial crisis, emerging markets have been awash with free-flowing global liquidity. Easy money from western central banks – notably the Fed – has driven up equity markets and currencies, and slashed borrowing costs.

On Wednesday, the QE punchbowl is finally set for the dishwasher. So will investors in emerging markets call it a night? Read more

By Michael Power, Investec Asset Management

“Are we nearly there yet?” Most of us have faced – and in our younger days probably asked – the same question. As with children on long car journeys, this question is also posed by investors who cannot wait for bear markets to be over.

Commodity investors – and recently this has expanded from the metals and coal complexes to include oils – are wondering aloud when their recent ordeal will all be over. The same can be said for investors in those commodity-rich countries, as they survey their currency-ravaged portfolios. And this phenomenon is not confined to emerging markets (EM) – investments in Australia, Canada and even Norway have suffered the same fate. Read more

Financial market traders kicking their heels for much of this year over the (to them) maddening lack of volatility have at last been given something to work with. Several commodity prices have dived lower over the past few months, setting off reactions across a range of different markets.

The usual response would be to worry about emerging markets across the board, particularly net commodity exporters, which have been benefiting from juicy export earnings over the past decade. Indeed, if the current movements mark the end of the up phase of a commodity super-cycle, emerging markets could be in for a tough time for a long while. Ghana and Zambia, which recently called in the IMF after falls respectively in gold and copper prices punched holes in their fiscal and current account positions, are cautionary tales.

Yet there are two reasons to be cautious about hurtling to sweeping conclusions. Read more

Until about a decade ago India was barely producing enough cotton to meet its own needs, let alone export the stuff. But this year Asia’s third largest economy will overtake China to become the world’s biggest producer of cotton.

Data from the US Department of Agriculture released on Thursday suggests that India will produce 30m bales of cotton in the season that began August 1 while China will produce just 29.5m bales. Read more

Following Nigeria's example?

The International Monetary Fund’s “Africa Rising” conference opened in Maputo with gushing descriptions about the “potential” and “opportunity” of the fast growing continent.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde, the guest of honour, told the gathering of politicians, aid workers and business types that “we are witnessing a moment of transformation in Africa.” Former US President Bill Clinton joined in via video to talk of Africa’s “remarkable economic progress.”

Yet intertwined with the unabashed bullishness were warnings about the potential potholes that line the road ahead, especially for those nations endowed with rich reserves of the natural resources that have been driving much of the continent’s heady growth. Read more

Montezuma’s revenge is now no longer just for tourists visiting Mexico. The nation’s pig industry has caught it, too.

The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus, or PEDv, which has ripped through hog herds in the US and hiked Chicago pork prices, has already shown up in most pork producing states in Mexico. Read more

Two new exchange traded funds giving investors access to South Africa’s palladium market have hit the ground running.

Standard Bank’s AfricaPalladium ETF, launched on March 24, had grown to R300m ($28.4m), the equivalent of 33,000 ounces, by March 28, the bank said. Absa, a member of Barclays, unveiled its NewPalladium ETF on March 27; by Monday afternoon Absa said current listings being processed, to be concluded on April 2 and 3, showed the fund had grown to 24,847 ounces of palladium, valued at R200m.

Generally, commodity prices have come under pressure globally. So why would now be a good time to launch a palladium-backed product? Read more

A cartoon in a Mexican newspaper last week said it all: there are Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, gazing wistfully at the forbidden fruit. But it’s not an apple. It’s a lime.

Just about everything to eat in Mexico gets served with a wedge of lime, but buying them lately has been tricky. At one recent Sunday market in Mexico City, stallholders rolled their eyes when asked for what is normally the most ubiquitous of fruit. “No, too expensive,” was the answer rolled out at stall after stall. Read more

By Paul Bloxham of HSBC

Global commodity prices are significantly higher than they were a decade ago. Indeed, despite having fallen around 20 per cent in the past three years, they remain over 110 per cent above their 1990s average, in inflation-adjusted terms.

This rise in commodity prices over the past decade was largely driven by higher metals and energy prices. As the emerging economies, particularly China, urbanised and industrialised they needed to build more roads, bridges and housing, which supported strong demand for hard commodities and energy. In turn, rising commodity demand occurred against a backdrop of weak supply due to underinvestment in mining capacity, which drove prices higher. Read more

For many emerging markets, the most worrying aspect of Chinese economic statistics announced on Thursday is that they reveal a slump in the construction spree that has sucked in vast quantities of metal ores and other commodities from Latin America, Africa, Russia and parts of Asia.

But which EM economies are most vulnerable as China throws the commodity cycle out of joint? Craig Botham, emerging markets strategist at Schroders, has come up with a vulnerability ranking (see chart) that identifies the exposure of EM countries to a slowdown in net non-food commodity exports to China. Read more

When billionaire Suleiman Kerimov and his business partners sold their stakes in Uralkali, the Russian potash miner, at the end of 2013, analysts expected a prompt restoration of Uralkali’s export cartel with its former Belarusian partner, state-owned Belaruskali.

Yet both parties seem happy with things as they are. Any revival of the cartel looks more likely to be driven by political than commercial considerations. Read more

The World Bank’s private sector lending arm has been very publicly rapped over the knuckles for its handling of an investment in Honduran palm oil company Corporación Dinant, which human rights groups allege has links with death squads and the killing and torture of peasant farmers who claim the land where it operates.

But if the shaming of the IFC in an independent audit by the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) were not bad enough, Peter Chowla, co-ordinator of the UK-based Bretton Woods Project, says: “Some of the most damaging findings from this case are yet to come.” Read more

The formal World Trade Organisation gathering in Bali in early December already has some strongly positive news – a global trade deal is on the cards – a rare and big achievement.

But some issues are still a bit thorny – take cotton. In the past, African governments lambasted the US and EU for their cotton subsidies. Now it’s India and China that they should worry about. Read more

Another week, another barrage of criticism for Thailand’s massive rice subsidy scheme.

This time the attack on a programme that is costing the government billions of dollars a year and adding to worries about the country’s economy is delivered diplomatically, but none the less forcefully, by the International Monetary Fund. Read more

They say timing is everything in business, and the Indian guar gum producers who invested in new capacity early last year – just as the US fracking business realised it needed thousands of tonnes of the stuff in a hurry – either got lucky or timed their market entry to perfection. But is the multi-billion dollar boom in this once obscure commodity now over? Read more

Are commodities over-valued? There are two schools of thought on the subject, one that says constrained supply and surging demand from emerging markets is the key driver of price, and the other that suggests high prices are a consequence of market speculation (boosted by cheap money).

McKinsey’s annual commodity report, released on Thursday, gives succour to the latter group. The chart below shows average commodity prices since 1980, combining metal, food, energy and raw material prices. Average prices are about 12 per cent down on their 2008 peak – but they are still more than double what they were in 1980. The commodity super-cycle “isn’t dead”, it suggests. Read more