The present commodity and oil boom shows all the classic symptoms of a financial bubble, such as Japan in the 1980s, technology stocks in the 1990s and, most recently, housing and mortgages in the US. But surely, you will say, this commodity boom is different? Surely it is driven by profound and lasting changes in global supply and demand: China's insatiable appetite for food and energy, geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East, the peaking of global oil reserves, droughts caused by global warming and so on. All these fundamental points are perfectly valid, but they tell us nothing about whether the oil price will soon jump to $200, stay at $130 or fall back to $60 next month.
To see that these “fundamentals” are all irrelevant, we have merely to ask which of them has changed in the past nine months. The answer is none. The oil markets didn't suddenly discover China's oil demand nine months ago so this cannot explain the doubling of prices since last August. In fact, China's “insatiable” demand growth has decelerated. In 2004 it was consuming an extra 0.9 million barrels a day; in 2007 it was consuming just an extra 0.3 mbd. In the same period global demand growth has slowed from 3.6 mbd to 0.7 mbd. As a result, the increase in global demand growth is now well below last year's increase of 0.8 mbd in non-Opec production, according to Mike Rothman, of ISI, a leading New York consulting group.
Why, then, are commodity prices still rising? The first point to note is that many no longer are. Rice, wheat and pork are 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than they were two months ago, when financial pundits identified Asian and African food riots as the first symptoms of a commodity “super-cycle” that would drive prices much higher. And the price of industrial commodities such as lead, zinc and nickel, supposedly in short supply a year ago, has now dropped by 40 to 60 per cent. In fact, most major commodity indices would already be in a downtrend were it not for the dominance of oil.
Emphasis added by me.
The people who tell you that commodity prices today are driven by “economic fundamentals” are the same ones who said that house prices in Britain were rising because of land shortages. The amazing thing is that just months after losing hundreds of billions in the housing and mortgage bubbles, investors and governments around the world have reverted to the discredited fallacy that financial markets always reflect economic reality, instead of the boom-bust cycles and misconceptions that George Soros's book vividly describes.
Ok, he's the second voice -- Ambrose Evans-Pricthard was the first -- to state that these oil price increases are nothing but a bubble.
And yet neither one of them has yet written about the possible effects of that bubble popping.
It can't be pretty.
Plus, it's obvious that we have now entered an age where -- more than ever -- money is chasing the next Bubble. A bus driver(!) last night summed up the desires of some people with their search for the BBD -- the Bigger and Better Deal.
Money has hopped from the Internet Bubble to the Real Estate Bubble to the Gold Bubble(?) to the Commodities Bubble to the Oil Bubble(?).
What happens when there's no new Bubble to put that money into?