As the 5% crude oil plunge in both WTI and Brent on fears of Omicron demand shock demonstrates, the fate of the virus is inextricably linked to global economic growth, Fed policy and thus commodities returns. Yet thanks to black gold’s stellar performance the GSCI Energy index was a winner in 2021, up 47%. Even Brent rebounded 4% to 74 a barrel in its own version of a Santa Claus rally and the steepening of the UST yield curve with the 10 year Uncle Sam IOU at 1.49% suggest that the bond market has concluded that virus angst precludes aggressive Fed monetary tightening.
The rise in the US dollar and speculative alternatives like crypto currencies meant that the GSCI Precious Metals index was a yawner/loser, down 6% in 2021. Despite the spectacular EV revolution, silver was down a dismal 17% as it is hyper correlated to global central bank tightening and Chinese GDP growth deceleration. Yet if the steepness of the yield curve continues, gold and silver may well get a pop as the markets conclude that the Fed’s tolerance for negative real interest rates will not end despite Powell’s hawkish tilt on Capitol Hill/FOMC boardroom.
As I expect an escalation in US-Russian geopolitical risk over Ukraine/cyber espionage, it is entirely possible that Washington pressures the new German Chancellor to ban the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. This could wreak havoc in the European gas market and thus be a great opportunity to take advantage of the 35% slide in natural gas since last summer. It does not seem as if the US-Iran talks in Vienna on a revived JCPOA will be successful, as Raisi’s hardline IRGC generals position him to succeed Khamenei.
The point of maximum danger for a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine is in January or February as General Winter has been the biggest asset of the Kremlin at war, as was proven in the fateful winters of 1812 and 1941. This event could be a game changer in both crude oil, natural gas and the world financial markets as a post-Kabul Biden White House will respond with draconian economic sanctions on the Putin regime.
I also doubt if OPEC+ has the spare capacity to act as the world’s white knight if a Ukraine invasion triggers panic buying in the global wet barrel market. My favourite commodity remains Dr. Copper for all kinds of reasons, both short term and structural.
Agflation is another theme in the commodity markets but I am morally reluctant to try to make money in wheat, corn and meat futures since millions of human beings face the very real threat of starvation. A close diplomat friend who knows Afghanistan and its odious Taliban regime tells me that the colossal incompetence of the mullahs means 95% of Afghans now face food insecurity and that 3 million deaths from famine would not surprise him. Those who cheered the Taliban’s victory in August, led by Imran/Taliban Khan and his Pretorian cheerleaders have a lot to answer to history for their immoral policies. Who will feed the children of Afghanistan now?