It may be tempting to view recent declines in commodity prices as the end of the resource “supercycle”—the period of sharp price rises and heightened volatility since the turn of the 21st century. Yet rumors of the supercycle’s death are greatly exaggerated. Despite recent falls, commodity prices are still near their levels of early to mid-2008, just before the global financial crisis hit. (To track the movements in commodity prices over time, see the interactive, “MGI’s Commodity Price Index—an interactive tool.”) At a time when the world economy remains below full power, this phenomenon is striking, and a sign that the supercycle is alive and well. … We believe that resource markets will be shaped in coming years by a race between emerging-market demand and the resulting need to increase supply from a more challenging geology and the twin forces of supply-side innovation and resource productivity. Innovations such as the use of 3-D and 4-D seismic technologies for energy exploration can improve access to resources. Productivity gains can reduce the wastage of food and water and make buildings more energy efficient. The question is whether technology and resource productivity can improve fast enough to counter the impact of emerging-market demand and a more challenging geology. … The race is on.
1. The changing resource landscape
2. Energy: The race between technology and geology
3. Metals: The looming supply challenge
4. Agriculture: Falling yield growth hits prices
China is bafflingly silent about strange, record-breaking changes that have been wreaking havoc on the mighty Mekong River in recent months ... The dams China has built hundreds of miles upstream from Kroolong’s home are what brought me to the Mekong, one of the world’s mightiest waterways. The river is so long that if it were in the US, it would stretch all the way from Los Angeles across to New York. It starts off high in the snowy peaks of the Tibetan plateau before plunging down through the mountains of China’s southern Yunnan province towards Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and finally Vietnam, where it pours into the South China Sea. Just under half the river’s length is in China, which first started damming it in Yunnan more than 20 years ago. ... The early dams were large but nothing like two enormous, newer ones. The Xiaowan, completed nearly four years ago, is one of China’s biggest hydropower projects after Three Gorges on the Yangtze River, with a wall almost as high as the Eiffel Tower and a reservoir that can hold 15 billion cubic metres of water. It is dwarfed in volume, though not quite height, by the newer Nuozhadu dam, which can store 22.7 billion cubic metres of water. Together, the pair can hold enough to drown an area the size of London in water 24 metres deep. ... There have long been odd stories about the impact these two dams might be having on the countries further south, where people have blamed them for everything from drought to a drop-off in fish catches. But what emerged from my visit to the Mekong, as I followed the story of the floods that took Den Kroolong’s boat, was even stranger – a cautionary tale about the world’s newest superpower, and about water, a resource under mounting pressure.
Jeremy has written extensively about the long-term prospects for natural resources,1 but there are advantages to commodity investing beyond potential commodity price appreciation, including diversification and inflation protection. Resource equities are a great way to gain commodity exposure, while also accessing the equity risk premium. Given their somewhat hybrid nature, with one foot in the equity market and the other foot in the commodity market, resource equities display some unusual characteristics; over various timeframes, resource equities may move more with equities or more with commodities and can look more or less risky than the broad market. Perhaps due to their quirky nature, resource equities are generally unloved and possibly misunderstood. However, we believe that resource equities present a compelling investment opportunity, both strategically and tactically, and that long-term investors could benefit from larger allocations to these assets. ... investors are still wary of investing in commodity producers due to the commodity price risk and the always uncertain commodity outlook. Long-term investors willing to tolerate that shorter-term risk should strongly consider whether they have allocated enough to this exciting and unloved segment of the market.
This is Tiksi, a decaying town in the Russian Arctic. Here, more than 4,000 kilometres from Moscow on the coast of the Laptev Sea, 4,550 people inhabit a wasteland whipped by blizzards and wrapped in polar night for half of the year. Surrounded by thousands of kilometres of permafrost, the town has no outside land connection. Its main lifeline is an airport manned by a military unit, a relic of Soviet times, when the country’s Arctic territory was dotted with military bases. ... Global warming, which is causing Arctic sea ice to melt at an unprecedented pace, is watched with alarm in other parts of the world. But in Russia, the rising temperatures are fuelling expectations that the waters along its northern coast, long a frozen frontier, could once again become a vibrant shipping line, rivalling some of the world’s most important trading routes. ... In theory, the NSR could compete with routes that have dominated global maritime transport for decades. Calculated between the ports of Yokohama and Hamburg, the 7,200 nautical miles shipping distance between Asia and Europe using the NSR is 37 per cent shorter than the southern route via the Suez Canal. ... Total cargo transport volumes plummeted from a peak of 6.58 million tonnes in 1987 to just 1.46 million tonnes in 1998. ... total cargo volumes recovered to 5.15 million tonnes last year, almost back to the level of 1990. ... The idea of mastering nature is very much part of Russian identity, as is the myth of conquering the Arctic, despite the decline of Moscow’s footprint in the far north over the past 25 years. ... Since there is still a lot of ice on the northern oceans, this makes passages risky and drives up insurance premiums. Only ships with reinforced hulls can use the NSR with relatively few restrictions and even for them passage times remain unpredictable. The waters off Russia’s coast are also far shallower than those on the southern route, meaning that the world’s largest, most cost-efficient container ships can’t be used.
During the 2003–15 commodity supercycle, spending on resources including oil, natural gas, thermal coal, iron ore, and copper rose above 6 percent of global GDP for only the second time in a century before abruptly reversing course. Less noticed than these price gyrations have been fundamental changes in supply and demand for resources brought about by expected macroeconomic trends and less predictable technological innovation. Our analysis shows that these developments will have major effects on resource production and consumption over the next two decades, potentially delivering significant benefits to the global economy and bringing change to the resource sector.
-Rapid advances in automation technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, analytics, and the Internet of Things are beginning to transform the way resources are produced and consumed.
-Scenarios we modeled show that adoption of these technologies could unlock cost savings of between $900 billion and $1.6 trillion in 2035, equivalent to the GDP of Indonesia or, at the upper end, Canada. Total primary energy demand growth will slow or peak by 2035, despite growing GDP, according to our analysis.
-The price correlation that was evident during the supercycle is unraveling, and a divergence in prospects between growth commodities and declining ones may become more significant.
-Policy makers could capture the productivity benefits of this resource revolution by embracing technological change and allowing a nation’s energy mix to shift freely, even as they address the disruptive effects of the transition on employment and demand.
-For resource companies, particularly incumbents, navigating a future with more uncertainty and fewer sources of growth will require a focus on agility.
Driven by economics (a hunger for resources and new markets) and politics (a longing for strategic allies), Chinese companies and workers have rushed into all parts of the world. In 2000, only five countries counted China as their largest trading partner; today, more than 100 countries do, from Australia to the United States. The drumbeat of proposed projects never stops: a military operating base, China’s first overseas, in Djibouti; an $8 billion high-speed railway through Nigeria; an almost-fantastical canal across Nicaragua expected to cost $50 billion. Even as China’s boom slows down, its most ambitious scheme is still ramping up: With the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — its name a reference to trade routes — President Xi Jinping has spoken of putting $1.6 trillion over the next decade into infrastructure and development throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The scheme would dwarf the United States’ post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe. ... China’s relationship with Africa goes back to the 1960s, when Chairman Mao Zedong promoted solidarity with the developing world — “Ya Fei La,” as he called it, using the first syllables for Asia, Africa and Latin America. Though it was poor and mired in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, China won new allies in Africa by finishing, in 1976, a 1,156-mile railroad through the bush from Tanzania to Zambia. Aid continued to trickle in, but there were no other big projects for nearly 30 years
Sand covers so much of the earth’s surface that shipping it across borders—even uncontested ones—seems extreme. But sand isn’t just sand, it turns out. In the industrial world, it’s “aggregate,” a category that includes gravel, crushed stone, and various recycled materials. Natural aggregate is the world’s second most heavily exploited natural resource, after water, and for many uses the right kind is scarce or inaccessible. In 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report titled “Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks,” which concluded that the mining of sand and gravel “greatly exceeds natural renewal rates” and that “the amount being mined is increasing exponentially, mainly as a result of rapid economic growth in Asia.” ... Geologists define sand not by composition but by size, as grains between 0.0625 and two millimetres across. Just below sand on the size scale is silt; just above it is gravel. Most sand consists chiefly of quartz, the commonest form of silica, but there are other kinds. Sand on ocean beaches usually includes a high proportion of shell pieces and, increasingly, bits of decomposing plastic trash ... Sand is also classified by shape, in configurations that range from oblong and sharply angular to nearly spherical and smooth. Desert sand is almost always highly rounded, because strong winds knock the grains together so forcefully that protrusions and sharp edges break off. River sand is more angular. ... Aggregate is the main constituent of concrete (eighty per cent) and asphalt (ninety-four per cent), and it’s also the primary base material that concrete and asphalt are placed on during the building of roads, buildings, parking lots, runways, and many other structures. A report published in 2004 by the American Geological Institute said that a typical American house requires more than a hundred tons of sand, gravel, and crushed stone for the foundation, basement, garage, and driveway, and more than two hundred tons if you include its share of the street that runs in front of it. A mile-long section of a single lane of an American interstate highway requires thirty-eight thousand tons.