Visualizing the Commodity Super Cycle
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the world has seen its population and the need for natural resources boom.
As more people and wealth translate into the demand for global goods, the prices of commodities—such as energy, agriculture, livestock, and metals—have often followed in sync.
This cycle, which tends to coincide with extended periods of industrialization and modernization, helps in telling a story of human development.
Why are Commodity Prices Cyclical?
Commodity prices go through extended periods during which prices are well above or below their long-term price trend. There are two types of swings in commodity prices: upswings and downswings.
Many economists believe that the upswing phase in super cycles results from a lag between unexpected, persistent, and positive trends to support commodity demand with slow-moving supply, such as the building of a new mine or planting a new crop. Eventually, as adequate supply becomes available and demand growth slows, the cycle enters a downswing phase.
While individual commodity groups have their own price patterns, when charted together they form extended periods of price trends known as “Commodity Super Cycles” where there is a recognizable pattern across major commodity groups.
How can a Commodity Super Cycle be Identified?
Commodity super cycles are different from immediate supply disruptions; high or low prices persist over time.
In our above chart, we used data from the Bank of Canada, who leveraged a statistical technique called an asymmetric band pass filter. This is a calculation that can identify the patterns or frequencies of events in sets of data.
Economists at the Bank of Canada employed this technique using their Commodity Price Index (BCPI) to search for evidence of super cycles. This is an index of the spot or transaction prices in U.S. dollars of 26 commodities produced in Canada and sold to world markets.
- Energy: Coal, Oil, Natural Gas
- Metals and Minerals: Gold, Silver, Nickel, Copper, Aluminum, Zinc, Potash, Lead, Iron
- Forestry: Pulp, Lumber, Newsprint
- Agriculture: Potatoes, Cattle, Hogs, Wheat, Barley, Canola, Corn
- Fisheries: Finfish, Shellfish
Using the band pass filter and the BCPI data, the chart indicates that there are four distinct commodity price super cycles since 1899.
The first cycle coincides with the industrialization of the United States in the late 19th century.
The second began with the onset of global rearmament before the Second World War in the 1930s.
The third began with the reindustrialization of Europe and Japan in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
- 1996 – Present:
The fourth began in the mid to late 1990s with the rapid industrialization of China
What Causes Commodity Cycles?
The rapid industrialization and growth of a nation or region are the main drivers of these commodity super cycles.
From the rapid industrialization of America emerging as a world power at the beginning of the 20th century, to the ascent of China at the beginning of the 21st century, these historical periods of growth and industrialization drive new demand for commodities.
Because there is often a lag in supply coming online, prices have nowhere to go but above long-term trend lines. Then, prices cannot subside until supply is overshot, or growth slows down.
Is This the Beginning of a New Super Cycle?
The evidence suggests that human industrialization drives commodity prices into cycles. However, past growth was asymmetric around the world with different countries taking the lion’s share of commodities at different times.
With more and more parts of the world experiencing growth simultaneously, demand for commodities is not isolated to a few nations.
Confined to Earth, we could possibly be entering an era where commodities could perpetually be scarce and valuable, breaking the cycles and giving power to nations with the greatest access to resources.
Each commodity has its own story, but together, they show the arc of human development.
The Anatomy of the $2 Trillion COVID-19 Stimulus Bill
A visual breakdown of the CARES Act, the $2 trillion package to provide COVID-19 economic relief. It’s the largest stimulus bill in modern history.
The Anatomy of the $2 Trillion COVID-19 Stimulus Bill
The unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic has prioritized keeping people apart to slow the spread of the virus. While measures such as business closures and travel restrictions are effective at fighting a pandemic, they also have a dramatic impact on the economy.
To help right the ship, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — also known as the CARES Act — was passed by U.S. lawmakers last week with little fanfare. The act became the largest economic stimulus bill in modern history, more than doubling the stimulus act passed in 2009 during the Financial Crisis.
Today’s Sankey diagram is a visual representation of where the $2 trillion will be spent. Broadly speaking, there are five components to the COVID-19 stimulus bill:
|Category||Total Amount||Share of the Package|
|Individuals / Families||$603.7 billion||30%|
|Big Business||$500.0 billion||25%|
|Small Business||$377.0 billion||19%|
|State and Local Government||$340.0 billion||17%|
|Public Services||$179.5 billion||9%|
Although the COVID-19 stimulus bill is incredibly complex, here are some of the most important parts to be aware of.
Funds for Individuals
Amount: $603.7 billion – 30% of total CARES Act
In order to stimulate the sputtering economy quickly, the U.S. government will deploy “helicopter money” — direct cash payments to individuals and families.
The centerpiece of this plan is a $1,200 direct payment for those earning up to $75,000 per year. For higher earners, payment amounts will phase out, ending altogether at the $99,000 income level. Families will also receive $500 per child.
There are three other key things to know about this portion of the stimulus funds:
- There will be a temporary suspension for any student loan held by the federal government. This means no payments required and no interest accrued until the end of September, 2020.
- Borrowers with federally backed loans can request forbearance on mortgage payments for up to six months.
- There will be an expansion of unemployment benefits, including a four-month enhancement of benefits. This plan includes freelancers, workers in the gig economy, and furloughed employees.
Amount: $500.0 billion – 25% of total CARES Act
This component of the package is aimed at stabilizing big businesses in hard-hit sectors.
The most obvious industry to receive support will be the airlines. About $58 billion has been earmarked for commercial and cargo airlines, as well as airline contractors. Perhaps in response to recent criticism of the industry, companies receiving stimulus money will be barred from engaging in stock buybacks for the term of the loan plus one year.
One interesting pathway highlighted by today’s Sankey diagram is the $17 billion allocated to “maintaining national security”. While this provision doesn’t mention any specific company by name, the primary recipient is believed to be Boeing.
The bill also indicates that an inspector general will oversee the recovery process, along with a special committee.
Amount: $377.0 billion – 19% of total CARES Act
To ease the strain on businesses around the country, the Small Business Administration (SBA) will be given $350 billion to provide loans of up to $10 million to qualifying organizations. These funds can be used for mission critical activities, such as paying rent or keeping employees on the payroll during COVID-19 closures.
As well, the bill sets aside $10 billion in grants for small businesses that need help covering short-term operating costs.
State and Local Governments
Amount: $340.0 billion – 17% of total CARES Act
The biggest portion of funds going to local and state governments is the $274 billion allocated towards direct COVID-19 response. The rest of the funds in this component will go to schools and child care services.
Public and Health Services
Amount: $179.5 billion – 9% of total CARES Act
The biggest slice of this pie goes to healthcare providers, who will receive $100 billion in grants to help fight COVID-19. This was a major ask from groups representing the healthcare industry, as they look to make up the lost revenue caused by focusing on the outbreak — as opposed to performing elective surgeries and other procedures. There will also be a 20% increase in Medicare payments for treating patients with the virus.
Money is also set aside for initiatives such as increasing the availability of ventilators and masks for the Strategic National Stockpile, as well as providing additional funding for the Center for Disease Control and expanding the reach of virtual doctors.
Finally, beyond the healthcare-related funding, the CARES Act also addresses food security programs and a long list of educational and arts initiatives.
Hat tip to Reddit user SevenandForty for inspiring this graphic.
COVID-19 Crash: How China’s Economy May Offer a Glimpse of the Future
China has seen a severe economic impact from COVID-19, and it may be a preview of what’s to come for countries in the early stages of the outbreak.
The Economic Impact of COVID-19
China, once the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, appears to be turning a corner. As the number of reported local transmission cases hovers near zero, daily life is slowly returning to normal. However, economic data from the first two months of the year shows the damage done to the country’s finances.
Today’s visualization outlines the sharp losses China’s economy has experienced, and how this may foreshadow what’s to come for countries currently in the early stages of the outbreak.
A Historic Slump
The results are in: China’s business activity slowed considerably as COVID-19 spread.
|Economic Indicator||Year-over-year Change (Jan-Feb 2020)|
|Investment in Fixed Assets*||-24.5%|
|Value of Exports||-15.9%|
*Excluding rural household investment
As factories and shops reopen, China seems to be over the initial supply side shock caused by the lockdown. However, the country now faces a double-headed demand shock:
- Domestic demand is slow to gain traction due to psychological scars, bankruptcies, and job losses. In a survey conducted by a Beijing financial firm, almost 65% of respondents plan to “restrain” their spending habits after the virus.
- Overseas demand is suffering as more countries face outbreaks. Many stores are closing up shop and/or cancelling orders, leading to an oversupply of goods.
With a fast recovery seeming highly unlikely, many economists expect China’s GDP to shrink in the first quarter of 2020—the country’s first decline since 1976.
Danger on the Horizon
Are other countries destined to follow the same path? Based on preliminary economic data, it would appear so.
About half the U.S. population is on stay-at-home orders, severely restricting economic activity and forcing widespread layoffs. In the week ending March 21, total unemployment insurance claims rose to almost 3.3 million—their highest level in recorded history. For context, weekly claims reached a high of 665,000 during the global financial crisis.
“…The economy has just fallen over the cliff and is turning down into a recession.”
—Chris Rupkey, Chief Economist at MUFG in New York
In addition, manufacturing activity in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware dropped to its lowest level since July 2012.
Other countries are also feeling the economic impact of COVID-19. For example, global online bookings for seated diners have declined by 100% year-over-year. In Canada, nearly one million people have applied for unemployment benefits.
Hard-hit countries such as Italy and Spain, which already suffer from high unemployment, are also expecting to see economic blows. However, it’s too soon to gauge the extent of the damage.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Given the near-shutdown of many economies, the IMF is forecasting a global recession in 2020. Separately, the UN estimates COVID-19 could cause up to a $2 trillion shortfall in global income.
On the bright side, some analysts are forecasting a recovery as early as the third quarter of 2020. A variety of factors, such as government stimulus, consumer confidence, and the number of COVID-19 cases, will play into this timeline.
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