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What is a Commodity Super Cycle?

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What is a Commodity Super Cycle?

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.

  • 1899-1932:
    The first cycle coincides with the industrialization of the United States in the late 19th century.
  • 1933-1961:
    The second began with the onset of global rearmament before the Second World War in the 1930s.
  • 1962-1995:
    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.

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Energy

Charted: 4 Reasons Why Lithium Could Be the Next Gold Rush

Visual Capitalist has partnered with EnergyX to show why drops in prices and growing demand may make now the right time to invest in lithium.

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The teaser image shows a bubble chart showing that the price of a Tesla is similar to that of other major auto manufacturers.

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The following content is sponsored by EnergyX

4 Reasons Why You Should Invest in Lithium

Lithium’s importance in powering EVs makes it a linchpin of the clean energy transition and one of the world’s most precious minerals.

In this graphic, Visual Capitalist partnered with EnergyX to explore why now may be the time to invest in lithium.

1. Lithium Prices Have Dropped

One of the most critical aspects of evaluating an investment is ensuring that the asset’s value is higher than its price would indicate. Lithium is integral to powering EVs, and, prices have fallen fast over the last year:

DateLiOH·H₂O*Li₂CO₃**
Feb 2023$76$71
March 2023$71$61
Apr 2023$43$33
May 2023$43$33
June 2023$47$45
July 2023$44$40
Aug 2023$35$35
Sept 2023$28$27
Oct 2023$24$23
Nov 2023$21$21
Dec 2023$17$16
Jan 2024$14$15
Feb 2024$13$14

Note: Monthly spot prices were taken as close to the 14th of each month as possible.
*Lithium hydroxide monohydrate MB-LI-0033
**Lithium carbonate MB-LI-0029

2. Lithium-Ion Battery Prices Are Also Falling

The drop in lithium prices is just one reason to invest in the metal. Increasing economies of scale, coupled with low commodity prices, have caused the cost of lithium-ion batteries to drop significantly as well.

In fact, BNEF reports that between 2013 and 2023, the price of a Li-ion battery dropped by 82%.

YearPrice per KWh
2023$139
2022$161
2021$150
2020$160
2019$183
2018$211
2017$258
2016$345
2015$448
2014$692
2013$780

3. EV Adoption is Sustainable

One of the best reasons to invest in lithium is that EVs, one of the main drivers behind the demand for lithium, have reached a price point similar to that of traditional vehicle.

According to the Kelly Blue Book, Tesla’s average transaction price dropped by 25% between 2022 and 2023, bringing it in line with many other major manufacturers and showing that EVs are a realistic transport option from a consumer price perspective. 

ManufacturerSeptember 2022September 2023
BMW$69,000$72,000
Ford$54,000$56,000
Volkswagon$54,000$56,000
General Motors$52,000$53,000
Tesla$68,000$51,000

4. Electricity Demand in Transport is Growing

As EVs become an accessible transport option, there’s an investment opportunity in lithium. But possibly the best reason to invest in lithium is that the IEA reports global demand for the electricity in transport could grow dramatically by 2030:

Transport Type202220252030
Buses 🚌23,000 GWh50,000 GWh130,000 GWh
Cars 🚙65,000 GWh200,000 GWh570,000 GWh
Trucks 🛻4,000 GWh15,000 GWh94,000 GWh
Vans 🚐6,000 GWh16,000 GWh72,000 GWh

The Lithium Investment Opportunity

Lithium presents a potentially classic investment opportunity. Lithium and battery prices have dropped significantly, and recently, EVs have reached a price point similar to other vehicles. By 2030, the demand for clean energy, especially in transport, will grow dramatically. 

With prices dropping and demand skyrocketing, now is the time to invest in lithium.

EnergyX is poised to exploit lithium demand with cutting-edge lithium extraction technology capable of extracting 300% more lithium than current processes.

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