by Dambisa Moyo
March 13, 2013
SEOUL – The commodity super-cycle – in which commodity prices reach ever-higher highs, and fall only to higher lows – is not over. Despite the euphoria around shale gas – indeed, despite weak global growth – commodity prices have risen by as much as 150% in the aftermath of the financial crisis. In the medium term, this trend will continue to pose an inflation risk and undermine living standards worldwide.
For starters, there is the convergence argument. As China grows, its increasing size, wealth, and urbanization will continue to stoke demand for energy, grains, minerals, and other resources.
For example, the US consumes more than nine times as much oil as China on a per capita basis. As more of China’s population converges to Western standards of consumption, demand for commodities – and thus their prices – will remain on an upward trajectory.
Of course, not all commodities are equal. For example, although the case for copper seems straightforward, given that it is a key input for wiring, electronics, and indoor plumbing, a strong bid for iron is not as obvious, given the Chinese infrastructure boom that already has occurred in the last two decades.
Worst-case estimates have China’s real GDP growing at around 7% per year over the next decade. Meanwhile, the supply of most commodities is forecast to grow by no more than 2% annually in real terms. All else being equal, unless China’s commodity intensity, defined as the amount of a commodity consumed to generate a unit of output, falls dramatically, its demand for commodities will be greater this year than it was last year.