China’s commodity markets may be hearing mixed messages from the government.
Just hours after China’s state economic planning agency stepped up its fight against soaring commodity prices, threatening “speculators and hoarders” with severe punishment for violations, Premier Li Keqiang urged further strengthening of commodities imports, storage and transportation.
The seemingly discordant directives underscore the tightrope the government is walking as it tries to fend off inflation and maintain economic growth. The country faces a delicate balance between ensuring supplies of materials to fuel expansion on the one hand, and on the other protecting consumers from the feedback-loop impact from soaring prices. The commodities boom is stoking fears that inflation could dent economic growth in China and beyond.
Li’s remark “contradicts them a bit on their rhetoric to talk down” commodities markets, said Michael Cuoco, head of hedge-fund sales for metals and bulk materials at StoneX Group. “Clearly China would like to pay a lower price for the commodities they need most. So add some regulations, scrutiny and strong rhetoric to weed out the bad actors. And see if prices will fall at the same time.”
Demand from China, the biggest user of commodities ranging from copper to cotton, has been a key driver of the surge in prices. During an inspection in Zhejiang province, Premier Li said production of retail goods relies on raw materials, and amid a continuous rise of some commodity prices since the beginning of the year, “I hope you will do a good job in commodities imports, storage and transportation, and build a strategic bulk commodity transit base.”
There’s some evidence that the push to stop the commodities boom is having an effect, with gains in metal prices slowing in recent weeks as traders and investors assess the effort.
Still, some analysts have said that in markets such as copper, where global demand is high and supplies are tight, the government’s reach may be limited. Copper prices rebounded after an initial drop that came with the China’s warning on high prices.
“I don’t think China can do too much when it comes to copper,” Citigroup Inc. analyst Max Layton said during an interview with Bloomberg TV. “I don’t think China is going to slow its growth just to limit commodity prices.”
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