It's been a decade of lows for commodities after posting 7 declines in 11 years, but we've seriously underestimated lithium. It's back with a vengeance in 2019.
The commodities market endured yet another annus horribilis, with just four commodities—natural gas, uranium, cocoa and wheat—recording any uptick at all. Last year's 12 percent slide by the Bloomberg Commodity Index--spurred by 20 percent-plus declines by industrial bellwethers like West Texas Intermediate crude, steel and platinum—came in the wake of two years of modest gains.
Viewed against that kind of backdrop, lithium's 50 percent correction that snapped a multi-year winning streak appears less vicious. It's important to remember that prior to the crash, lithium had enjoyed a meteoric rise with prices doubling since the beginning of 2016 and nearly quadrupling over the past decade. The fact that much of the rally coincided with a sharp rise in the value of the U.S. dollar makes it all the more remarkable.
Investing in the commodity market can be a roller-coaster ride; what with the incessant boom-and-bust cycles driven by the ebb and flow in infrastructural spending, production ramps/cutbacks and stockpiling/destocking supplies. And just like other financial markets, trader sentiment plays a big role in determining trajectories.
Unfortunately, it's the latter scenario that took center-stage during last year's lithium crash. A furor around anticipated new supply especially from China's new hard-rock projects and Chilean brine mines got out whack and derailed the market.
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Source: Trading Economics
Tsunami of Oversupply?
The situation was not helped by Wall Street punters sounding the alarm over the dangers of oversupply …
Shares of major lithium producers and explorers including Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (NYSE:SQM), Albemarle Corp. (NYSE:ALB) and Orocobre Ltd (ASX:ORE) received a severe hammering in March after Morgan Stanley forecast that Chilean low cost brine producers could add as much as 200kt per year by 2025, while expansion of China's and Australia's hard-rock mines could pump in another half a million metric tonnes over the timeframe. That's certainly a massive production ramp-up considering that global production in 2017 totaled just over 200kt.
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