Commodity Prices in Flux as Possible Tariffs Stoke Fears of Future Economic Downturn
As fears of a potential recession grip consumers, spurred by the Trump administration’s announcement of tariffs on Chinese imports, IHS Markit is reporting a 0.9% overall decline in commodity prices in the Materials Price Index released on Aug. 21. Prices rebounded somewhat following the postponement of the tariffs’ implementation.
Some commodities have bounced back, while others continue to fall. Natural-gas prices increased 7.4%, while coal and oil prices declined 5% and 1.6%, respectively. Non-ferrous metals, which include materials such as aluminum and copper, rose 0.4% following the trade delay announcement, while fibers increased 2.7%. However, ferrous metals, consisting of a variety of iron and steel products, experienced a decrease of 2.6%.
“IHS Markit is not forecasting a recession,” says John Mothersole, director of research, pricing and purchasing at IHS Markit. Still, several materials are experiencing a downturn. “Aggregate demand has been downgraded, with the point of softness in the global economy centered in manufacturing, adding that a “combination of stronger U.S. dollar and weaker aggregate demand means commodity prices are now projected to fall through 2020.”
Steel prices are less likely to be affected by China tariffs, says John Anton, director of steel analytics, pricing and purchasing at IHS Markit, but the effects of the previously implemented 25% tariffs “must either be absorbed or passed along,” he adds.
On the demand side, it appears that manufacturing and construction are weaker than are services. Businesses “are perhaps hesitant to make long-term decisions in a period of heightened uncertainty,” says Anton. “Steel is used extensively in capital goods and construction, so it is in danger of demand reduction.”