ETF Securities Research Blog

Speculative trading in China: over-hyped

Speculative bubble in China that quickly dissipated

Chinese iron ore, rebar*, and egg prices increased sharply in March and April, but are now declining. The volume of trading of commodities on Chinese exchanges has also increased in recent months. Media reports point to Chinese retail investors piling into commodities, seeking a new home for their money after the fall-out of the equity market in 2015 and a recent policy-engineered increase in credit. While it is difficult to decipher how much of the rise in trading came from retail investors, some point to the increase in evening trading as evidence that it is retail investors who were trading at a time convenient for them. Commodity prices have also had a strong rally in 2016, leading some analysts to draw the conclusion that commodities are in a speculative bubble in China. The Chinese authorities have introduced curbs to reduce commodity trading such as raising margin requirements, increasing trading fees and in the case of rebar, reduced trading hours. The volumes of trading have fallen in response.

Limited impact on Bloomberg Commodity Index prices…

Turning to global investors, for example those who invest in products tracking the Bloomberg Commodity (BCOM) Indices, many are wondering how much the rise and fall of commodity prices in China will impact prices of commodities traded on Commodity Exchange Inc. (COMEX), London Metals Exchange (LME), Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) and other international exchanges. We think the impact is limited.

Most notably, the commodities that have attracted most attention in China such as iron ore, rebar and eggs are not in the BCOM index, as they do not meet the criteria for liquidity and market access for the index.

A major commodity like copper has not seen a large increase in trading on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE), indicating that it has not been affected by the buying frenzy in other Chinese commodities. Meanwhile gold has seen a commensurate increase in trading on the SHFE as COMEX, indicating the rise in trading is in line with a global rise in sentiment toward the metal (corroborated with the rise in CFTC net speculative long positioning). The same applies to soybean traded on Dalian Exchange in China and the ICE.

..except for aluminium

While LME aluminium prices fell during most of March, SHFE aluminium prices continued a rally that has started in February. We note that trading volumes trends on LME and SHFE during that month were not that different. By the end of March, LME prices were rising once again. In late April, there was a large surge in trading activity in SHFE aluminium – presumably selling – that pushed both SHFE and LME prices down. It appears that LME aluminium was a casualty of the clampdown on trading in China.

* steel reinforcing bar

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