China’s economic rebound likely to raise commodity demand, prices in 2023

17th March 2023

By: Bloomberg


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Evidence of China’s rapid economic rebound has reignited hopes of a banner year for demand in the world’s top commodities importer. How Beijing chooses to support the recovery at its upcoming annual policy meeting will now be the focus of markets from copper to crude and soybeans.

China’s reopening, and the policy measures that accompany it, are likely to raise demand and prices across a raft of raw materials after the final throes of Covid Zero caused consumption to nosedive last year. But the nature of that support could be crucial to sorting out which markets win most from government’s renewed focus on economic growth.

The population’s newfound freedom has buoyed sentiment around commodities like oil and fuels, which are keyed to improved mobility after years of lockdowns and transport restrictions. In contrast, metals and power markets have been slower to see the benefits after the Lunar New Year holiday in January dented industrial activity.

President Xi Jinping has made lifting domestic demand a priority. That was expected to signal less emphasis at the National People’s Congress, held from March 5 to 13, on Beijing’s usual means of boosting the economy through infrastructure investment. The unexpectedly robust revival in factory activity in February could also douse expectations that the government needs to raise direct spending to keep the economy on track.

If policymakers opt to favour consumption, perhaps through measures to expand credit, then markets for items such as crude, gasoline and derivative products like plastics will reap the reward. Although more spending on consumer goods like cars and appliances will lift metals usage, it’s unlikely to offset the much bigger demand from the airports, railways and bridges that China has built in the past.

Despite the mounting strain on government finances, Beijing can’t ignore infrastructure spending because so much of the economy, which includes the world’s biggest steel, cement and aluminium industries, is geared towards construction. And many of these firms are State-owned.

UBS Global Wealth Management expected the Congress to set China’s growth target this year at 5% or more, after the economy grew just 3% in 2022. To support that, it expects local government bond sales, the backbone of infrastructure investment, to be at least as high as last year’s 3.65-trillion yuan ($530-billion).

But the type of investment is changing, particularly in light of the climate emergency. That means more solar farms, power storage facilities and expansions of the grid are on the cards, perhaps using less steel and cement but requiring more materials like copper and aluminium that are deemed critical to the energy transition.

The beleaguered property market also remains crucial as a source of commodities demand, mainly in terms of building materials but also the purchases that often accompany a new home. Any further measures to shore up that sector will be closely watched.

Edited by Bloomberg


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