Well we should be accustomed to mining stocks falling with the general malaise of the stock market, and we are accustomed to the spec-end of the market being punished more than the blue chips, despite some very favourable fundamentals. As www.basemetals.com/Copper has suggested copper prices have risen 22% this year to $US8,0000/tonne on the basis of tight stockpiles. London Metals Exchange (LME) stockpiles have fallen 42% this year, and more tightness is expected. Interestingly copper prices are still short of their previous high of $4.04/pound reachd in May 2006, but the market seems to be pricing in a fall based on the calamity in th sub-prime market. Might equity investors be seeing a fall before the metals market?
As we can see from the attached charts, copper stocks have fallen on average 30% to their support levels on the basis of a 4.8% fall in copper prices in recent days related to the sub-prime loan issue. Despite the uncertainties in the stock market, the downgrading of copper stocks appears excessive, and the attached stocks offer some good buying opportunities. My apologies this is not a very clear chart - the stocks are:
1. Matrix Metals (ASX.MRX) -at 13.5c
2. Exco Resources (ASX.EXS) - at 30c
3. Copperco Ltd (ASX.CUO) - at 87c
4. Redbank Mines (ASX.RBM) at 12c
Some pundits are expecting the Federal Reserve Board to respond to the weakness in the US housing market with an interest rate cut. I however dont expect as much....I think the Fed will hold the current line. I dont believe the Fed would want to signal easier monetary policy at times of higher commodity prices and tight labour markets, even if 'junk loan' end of the property market and a few funs managers and investors are feeling the pinch. There has been no collapse in earnings, and no significant reduction in credit outstanding....so there remains alot of money sloshing around the global economy, so expect markets to resume their climb. I am expecting copper prices to recover to their previous high of $4.04/pound reachd in May 2006.
It can be said that I have a suspicious nature, but when you consider that one of the reasons that copper prices are strong (supply is tight) is that workers at several very large mines in Mexico and Chile are on strike. That being the case, you'd have to wonder whether price manipulation is going on. Given that the market is driven by such short term factors....it would seem to 'profitable' for several senior mining executives at the major producers to conspire to hold off on pay rises in conditions of very high inflation in the mining districts to push metal prices higher. Why would they do that? Well - because its easy and profitable. Consider what it takes:
1. Several senior mining executives at a metals conference to get together for dinner and talk about metal markets....understand producers are largely price takers....with many producers and few refiners.
2. Only a few executives need to conspire to hold the status quo on wages, to cause strikes, to prompt a temporary supply shortage
3. After copper prices have risen by a significant degree, producers lock in the higher prices in the derivatives market
4. The executives then seek a deal with the miners which results in a concessional increase in wages, and they commence the resumed delivery of copper concentrates into the market by selling into those derivative (futures, options) contractual commitments
This is not an outlandish proposition.....its a small community among the major mining companies. They are constantly talking about prices given the dominance of these players and the benefits of holding the line. They are not really competitors since on prices but volumes. And when there are tight volumes, it makes sense to hold back some for higher prices. I am reminded of Amcor, a paper producer that was involved in price fixing years ago. I think that was a rare occasion that a groups of executives were discovered to be engaging in price fixing. I think its more prevalent than we know. Makes you wonder whether Osama Bin Laden is playing the futures market from some bunker as he blows up US Iraqis?
The only way we can determine if this is happening is:
1. Correlating price movements with strikes and derivative contractual commitments
2. Correlate spot and derivative copper prices to see if the derivatives market is questioning the soundness of copper prices
Disclosure: The author holds Metrix Metal stock.
- Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com