Fears of a sudden and sustained sell-off on the commodities markets receded yesterday as traders welcomed signs of economic recovery in the US, although analysts warned that prices of some raw materials may have been "run up too far" in recent months.
Oil touched a low of about $105 per barrel in morning trading but the early slide was tempered in the afternoon by better than expected payrolls data in the US. Brent crude for July delivery was slightly higher at $112.89 in the afternoon, while spot copper prices on the London Metal Exchange bounced off lows of $8,657 per tonne to stand at $8,906.
Spot silver, which on Thursday had endured its biggest one-day drop in dollar terms since 1980, was bid up to $36.1 per ounce as bargain-hunters moved in. Similar moves were evident in the price of gold, which rose from $1,462.4 per ounce to $1,494.3. The Reuters/Jefferies CRB index, which tracks the prices of 19 different commodities, also mounted a recovery, rising by 0.7 per cent in the morning after suffering a 5 per cent fall on Thursday, its fifth biggest one-day fall on record.
Kieron Hodgson, an analyst at Charles Stanley, said Thursday's slump was caused by "a bit of a perfect storm of negative newsflow" that had been building up as the markets, which have ben bruised by sovereign debt issues in Europe, the earthquake in Japan and fears of further monetary tightening in China, digested disappointing data about the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment insurance.
Yesterday's turnaround was also triggered by figures from the US jobs market, with a report showing that private-sector recruitment climbed at its fastest pace in five years last month. Colin O'Shea, the head of commodities at Hermes, said he saw the pullback "as more of a pause – a short-term correction". Another fund manager, Fabien Weber at the JB Commodity Fund, suggested that the fall marked the exit of speculative investors who had piled into commodities such as oil amid the geopolitical turmoil in the Middle East. "The market is being cleaned of all the people who were indiscriminately long," he explained.
But Mr Hodgson warned that the prices of many key commodities might have climbed too far in recent months as investors sought higher returns for their cash against the backdrop of record low interest rates, which led to limited returns elsewhere. "In truth, we have run up too far," he said, adding that in many cases, "basic market fundamentals were left behind".
He highlighted nickel and iron ore. In both cases, prices of the commodities have risen despite the fact significant supplies are coming on to the market in contrast to, for example, copper, which has rallied as investors eyed a mismatch between supply and demand. In the case of oil prices, which are still higher than in January despite falling sharply on Thursday, Goldman Sachs analysts said they could climb beyond recent highs by 2012, though they did not rule out a partial pullback in the short term.