Outlook: Cyclical stocks

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The Independent Online
THE PERFORMANCE this year of cyclical stocks can best be described by the first syllable of the word. Anyone who had bought into general retailing, engineering and transport must be feeling sick as a parrot as the wonder sectors of the new economy, telecoms and Internet technology, sweep all before them

There has, however, been one exception and that is the most classic of all cyclical stocks - mining. Over the last 12 months, Billiton, Anglo American and Rio Tinto have significantly outperformed the market. All three stocks closed at a peak for the year yesterday.

The general rotation into more economically-sensitive stocks, based on rising optimism about the economic outlook, has certainly been one of the driving factors behind this extraordinary share price performance. So has the surge in commodity prices, with aluminium and nickel trading at two-year highs.

Shortage of supply and strong demand, fuelled by rising levels of industrial activity, have created a virtuous circle for this breed of cyclicals. Input prices for manufacturers are rising at a cracking pace. So far, this has not led to an explosion in factory gate prices. Consumers have proved particularly adept at forcing prices down, helped in part by the growth of e-commerce.

Traditional economic theory dictates that at some point the dam will burst, triggering a rise in interest rates, and an eventual slow down in the economy. At this point, however, it doesn't look that way. But the way those commodity prices keep rising, the new economy is about to face its sternest test.