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Visualizing the Rise in Commodity Prices

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Rise in Commodity Prices

The Stuff that Makes Everything

If you ever wonder why commodities are important, just think of an object around you and ask yourself—what’s that made of?

From the wires in our electronic devices to the tables in our offices, these raw materials are everywhere. Of late, commodity prices have been surging as the global economy recovers, with rising demand from various industries including infrastructure, construction, and livestock.

The above infographic tracks the futures prices of 10 commodities that have seen significant price increases since January 2020.

Commodity Prices, from Bust to Boom

From lumber for home construction to metals for electronics, commodities across the three categories—agriculture, metals, and energy—have been rallying since hitting pandemic lows around March 2020.

CommodityClosing Price (Jan 1, 2020)Closing Price (May 7, 2020)% Increase
Lumber$406.7 per 1,000 board ft$1,645 per 1,000 board ft304%
Iron Ore$92.6 per tonne$197.7 per tonne114%
Soybean Oil$0.35 per lb$0.65 per lb85%
Corn$3.9 per bushel$7.3 per bushel85%
Tin$17,170 per tonne$30,950 per tonne80%
Soybeans$9.6 per bushel$15.9 per bushel66%
Copper$2.8 per lb$4.6 per lb65%
Lean Hogs$0.71 per lb$1.1 per lb56%
Palladium$1,928 per oz$2,961.5 per oz54%
Silver$18 per oz$27.6 per oz53%

Percentage increases may differ slightly due to rounding.

Among agricultural commodities, the price of lumber futures increased 304% between January 2020 and May 2021, reaching record highs. Food prices have also seen a sharp increase since the halfway point of last year. As of May 7th, the price of corn futures was at $7.3 per bushel, nearing its all-time highs of $8.3 per bushel in 2012. Furthermore, soybean oil prices were also at their highest level in the last decade.

Among metals, iron ore futures climbed 114%, reaching a record high. Tin and copper were also both moving towards all-time high prices as of May 7th, followed by palladium and silver, both of which saw more than a 50% rise in prices since January 2020.

Several commodities are either nearing or have broken past their all-time highs. Why are commodity prices increasing?

Lumber

Lumber—the form of wood that builders use to build and renovate homes—has been the talk of the town due to the massive increase in its price.

This is in stark contrast to 2019 when lumber prices were so low that some sawmill owners were better off ceasing operations. In addition to sawmill shutdowns, outbreaks of a bark-eating species of beetle have destroyed 15 years worth of log supplies in British Columbia, Canada, limiting the supply of lumber.

Meanwhile, home buyers are taking advantage of the low costs of borrowing due to record-low mortgage rates in the U.S. This is driving up the demand for lumber from the housing market, while supply is in a bottleneck.

Corn and Soybeans

Corn and soybeans are common feed grains for livestock, including swine, beef, and poultry.

China—the largest producer and consumer of pork—has been battling outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) since 2018, losing over 100 million pigs. As the country’s hog-herd recovers from this disease, Chinese demand for corn and soybeans is increasing and supporting higher prices. In fact, China’s corn imports from the U.S. increased 2,072% between 2019 and 2020.

Iron Ore and Tin

The global economic recovery, led by China, is fueling the demand for steel, and in turn, for iron ore. On the supply side, the industry is facing a shortage, with a decline in output from top producer Vale following a disaster at its tailings dam in Brazil.

Tin prices are soaring due to rising demand from consumer electronics amid tightening supply. According to Roskill, pandemic-induced supply disruptions led to a 10% decline in refined tin output in 2020. Additionally, shipping disruptions and low stocks at the London Metal Exchange (LME) are intensifying tin’s supply squeeze.

Copper

Copper’s story is similar to that of iron ore, wherein rebounding economies are boosting demand for the red metal. However, investors are particularly bullish on copper due to its critical role in green technologies, with looming concerns over its long-term supply.

Palladium

Many countries are imposing stricter auto emission standards—and while this may surprise you, it’s driving the demand for palladium. The precious metal is a key ingredient in catalytic converters that turn toxic emissions from gas-powered vehicles into less harmful gases.

Unlike the rollercoaster rides that are commodity prices, palladium prices have been rising for five years straight. What’s more, the palladium market has seen an annual deficit since 2012. And this trend is likely to continue with flooding at palladium mines in Russia expected to cut global supply by 5% in 2021.

The Start of a Commodity Supercycle?

While it’s difficult to predict the sustainability of these high prices, the increase in commodity prices across the board has investors gearing up for a potential commodity supercycle.

Commodity supercycles are decade-long periods during which commodity prices trend above their long-term averages. The last supercycle lasted from 1996 to around 2016, driven by rapid industrialization in Brazil, India, Russia, and China (BRIC economies). Today, governments around the world are adopting mineral-intensive clean energy technologies, which will likely increase the demand for minerals for years to come.

Are we on the brink of a new commodity supercycle?

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Misc

Visualizing Global Aluminum Production

China dominates global production with nearly 60% share.

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Voronoi graphic of aluminum production in 2023.

Visualizing Global Aluminum Production

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

This infographic shows estimated aluminum smelter production by country in 2023, based on data from the most recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Commodity Summaries, published in January 2024 .

From this data, we can see that China leads as the top producer, accounting for nearly 60% of the world’s smelter capacity. Its neighbor India is the second-largest producer, making only a tenth of China’s output.

Country2023 Aluminum Smelter Production (tonnes)% of total
🇨🇳 China41,000,00059%
🇮🇳 India4,100,0006%
🇷🇺 Russia3,800,0005%
🇨🇦 Canada3,000,0004%
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates2,700,0004%
🇧🇭 Bahrain1,600,0002%
🇦🇺 Australia1,500,0002%
🇳🇴 Norway1,300,0002%
🇧🇷 Brazil1,100,0002%
🌍 Rest of the World9,460,00014%
Total69,560,000100%

Responsible for 5% of global aluminum output, Russia has been targeted by recent sanctions from the U.S. and the UK.

The sanctions include prohibiting metal-trading exchanges from accepting new aluminum produced by Russia and barring the import of the Russian metal into the U.S. and Britain. The actions are aimed at disrupting Russian export revenue amid Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The World’s Most Common Metal

Aluminum is the primary material used for making cans, foil, and many other products. It originates from bauxites, rocks composed of aluminum oxides, and various minerals.

Approximately 25% of annually produced aluminum is utilized by the construction industry, while another 23% is allocated to vehicle frames, wires, wheels, and other components within the transportation sector. Aluminum foil, cans, and packaging constitute another significant end-use category, accounting for 17% of consumption.

Despite its extensive use, aluminum is still plentiful. Aluminum is the world’s most common metal by crustal abundance, making up 8.2% of the Earth’s crust.

According to the USGS, global resources of bauxite are estimated to be between 55 billion and 75 billion tonnes and are sufficient to meet world demand for metal well into the future.

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Misc

Brass Rods: The Sustainable Choice

Brass rods can help cut emissions in machine shops, be recycled without losing properties, and contribute to a cleaner environment.

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Teaser of bar chart and pie chart highlighting how brass rods can reduce emissions in machine shops, be recycled without losing properties, and contribute to a cleaner environment.

Brass Rods: The Sustainable Choice

Brass rods have a powerful lineup of green attributes, making them the sustainable choice for manufacturers and end-users of precision machined and forged parts.

This infographic, from the Copper Development Association, shows how brass rods can reduce emissions in machine shops, be recycled without losing properties, and contribute to a cleaner environment.

The Brass Rod Circular Economy

The metallurgical properties of brass allow pre- and post-consumer sources of brass scrap to be recycled with no loss in properties.

Brass scrap can retain over 90% of the original material value. In addition, brass doesn’t need energy-intensive processing, unlike steel and aluminum, which must be smelted and refined before being recycled into new products.

As a result, there is a greater chance that steel and aluminum scrap will end up in landfills.

Most brass-rod alloys produced in North America contain 95% or higher recycled content.

Closed-loop recycling of brass keeps this valuable engineering material out of landfills, reducing the need for new mines and all the environmental impacts that entails.

Higher Machinability Leads to Lower Operational Carbon Emissions

Machinability is how easily a material can be worked using cutting processes. It directly impacts the amount of energy required to produce finished parts.

With typical machine shops producing millions of parts each year, the carbon impact can be significant.

Here’s how brass and steel compare when manufacturing complex parts using computer numerical control (CNC) machining.

MaterialBrassSteel
TypeFree-cutting brass (C36000)Free-cutting steel (12L14)
Maximum machinability rating (0-100)10021
Metal Removal Rate (cubic inches per minute)0.2380.114
Time to remove material (hours)161,111336,111
Energy required to produce parts (kilowatt-hour)9,47518,931

In this example, using brass represented a savings of 3,510 kg in carbon dioxide (CO2).

The significantly longer tool life enabled by brass also reduces the need for new cutting tools, further decreasing emissions.

High recycled content and exceptional machinability make brass rods the sustainable choice for manufacturers and end-users seeking to reduce their environmental footprint and support the transition to a low-carbon future.

Explore the advantages of brass rod solutions.

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