Visualizing the 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.
|Commodity||Closing Price (Jan 1, 2020)||Closing Price (May 7, 2020)||% Increase|
|Lumber||$406.7 per 1,000 board ft||$1,645 per 1,000 board ft||304%|
|Iron Ore||$92.6 per tonne||$197.7 per tonne||114%|
|Soybean Oil||$0.35 per lb||$0.65 per lb||85%|
|Corn||$3.9 per bushel||$7.3 per bushel||85%|
|Tin||$17,170 per tonne||$30,950 per tonne||80%|
|Soybeans||$9.6 per bushel||$15.9 per bushel||66%|
|Copper||$2.8 per lb||$4.6 per lb||65%|
|Lean Hogs||$0.71 per lb||$1.1 per lb||56%|
|Palladium||$1,928 per oz||$2,961.5 per oz||54%|
|Silver||$18 per oz||$27.6 per oz||53%|
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—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’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.
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?
Mapped: U.S. Mineral Production Value by State in 2022
U.S. mineral production value increased by 4% YoY in 2022 to reach $98.2 billion. Which states contributed the most to domestic mineral production?
U.S. States Ranked by the Value of their Mineral Production
The U.S. produced $98.2 billion worth of nonfuel minerals in 2022, but which states made up the majority of the mining?
This map uses data from the USGS to map and rank U.S. states by the value of their nonfuel mineral production in 2022.
The ranking takes into account the mining of nonfuel minerals that are split into two main categories: metallic minerals (like gold, copper, or silver), and industrial minerals (like phosphate rock, various types of clay, and crushed stone).
The Top Mineral-Producing States in the U.S.
Arizona tops the list of mineral-producing states, with $10.1 billion worth of minerals which account for 10.3% of the U.S. total, largely due to the state’s prolific copper production. The state of Arizona accounted for around 70% of domestic copper production in 2022, and as a result also produces large amounts of molybdenum as a byproduct.
The state of Nevada was the next top mineral producer at $8.9 billion worth of minerals, thanks to its longstanding leadership in gold mining (accounting for 72% of U.S. gold production in 2022) and by having the only operating lithium project in America.
States in the Western region of the U.S. dominate the ranking of top mineral-producing states, holding the top two spots and making up half of the top 10 when it comes to total mineral production value.
|Rank||State||Mineral Production Value (2022)||Share of U.S. total|
*The value of these states is a partial total which excludes withheld values by the USGS to avoid disclosing company proprietary data. Rankings remain unaffected which is why some states may rank higher than others despite having a lower value.
Texas rounds out the top three at $8 billion worth of minerals produced in 2022, largely thanks to its dominant production of crushed stone. The state of Texas was the top producer of crushed stone in 2022 at more than $2.8 billion worth, nearly double that of the next largest producer, Florida, which produced $1.5 billion worth.
What Minerals is the U.S. Producing the Most of?
Nonfuel mineral production is categorized into two main categories by the USGS, metals/metallic minerals and industrial minerals.
While not as shiny, the produced value of industrial minerals far outweighs that of metallic minerals. While $34.7 billion worth of metals were produced in 2022, industrial mineral production value was nearly double at $63.5 billion.
Construction aggregates like construction sand and gravel along with crushed stone made up almost half of industrial minerals production at $31.4 billion, with crushed stone being the leading mineral commodity overall at $21 billion of production value.
Following crushed stone, the next top minerals produced but the U.S. were (in decreasing order of value): cement, copper, construction sand and gravel, and gold.
Although the value of metals production decreased by 6% compared to 2021, industrial minerals production increased by 10% year-over-year, resulting in an overall increase in America’s overall nonfuel mineral production of 4%.
Visualizing the Opportunity Cost of Unrecycled Metals in the U.S.
Exploring the quantity and dollar value of recycled metals in the U.S. by visualizing metal recycling ratios.
The Opportunity Cost of Unrecycled Metals in the U.S.
Metals are an essential resource for modern society, used in everything from construction and transportation to technology and medical equipment. As the demand for these minerals continues to grow, so does the amount of waste generated by their production and consumption.
Recycling this metal waste is not just a win for sustainability; it also has huge economic benefits. In the visual above, we explore the ratio of recycled vs. unrecycled metals in the U.S. using 2020 Recycling Statistics by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Metal Recycling in the U.S.
Opportunity cost is a concept that refers to the benefits that are forgone when choosing one option over another. In the case of unrecycled metals, the opportunity cost is the potential economic and environmental benefits that could have been achieved through increasing metal recycling ratios.
Below are the recycling rates for select metals in the U.S. in 2020.
|Metal||% of supply recycled|
|Iron & Steel||52|
The above recycled metals represented a dollar value of $26 billion in 2020. Their unrecycled counterparts, on the other hand, represented $28 billion.
Metals can either be recycled from scrap that results from the manufacturing process (known as “new scrap”) or scrap from post-consumer products (“old scrap.”) Regardless of the source, many of them, especially chromium, copper, and tin, have the potential to reap further sustainability and economic benefits by recycling a larger proportion of their scrap supplies.
The Case for Metal Recycling
When compared with the mining, processing and transport of new metals, recycling metals can provide a significantly less energy-intensive alternative, saving enough energy each year to power millions of homes in the U.S.
Recycling metals can also save natural resources, create more green jobs, and reduce a country’s dependency on mineral imports by supplementing its supply of raw materials.
Overall, the potential for metal recycling is vast, and taking steps to increase the amount of recycled metals in the U.S. can lead to even greater sustainability and economic benefits.
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