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Visualizing the Rise in Commodity Prices

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Rise in Commodity Prices

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 the Abundance of Elements in the Earth’s Crust

The Earth’s crust makes up 1% of the planet’s volume, but provides all the material we use. What elements make up this thin layer we stand on?

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The Earth's Crust

Visualizing the Abundance of Elements in the Earth’s Crust

Elements in the Earth’s crust provide all the basic building blocks for mankind.

But even though the crust is the source of everything we find, mine, refine, and build, it really is just scratching the surface of our planet.

After all, the innermost layer of the Earth, the core, represents 15% of the planet’s volume, whereas the mantle occupies 84%. Representing the remaining 1% is the crust, a thin layer that ranges in depth from approximately 5-70 km (~3-44 miles).

This infographic takes a look at what elements make up this 1%, based on data from WorldAtlas.

Earth’s Crust Elements

The crust is a rigid surface containing both the oceans and landmasses. Most elements are found in only trace amounts within the Earth’s crust, but several are abundant.

The Earth’s crust comprises about 95% igneous and metamorphic rocks, 4% shale, 0.75% sandstone, and 0.25% limestone.

Oxygen, silicon, aluminum, and iron account for 88.1% of the mass of the Earth’s crust, while another 90 elements make up the remaining 11.9%.

RankElement% of Earth's Crust
1Oxygen (O)46.1%
2Silicon (Si)28.2%
3Aluminum (Al)8.2%
4Iron (Fe)5.6%
5Calcium (Ca)4.1%
6Sodium (Na)2.3%
7Magnesium (Mg)2.3%
8Potassium (K)2.0%
9Titanium (Ti)0.5%
10Hydrogen (H)0.1%
Other elements0.5%
Total100.0%

While gold, silver, copper and other base and precious metals are among the most sought after elements, together they make up less than 0.03% of the Earth’s crust by mass.

#1: Oxygen

Oxygen is by far the most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up 46% of mass—coming up just short of half of the total.

Oxygen is a highly reactive element that combines with other elements, forming oxides. Some examples of common oxides are minerals such as granite and quartz (oxides of silicon), rust (oxides of iron), and limestone (oxide of calcium and carbon).

#2: Silicon

More than 90% of the Earth’s crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.

Silicon links up with oxygen to form the most common minerals on Earth. For example, in most places, sand primarily consists of silica (silicon dioxide) usually in the form of quartz. Silicon is an essential semiconductor, used in manufacturing electronics and computer chips.

#3: Aluminum

Aluminum is the third most common element in the Earth’s crust.

Because of its strong affinity for oxygen, aluminum is rarely found in its elemental state. Aluminum oxide (Al2O3), aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3) and potassium aluminum sulphate (KAl(SO4)2) are common aluminum compounds.

Aluminum and aluminum alloys have a variety of uses, from kitchen foil to rocket manufacturing.

#4: Iron

The fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust is iron, accounting for over 5% of the mass of the Earth’s crust.

Iron is obtained chiefly from the minerals hematite and magnetite. Of all the metals we mine, over 90% is iron, mainly to make steel, an alloy of carbon and iron. Iron is also an essential nutrient in the human body.

#5: Calcium

Calcium makes up about 4.2% of the planet’s crust by weight.

In its pure elemental state, calcium is a soft, silvery-white alkaline earth metal. It is never found in its isolated state in nature but exists instead in compounds. Calcium compounds can be found in a variety of minerals, including limestone (calcium carbonate), gypsum (calcium sulphate) and fluorite (calcium fluoride).

Calcium compounds are widely used in the food and pharmaceutical industries for supplementation. They are also used as bleaches in the paper industry, as components in cement and electrical insulators, and in manufacturing soaps.

Digging the Earth’s Crust

Despite Jules Verne’s novel, no one has ever journeyed to the center of Earth.

In fact, the deepest hole ever dug by humanity reaches approximately 12 km (7.5 miles) below the Earth’s surface, about one-third of the way to the Earth’s mantle. This incredible depth took about 20 years to reach.

Although mankind is constantly making new discoveries and reaching for the stars, there is still a lot to explore about the Earth we stand on.

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Misc

How Royalty Companies Manage Risk for Superior Returns

Royalty companies can flexibly manage risk more easily compared to mining companies, while still offering precious metals exposure.

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royalty company risk

Balancing Risk for Royalty Companies vs. Mining Companies

Risk is at the forefront of every company’s decision-making, especially for mining companies that operate large-scale mines in various jurisdictions.

While producing precious metals naturally carries a variety of risks, there is another way to get exposure to precious metals production with much lower risk: royalty companies.

Royalty companies provide up-front capital to miners in exchange for royalties on future mine production, providing a steady stream of revenue and precious metal exposure with far less risk attached to the company.

This graphic sponsored by Nomad Royalty looks at the risks royalty companies and mining companies face, and how royalty companies are able to mitigate and diversify with more flexibility to deliver stronger returns.

Trimming from the Top Line

By providing capital in exchange for a royalty or stream on a mine, royalty companies are an essential part of mine funding across the world. Along with competitively priced capital for mine developers, the lifetime royalties or streams received in return ensure royalty companies are invested in a mine’s lifelong success.

Mining royalty: A recurring percentage (typically between 0.5% to 3%) of revenue generated from a mine’s ore and mineral sales, paid out to the royalty holder.

Mining stream: An agreement for a recurring purchase of a percentage of a mine’s produced metals, at a previously agreed upon price (typically lower than the metal’s current market value). Typically mines will offer streams on metal by-products of the mine.

Royalties and streams are known as non-participating interests, meaning that the holders (royalty companies) have no obligation or expectation to further fund or assist with the mine’s production.

Along with this, royalties are from a mine’s top line revenue, meaning that the percentage given to royalty holders is calculated before operational expenses, sales costs, and other expenses are deducted. The difference between top line revenue and profit after expenses can be massive, changing the value of a royalty by millions of dollars.

YearVeladero Mine RevenueProfit after AISC Deducted2.5% Royalty of Revenue2.5% Royalty of Profit
2015$720M$106M$18M$3.7M
2016$685M$252M$17M$6.3M
2017$788M$219M$20M$5.5M
2018$732M$90M$18M$2.3M
2019$772M$166M$19M$4.2M
2020$666M$62M$17M$1.5M

Source: Mining Data Online

Both of these factors have a massive impact on the value of a royalty, as they ensure steady revenue shielded from the mine’s operational costs while requiring no maintenance or upkeep from the holder.

Sleeker Business, Lower Expenses

The nature of royalty companies naturally enables them to be lightweight businesses with incredibly low expenses. Compared to the many employees with varying skills needed to manage orebody exploration, project construction, and daily mine operations, royalty companies only require a tight team of specialized individuals.

While the top three gold mining companies (Newmont Goldcorp, Barrick Gold, and Newcrest Mining) have an average of around 15,500 employees each, the top three precious metals royalty companies (Franco-Nevada, Wheaton Precious Metals, and Royal Gold) each have less than 50 employees.

With minimal G&A expenses and no exposure to fluctuating operational costs, royalty companies skirt large amounts of operational risk compared to mining companies. Setting up a royalty agreement carries far less risk and takes much less time compared to developing a mine, meaning royalty companies can be much more nimble and lock down future revenue more easily.

This protection from operational risk allows for steadier revenue to ride out the bumpy market cycles commodities can have, and royalty companies typically have dividend policies to reflect this operational and financial stability.

More Freedom to Diversify Risk

The lightweight nature of royalty companies allows them more freedom and flexibility to diversify a variety of risks. By spreading out their capital properly, many of the risks mining companies struggle to avoid can be easily sidestepped by a royalty company.

While many mining companies tend to cluster their operations in single regions based on the assets they own or can purchase, royalty companies can more freely decide on which jurisdictions to set up royalty agreements. This also includes the perk of spreading out counterparty risk, as royalty companies can choose to work with a diverse selection of mine operators.

Along with diversifying royalties across jurisdictions and counterparties, royalty companies can carefully tune their portfolio’s exposure to specific commodities, unlike mining companies who cannot change what they find underground.

Royal Rewards for Reduced Risk

If having reduced exposure to this variety of risks wasn’t enough, royalty companies reap a variety of benefits compared to mine operators. Since royalty and stream agreements often last for the life of a mine, royalty holders receive the benefits of resource extension and mine expansion at no additional cost.

They also benefit from increases in precious metals prices, as increases in a mine’s revenue is reflected for royalty and stream holders as well. In times of metals price downturns, royalty companies are protected by their high margins and can use their cash reserves and credit to invest in royalties at a discount.

With far more freedom and flexibility in diversifying their risk, precious metals companies like Nomad Royalty provide investors exposure to gold and silver while protecting them from the many risks that plague the mining industry.

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