Tag Archives: commodity prices

Commodities Could Be Trouble in 2017


Have we been lured into complacency with commodities that have fallen over the past year impacting cost of major raw materials and our profitability? With corn over 40% down, copper 38% down and wheat more than 30% down, it is apparent that we have enjoyed significant market opportunities. Having traded commodities in my career, I know that commodities run on a cycle and the good times may be close to an end. A good example of commodity cycles is peanuts, where prices rose 33% in 2016, but bumper crops were expected in the current season, which should drive prices down. Today in the Spend Matters guest post US Peanut Prices Increase More Than 30% in 2016, Mintec noted persistent rains in China have caused high moisture levels in the peanut crop, which will greatly affect quality and price.

In a Bloomberg report on Barclays Black Swan Threats to Commodities, there is upside risk for raw materials in 2017 and the likelihood of further upside risk based on radical changes in the global economy, energy markets and global political risks on trade. Another dynamic that could impact all buyers involved in international trade is the opportunity and potential for disruption and risk posed by currency. With Switzerland announcing that it’s abandoning its peg to the Euro, the unknown impact of Brexit and China changing how exchange rates are fixed, it could signal volatility.

In many companies, procurement and finance have a joint obligation to protect the company’s profit plan. The goal of managing commodities and currency is not to speculate, but to assure the profitability across the organization is maintained. If you’re planning a commodity or currency strategy, here are three approaches to consider:

  1. Cover 70 to 80% of the plan, leaving 20 to 30% flexibility to move with key markets
  2. Develop formula-based pricing levels
  3. Work with finance to build currency hedging by buying foreign currency or by changing contract pricing to US dollars

It does make sense to look on the horizon for any currency or commodity that might pose potential risks and build the plan prior to any change in market pricing. There is no doubt that 2017 will bring a new frontier to global trade and it’s best to be prepared, rather than be surprised.

How will you manage volatility should it arise?

The Economics of Cheese


What every sourcing professional should know

When you read this week’s Wall Street Journal story A Cheese Glut is Overtaking America, after thinking about doing your part to assist with the report that every American would have to eat three extra pounds of cheese this year to work it off, did you think about the economic impact and why this story matters to sourcing, procurement and supply chain? There are many lessons that can be learned from agricultural commodities and understanding the economics, especially in strategy development and managing volatility and risk.

During my career I have managed agricultural commodities and I understand the value and role that economics plays in sourcing. Let’s look at a commodity cycle we’ve experienced in recent years. It’s not difficult understand that after a period of drought, many crops fail and grain prices increase significantly. Farmers then look ahead to a tough winter of feeding cattle with the high cost grain, which will have a negative impact on profitability. As a result, farmers send their cattle to the slaughterhouses and cut their losses. As consumer demand remains steady and exports continue to rise, there is little doubt that the limited supply will force prices to rise. As the weather becomes more stable and grain prices fall, it’s natural for farmers to increase their herds of cattle, production of milk (and cheese!), flocks of poultry and grains. This is the easy to understand supply and demand economic cycle.

In this recent cycle, the opportunity to capitalize on the high prices became apparent to many farmers, however, the failure to understand the impact of the high US dollar on exports and the collapse of the export market, has caused increasing inventory levels, plus the time requirements to flex the size of herds and flocks has built up to the glut of some commodities. Gluts, shortages, currencies, pandemics, weather, labor, regulation and government stability all contribute to agricultural commodity economics and add financial and capacity complexity across supply chains, requiring an increased understanding of the economics to gain control. Today, I’m wondering how many Midwest farmers will switch from planting corn to soybeans, since the USDA projects that soybean production in the US and South America will be tight over the next two years while global demand continues to rise. How much corn is planted, of course, will impact the economics of food supply chains, but it also will impact ethanol, alcohols, building products, plastics and even tires.

Sourcing professionals involved in commodities of any kind can make or break their company’s profitability. The skills required to manage the complexities of commodity sourcing are understanding economics, extensive research of the market, having the right tolerance for risk and volatility, maintaining a calm demeanor and building extremely strong supplier relationships at both the farm (producer) and broker levels. They also need an analytical approach combined with communication and quick decision-making skills to be effective in commodities. We can all learn much from understanding the economics of commodities.

Have you thought about the economics of low-priced Cheddar?

Reactions to new EPA regulations run the gamut

Reactions this week to the new EPA regulations to cut carbon pollution from power plants ranged from the most dire to the most delighted, depending upon one’s industry, state or inclination for all things environmental.

On one hand, the new regulations will result in lost jobs and higher electricity rates.  On the other, they will improve our climate, our health and ultimately lead to greater innovation.

The energy space is a complex one, and the effect of these regulations will not be as cut and dried as some might think.  For example, weren’t we headed in this direction already?  Industries have been shifting to natural gas because it’s cheaper, and wind and solar are bringing up the rear.  In addition, each of the states will be able to select their own method of implementation from a menu of policy options.

This is a long way out and we’re just getting started.  There’s a public comment period, and the regulations themselves could be challenged in congress as well as the courts.  States have two years to submit their plans to achieve the targets, and it’s always possible they could get extensions to their timetables.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the regulations.  Is the sky falling as Chicken Little squawked or is this the best birthday ever?

Shock proofed supply chain?

Most Americans probably couldn’t locate Crimea without the help of Google Earth. (It’s the peninsula that juts south from the northern coast of the Black Sea.) Nevertheless, the actions of the Russian army in and around Crimea are sending shock waves through some key commodity markets, including oil. Here’s the Washington Post coverage of the story.

Have you felt any effects from the spikes in market prices? Even if you have not, this is another reminder that your supply chains likely have connections around the world that may not be obvious from your first tier suppliers. It’s good practice to map your supply chains and analyze scenarios for disruptions that could happen at any moment.

While the chances of any individual incident might be very small, there are so many potential disruptions that it is quite likely something will go wrong sometime. Smart supply managers build risk management strategies into their planning to accommodate them.

Five Predictions for 2014

The ISM Manufacturing Index this month showed that the overall U.S. economy has been growing for 55 consecutive months. The manufacturing sector has trended positive for seven straight months. Employment numbers aren’t terrific, but they aren’t terrible either. These are generally favorable signs for business — but they suggest higher pressure on buyers to contain costs. Based on our experience and work with current clients, here are five predictions for the year ahead.

1) Buyers will see increasing pressure on pricing as industries with tight capacity or depressed margins attempt to improve margins.
2) Buyers will find longer lead times and reduced capacity as suppliers have left industries as a result of recession and remaining suppliers are enjoying higher margins based on high demand and low supply.
3) Talent management and development will be critical to the success of supply chain management success.
4) New government regulations in health care, energy, banking and other sectors will increase complexity, compliance and cost.
5) More procurement and supply chain leaders will reach the C suite.

How does this match what you are seeing?

Purchasers Suffer When Aluminum Shuffles

We might like to think that basic metal materials markets have enough producers and buyers around the world that they are generally pretty efficient — prices aren’t distorted by the actions of a few producers or buyers.

Then along comes an article such as this one in the New York Times on Sunday, July 21, which describes how Goldman Sachs owns an aluminum warehousing operation that reportedly shuffles huge aluminum ingots from building to building, in part to boost rental costs that can be passed on to purchasers.

A Shuffle of Aluminum, But to Banks, Pure Gold

According to the report, the activity is all legal but aggravating to aluminum processors. Since the practice involves a significant share of aluminum on the market, it may also be incrementally increasing prices.

If that’s the case, it’s time for some kind of action to end a cozy scheme and clear the market. I’m no fan of over-regulation, so perhaps the solution might be in creating more competition. There might be a business opportunity here.

Scott Sturzl CPSM, C.P.M., Vice President – Certification, Diversity & CSR for the Institute for Supply Management(tm), cautions “Looking beyond Goldman Sachs many in the Western world continue to believe market completion is alive and well and not being impacted by others. The big picture of this subject makes it difficult to connect the dots in ways that are useful to supply professionals. Category managers and senior execs of all types needing raw materials to create/develop/manufacture product for sale would do well to discuss and plan potential business impacts in the medium and longer term.”

It’s critical to understand how market prices are set and plan accordingly. Perhaps knowledge can lead us to market price transparency.

Can U.S. Supply Chains Afford To Be Ethical?

News reports of rebel advances in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are stark reminders that the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act regarding conflict minerals, as awkward as they might be, do address real life and death situations.  As much as we all might want the violence to end, if the conflict is actually escalating it begs two questions:
1. If the pressure of the Dodd-Frank provisions isn’t enough to reduce violence, is it worth the cost of implementing them? The rules haven’t been in place long enough to measure possible impacts, but perhaps it’s already too late.
2. If companies in China or other countries are sourcing from DRC without limitations and therefore at lower costs, have we made U.S. companies less competitive? Can we afford to do that in a competitive world economy?

I don’t have easy answers to these questions, but I think they are important enough to consider. Beyond the specific situation in Africa, can U.S. supply chains afford to be ethical when they have to compete against foreign companies with much lower standards? Especially when critical raw materials are in short supply or are difficult to source.
Although the voices of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are often annoying, is this a possible useful role for them — to act as country-neutral watchdogs for generally accepted ethical or sustainable standards? Or are the pressures for growth and limits on media so great in countries such as China that they will negate the effectiveness of any whistle-blowing by NGOs?

Seeing is (Barely) Believing

The ISM Report on Manufacturing showed signs the economy as a whole and manufacturing in particular are continuing to grow at a more-or-less steady pace. The Manufacturing PMI was 51.7, up slightly from last month, an indicator of slightly faster growth. Based on past experience, the PMI data also suggest that the overall U.S. economy has been growing for 37 consecutive months. The same for growth in manufacturing employment.
One would expect that survey respondents would be providing cheery comments to go with those numbers, but consistent with all the uncertainties of these times, the quotes went more like this:

  • “The slowing of capital expenditure in Europe and China has lowered our backlog for Q4.” (Computer & Electronic Products)
  • “We see a general softening in the steel and automotive markets in the fourth quarter.” (Fabricated Metal Products)
  • “Cuts in healthcare reimbursement rates continue to negatively affect top-line revenue.” (Miscellaneous Manufacturing)
  • “Sales and order intake have slowed.” (Primary Metals)
  • “Europe is still very much a concern. Global recovery is still fragile.” (Chemical Products)

Here’s the summary chart for some of the sections of the report.

PMI™ 51.7 51.5 +0.2 Growing Faster 2
New Orders 54.2 52.3 +1.9 Growing Faster 2
Production 52.4 49.5 +2.9 Growing From Contracting 1
Employment 52.1 54.7 -2.6 Growing Slower 37

Drought shock — are you prepared?

No big surprise to anyone who has been baking in record temperatures and drought conditions anywhere in the central part of the country, but today’s US Dept. of Agriculture food price forecast projects increases in the range of 2.5 to 3.5 percent for the remainder of 2012, and uncertainty about the full effect of the drought.
If grain or livestock is a category you source, are you prepared for “drought shock?”
How about the short term dip in beef prices as farmers sell off stock rather than pay higher costs for feed?

The New “China Syndrome”

The original meaning of the term “China Syndrome” described how the fuel in a nuclear reactor might overheat and melt down, creating a disaster by burning through the reactor’s layers of protection. A new meaning for China Syndrome might describe how an overheating, or possible meltdown of the Chinese economy could create disastrous volatility in commodity demand and prices.
The Wall Street Journal has a good capsule summary of three scenarios over the next decade. Here’s the link, if you have access:

As China Goes, So Go Commodities – The Wall Street Journal

Under any scenario except a complete collapse of China’s hard charging economic growth, there is almost certain price pressures on energy sources as well as certain grains over the next ten years, and continuing pressure on construction materials as long as China keeps building infrastructure at an astonishing pace.

Over the long-term, successful supply chain strategies will not only need strategies for containing costs, but a continuing focus on innovations that provide alternatives to traditional materials, reduce waste or use recycled products.