Trader: "Ignore The Fed, The Real Action Is In Commodities"

By Mark Cudmore, macro strategist and former Lehman trader who writes for Bloomberg

Investors are hyped up about Wednesday’s Federal Reserve meeting, but a bigger dynamic that doesn’t hew nicely to a schedule as does U.S. monetary policy isn’t getting the attention it deserves: shifts in commodities.

There’s an inordinate amount of focus on this Fed meeting. Sure, there are plenty of facets to analyze and it will dominate the attention of traders for the next day or two. But there are quite a few dynamics in the commodity space that will influence markets long after every sentence of Jerome Powell has been fully parsed.

Agricultural commodities are collapsing again. It was only in January they reached a multi-decade low. A subsequent bounce of 10% in less than seven weeks for the Bloomberg Agriculture Subindex fed the narrative that global inflation was finally set to accelerate, fueled by rising food prices putting upward pressure on CPI baskets throughout Asia in particular.

But that’s already proved to be a pipe dream, and a major support for higher yields has been removed.

More worrying, perhaps, is the recent slump in industrial metals. This is a negative signal on global growth, and on China’s economy in particular. It’s irrelevant whether the move has been driven more by the financial deleveraging push or by a deteriorating outlook for the real economy -- both are negative for risk assets.

These broad commodity declines are coming even as oil prices are rising. Since energy is one of the largest costs in the extraction, production and distribution of most other commodities, this divergence is remarkable and unlikely to be sustainable.

It’s also causing some notable shifts in terms-of- trade that have not yet fully fed through to relative asset pricing. Australia, Indonesia and South Africa are suffering from severe slumps in terms of trade, even as those for fellow commodity exporters -- Russia, Norway, Colombia -- remain near multi-year highs.

These dynamics are providing a variety of trading opportunities -- many that are being overlooked amid the excitement over one Fed meeting. And they’ll still drive asset moves and provide profit potential when you wake up on Thursday.