LAUNCESTON, Australia (Reuters) – For those looking for evidence of a new commodity supercycle, and for those skeptical of a sustainable resource boom, Australian government forecasters have covered it.
The government’s latest Quarterly Resources and Energy Report, released on Monday, describes how some commodities surged during last year’s coronavirus pandemic, as well as how the gains were not comprehensive and may not be easily sustained.
The headline that caught the media’s attention was that the country’s resource and energy exports would hit a record A $ 296 billion ($ 226 billion) in the fiscal year to June 30, 2021.
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of iron ore, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coking coal, which is used to make steel.
Indonesia ranks second behind Indonesia for thermal coal and third in copper ore shipments, and is a major producer of aluminum and alumina, the raw materials used to make refined metals.
Australia is also the third largest gold producer in the world and the largest net exporter of precious metals, and is a major supplier of battery metals such as nickel and lithium.
The outstanding performance for the country’s resource sector this fiscal year was driven largely by the top iron ore exports, which were estimated at A $ 136 billion, or just under half, of the total export value, according to a report compiled by the Office. Chief Economist of the Ministry of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
This is up from the A $ 104 billion iron ore exports in fiscal 2019/20, which was achieved at higher volumes (up 4%) and prices (up 41%).
The massive boom in iron ore revenue is largely a story fabricated in China, the world’s largest importer of steel spent on boosting its economy after being hit by the lockdown imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The Chinese impact can be seen in several other Australian commodities, with copper export revenues up 20% to A $ 12 billion despite volumes shipped slightly lower.
However, it should be noted that apart from iron ore and copper, only the export value of gold increased in 2020/21, to A $ 29 billion from A $ 25 billion.
Australia’s other major resource and energy exports have declined, including LNG, crude oil, alumina, aluminum, zinc, lithium and both types of coal.
Lower prices for most of the fiscal year were largely to blame, although these have started to recover over the past few months.
SUPERCYCLE, WHAT SUPERCYCLE?
Much of the commodity super cycle story is built around high demand for resources from China, coupled with a synchronous boost from many other parts of the world as countries act to increase growth through infrastructure spending.
There are also expectations that supply for key commodities will struggle to keep pace, given weak investment spending by producers in response to sharp falls in prices in the early stages of the pandemic.
The Australian government report lends credibility to the demand side of the supercycle vision, but only for the commodities most exposed to China’s industrial strengths, namely iron ore and copper.
While others, including battery metals, are also showing signs of recovery, energy products have been underpinned by temporary factors, such as a reduction in producer production in the case of crude oil and a cold northern winter for LNG.
Where the report becomes more interesting is in its long-term view, which doesn’t see much of a demand-driven super cycle, with Australian energy resources and exports expected to rise to A $ 321.1 billion by 2025/26, a growth rate. a combined annual rate of only 1.7%.
It’s going to be a solid, unspectacular result, albeit far from being a supercycle story.
Digging into the breakdown shows that the commodity reports are expected to be most correlated with the energy transition, with export revenues from lithium expected to surge by about 440% from the current fiscal year to A $ 5.4 billion in 2025/26, while nickel will nearly double fold. to A $ 6.5 billion, and copper up 33% to A $ 16 billion.
In contrast, iron ore, this year’s star to the end of June, is expected to fade by then to A $ 104 billion – the same level as in 2019/20 – while LNG will remain relatively stable and both coal values will decline. .
Overall, the report points out two things, first that the evidence for the emerging commodity supercycle is somewhat mixed, and second that while some commodities are likely to perform well in the coming years, profits will not extend to all.