Commodities cap another dismal year as '19 offers tough test

Commodities had another poor year in 2018, hurt by substantial losses in energy and base metals, and raw materials will head into January burdened by concerns global economic growth is poised to slow.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index, a gauge of returns on 22 raw material futures, is heading for a 12% drop this year after hitting the lowest since April 2016 earlier this month. It’ll be the seventh annual fall in 11.

Raw materials have lost ground amid a flurry of signs the pace of expansion will slow next year, and as the US-China trade war spurs uncertainty. That’s been a setback for bulls including Goldman Sachs, who’ve made the case that commodities should do well as a late-cycle play, and as some of them are out of step with supportive fundamentals.

Still, underscoring the risks ahead, data on Monday showed manufacturing in China shrank this month.

Among 2018’s biggest losers, West Texas Intermediate crude slumped more than 20% amid concern there’s too much supply, while in metals, economic bellwether copper shed 18% on the Comex.

Sugar plunged this year, extending a loss in 2017. Among the top gainers, natural gas still posted an annual gain even after the commodity took a massive hit this month.

"What is clear is that the global synchronised growth story that propelled risk assets higher has come to the end of its current run," Singapore-based Oversea-Chinese Banking said in an economic outlook. In China, "a further growth deceleration remains on the cards."

In an initial confirmation of that view, China’s manufacturing purchasing managers index dropped to 49.4 in December, the weakest since early 2016, and below the 50-level that denotes contraction, according to the figures on Monday.

Among the industries of most consequence for global raw materials, the steel industry PMI fell to 44.2. China makes half of the world’s steel.

In its end-of-year message, China’s central bank said it did a good job in 2018, praising the nation’s leadership, while acknowledging "profound changes in the external environment and the downward pressure on the domestic economy."

In Hong Kong, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said there’ll be stronger downward pressures next year as global growth is expected to slow.

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