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Financial Times: Recession fears drag commodities lower

By Chris Flood
Published: January 15 2008 11:56 | Last updated: January 15 2008 18:46

Energy and base metal prices weakened on Tuesday as disappointing retail sales data stoked fears over the possibility of a US recession, but gold consolidated its position above the $900 level.

Hopes for an Opec supply increase also contributed to downward pressure on oil prices. During a visit to Saudi Arabia, President George W. Bush said Opec must understand that providing more oil supplies would be “helpful” and that high energy prices could cause the US economy to slow.

With oil prices trading above $90 a barrel, the comments could potentially add to pressure on the cartel to increase production quotas at its meeting at the start of February.

Nymex February West Texas Intermediate dropped $3.02 to $91.18 a barrel, while ICE February Brent sank $2.48 at $90.44 a barrel.

Concerns about supplies from Nigeria remained high after Royal Dutch Shell declared force majeure on shipments from its Forcados export terminal after pipelines were sabotaged.

Base metals sank across the board on concerns for the economic outlook.

Copper was down 3.3 per cent to $7,155 a tonne, while zinc sank 4.4 per cent to $2,290 a tonne after a large increase of 3,125 tonnes in LME stocks.

Gold rose 0.8 per cent to $909.40 a troy ounce, not far short of the record $914 reached in the previous session.

Suresh Hundia, president of the Bombay Bullion Association, warned that India’s gold imports might have fallen by a fifth last year and a further drastic decline was likely in 2008 if prices continued to rise. India is the world’s largest gold consumer and imported about 175 tonnes of gold in 2006.

Platinum edged up 0.5 per cent to $1,579.5 a troy ounce after reaching a record $1,590 in the previous session.

Price action for grains markets was mixed after strong performances in the previous two sessions. CBOT March wheat rose 2 cents to $9.19 a bushel as demand from consuming countries remains robust in spite of high prices. Pakistan is tendering for a total of 1.1m tonnes of wheat, Turkey is reportedly seeking 200,000 tonnes and Jordan has tendered for 100,000 tonnes.

CBOT March corn dipped 2 cents to $5.10 a bushel, while CBOT January soyabeans slipped 1½ cents to $12.95 a bushel.

Global coffee production is forecast to rise to 123m to 126m 60kg bags in 2008-09 from 116m in the previous year, according to the International Coffee Organisation. The ICO said world consumption would rise from 123m bags in 2007 to more than 125m in 2008 if demand continued to grow 1.5 to 2 per cent annually. Liffe March robusta coffee fell $19 to $1,975 a tonne.

Standard Chartered has raised its 2008 forecast for robusta coffee prices from $1,713 a tonne to $2,125. Abah Ofon of Standard Chartered said cotton, coffee and cocoa, which recorded only modest price gains last year, would benefit from fresh investor inflows into commodity markets at the start of 2008.

The Baltic Dry Index, a gauge of freight cost for bulk commodities such as iron ore, coal and grains, dropped a further 4.2 per cent to 7,336, its second largest one-day decline since records started in 1985.

The index, which hit a record 11,039 in November, has fallen 12.4 per cent in the past three sessions, because of a short-term cut in cargo volumes due to maintenance work in several key ports and also on concerns about a global economic slowdown.

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