There has been a lot of chatter in recent days about the plunge in commodity prices—–capped off by this week’s slide of the Bloomberg commodity index to levels not seen since 2002. That epochal development is captured in the chart below, but most of the media gumming about the rapidly accelerating “commodity crunch” misses the essential point.
To wit, the central banks of the world have shot their wad. Accordingly, the 12-year round trip depicted in the chart is not about the end of some nebulous “commodity supercycle” that arrived from out of the blue after the turn of the century. Nor, most certainly, is it evidence of the Keynesians’ purported global shortage of “aggregate demand” that can be remedied by an even more extended spree of central bank monetary stimulus.
No, the Bloomberg Commodity index is a slow motion screen shot depicting the massive intrusion of worldwide central bankers into the global economic and financial system. Their unprecedented spree of money printing took the aggregate global central bank balance sheet from $3 trillion to $22 trillion over the last 15 years.
The consequence was a deep and systematic falsification of financial prices on a planet-wide scale. This unprecedented monetary shock generated a double-pumped economic boom—–first in the form of an artificial debt-fueled consumption spree and then a sequel of massive malinvestment.
Now comes the deflationary aftermath. Soon there will follow a plunge in corporate profits and collapsing prices among the vastly inflated risk asset classes which surfed on these phony booms.
So it is worth recounting how we got here. In the first phase, central banks engineered a massive wave of household borrowing and consumption/housing spending in the DM economies which, in turn, ignited an export manufacturing boom in China and among its caravan of EM suppliers. This China/EM export boom eventually over-taxed the world’s existing capacity to supply the raw materials required by a booming industrial economy—hydrocarbons, iron ore, met coal, aluminum, copper, nickel etc.
The resulting commodity price boom peaked on the eve of the Great Financial