From Barron's Up and Down Wall Street column:
Steep drop in metals, other markets suggests liquidity tide is turning.
Is the global tide of liquidity beginning to recede? The commodities markets, the first sector to be lifted by the tide, suggest it may be beginning to turn.
Just as financial news television programs this week have been filled with segments about spreading food inflation and how to play the commodity boom, prices of metals, energy and agricultural goods tumbled sharply as if on cue Tuesday.
As usual, ex post explanations were trotted out -- from news of a surprise contraction in the U.K. economy in the fourth quarter to a speculation of some hedge fund or other speculator scrambling to meet a margin call -- for the steep retreat Tuesday. That the decline followed a strong advance reaching back to last summer makes the decline understandable, even expected.
The key factor spurring that advance has been the expansionary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve, which effectively has been exported to other central banks.
But those central banks have begun to counter the liquidity that has flooded into their financial systems and pushed prices higher. The interest-rate increases and other tightening moves taken by India, China and other emerging economies now may be showing up in the commodities markets.
Overheating in those fast-growing economies and the resulting inflation could result in a "serious blow" to the global economy, the International Monetary Fund warned Tuesday. But the ink wasn't dry on the IMF's report before the commodities markets gave signs that tighter monetary policies abroad are beginning to bite.
No commodity is a better indicator than the one dubbed "Dr. Copper," so named because it's said to be the metal with a PhD in economics. The metal, which is used in a broad array of industrial and housing uses, soared more than 50% from last summer's lows. The big push got under way in earnest at the end of August, when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke began laying the rhetorical groundwork for QE2, the second phase of quantitative easing.
The $600 billion Treasury-securities purchase program, now about half done, is all but certain to be completed as planned by mid-year. The Federal Open Market Committee will release its policy directive Wednesday and will confirm that. The panel also may provide some hints on its thinking about what will happen once QE2 is completed at the end of June....MORE