Markets rallied this week after it became clear that some of the world's biggest oil producers were going to curb production to stop prices from dropping any further. The news also buoyed other commodities, from coal to iron ore. Then everything dropped on Thursday with oil.
Before the global financial crisis, a rise in raw-materials prices used to be bad news for the economy and stocks in general. Since central bank easy-money policies took off, that's become a thing of the past:
Odd CoupleThe Bloomberg Commodity and the MSCI World stock indexes have increasingly moved together, reversing their previous inverse relationshipOne possible explanation is the level of exposure that banks and investors have to the industry. The 5,000 biggest publicly traded companies tracked by Bloomberg in the iron and steel, metals and mining, and energy sectors have a combined $3.6 trillion in debt, according to their most recent financial reports, double what they had at the end of 2008.
Much of the increase is due to money that was borrowed to dig mines and wells whose output, at previous prices, would have easily repaid most maturing bonds and loans. But as commodity prices have tumbled, so has the ability of companies to meet their obligations. The Bloomberg Commodity Index is still only 3.9 percent higher than a 25-year low hit on Jan. 20.
Five years ago, those companies tracked by Bloomberg had more operating income than debt, on average. Now, it would take them more than eight years' worth of current earnings, without provisioning for interest, taxes, depreciation or amortization, to clear their combined net obligations.
Slipping PricesA broad measure of raw material prices reached a 25-year low on Jan. 20, adding to pressure on producersYield-hungry bond investors sucked up a lot of the debt that was issued and now hold about $2.1 trillion of outstanding notes....MORE