As global economy hums, Davos turns bullish on commodities

“I haven’t heard here in Davos anyone who’s pessimistic — that’s a source of concern,” said Tom Hayes, the chief executive of Tyson Food Inc, the largest U.S. meat processor.

The last two editions of the World Economic Forum were somber affairs for oil industry chieftains and commodities tycoons. The consensus in Davos was that oil was going to stay low, OPEC would fail to lift prices, and the mining industry faced a difficult time.

Roll forward to 2018 and there’s been a near-universal shift in sentiment as strong and synchronized global economic growth drives demand for raw materials.

“We have not seen this kind of growth since before the global financial crisis,” OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said in an interview.

In panel discussions, interviews, and conversations on the evening cocktail circuit at the Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere, it was hard to find a bearish voice. The Bloomberg Commodity Spot Index, a gauge that tracks raw materials from oil to wheat, has risen 41 percent over the last two years to trade at highs last seen in November 2014.

Daniel Yergin, the oil historian and consultant at IHS Markit Inc., summarized what many said in private: “The combination of strong economic growth and cheap money is lifting commodities.”

The falling value of the U.S. dollar — often a trend that drives commodities higher — is also helping, particularly after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested in Davos the administration favored a weaker currency. Although President Donald Trump later walked back the comments, oil and commodities have felt the benefit of the dollar’s 11 percent slide over the last year.

The 2018 edition of the World Economic Forum was packed with natural resources executives, from Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire behind Russian aluminum giant United Co. Rusal, to BP Plc boss Bob Dudley. Big commodities traders included David MacLennan, the chief executive officer of Cargill and Ivan Glasenberg, the billionaire head of Glencore Plc.

Marco Dunand, the CEO of Geneva-based oil trader Mercuria Energy Group Ltd., said he expects oil to trade between $60 and $75 this year.

“The market has risen quite a lot recently and it would be wise to pause and see the response of U.S. shale,” Dunand, a former Goldman Sachs executive, said in an interview. “Demand growth has surprised many people and is going to remain strong.”

If you believe the Davos consensus, the U.S. tax cuts are set to accelerate America’s growth, China is now expanding faster after a two-year slowdown and the outlook in countries from Brazil to India looks positive. Moreover, Russia and Saudi Arabia are in no mood to rein in rising oil prices that are starting to salve strained government finances.

Khalid Al-Falih, the Saudi minister of energy and industry, told delegates that current prices weren’t yet sending the signal needed for the industry to invest — a message many took as a green light for another move higher.

Yet Davos is often accused of viewing the world through a rear-view mirror and failing to anticipate big changes in politics, markets, finance and business. Few in the Swiss Alpine resort saw the emergence of Trump or the global financial crisis. So the bullish consensus is a worry for some in the commodities industry.

To read a report on sentiment at Davos in 2007, click here.

“I haven’t heard here in Davos anyone who’s pessimistic — that’s a source of concern,” said Tom Hayes, the chief executive of Tyson Food Inc, the largest U.S. meat processor.