Asset-based investments now dominate the ASX in market value. The mining sector is worth $406 billion in market cap. Financials have fallen to $403 billion. The king is dead. Long live the king.
Of course, financial companies have assets. But they’re not tangible things. You can throw a rock at your neighbour’s window, and it’ll shatter. If you threaten to throw a mortgage-backed asset at your neighbour’s window, he’ll probably run shrieking out his own front door all the same. But the window won’t break. Securitised assets can’t be thrown, no matter how much misery they’ve caused.
Real tangible assets are in a bull market at the moment. A non-imaginary one. The values of commodities can be identified in real markets. There are real people buying these things, and transporting them to real countries in real ships. They crush them and cook them with real machinery, then sell the refined product to a real end-use.
We may very well see a bubble develop in the commodities boom soon. Anywhere where there’s a good opportunity, greed and opportunism follow. But the real nature of this boom is what sets it apart from booms in technological speculation or financial earnings.
Now here’s the important part…what happens now that the mining sector is the undisputed leader of the market?
Could this be a symptom of the much-maligned “decoupling” theory?
Commentators slaughtered the idea last year. The Aussie market fell just as fast as the US. Indeed, global equity markets fell in unison. But that was when the Aussie market had finance as its lifeblood.
Since then, trade with other countries has increased. Our five top exports are all resource offerings. Iron…two types of coal…oil…and wheat. There are no securitised assets or government debt on that list. Just useful things.
A true decoupling can’t happen yet. That would, among other items, require a major overhaul of the international currency system. But a-mini decoupling of sorts is already happening in the Aussie economy. Every time we export more iron to China, we have a little less to do with the US economy.
Chinese Wheat Production Hit by Disease
China’s National Bureau of Statistics says the country’s largest wheat-producing province won’t be breaking any records this year. Henan Province is facing disease, not to mention rising costs from oil and fertiliser booms.
Woe, woe, woe…
It’s a disconcerting fact that agricultural production today is an oil-based business. We turn natural resources into food. Petrol fuels the massive machinery that mass-production farming requires. Phosphate, potassium and nitrogen make up the chemical fertiliser that stimulates extra returns on crops.
Rising prices wouldn’t so much of a problem if Chinese farmers could make up the difference with a good year. But pests are making the situation harder. ‘Sharp eyeshot disease’ is expected to take its toll on Chinese wheat fields this year.
As we said earlier, wheat is one of Australia’s top exports. If China can’t get enough wheat, it’ll look to us. Now that AWB (ASX:AWB) has lost its grip on the exporting trade, a few second-tier wheat players may be worth a look…
Gold in a Good Place for Buying
If money’s moving out of stocks, where will it go?
It might be time to take another look at the ultimate alternative, gold. It hasn’t made a major move since it came back from US$1000. Gold costs US$920 this morning. Our hunch is that that’ll change in the next month or so.
Markets and Money