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Ukraine War: best commodities to watch when the war ends


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After Wagner’s weekend getaway in Russia, commodity traders may wish to prepare for peace in Ukraine.

wheatSource: Bloomberg
 

 Charles Archer | Financial Writer, London | Publication date: Tuesday 27 June 2023 

Lenin once noted that ‘there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.’

In this instance, it didn’t even last a weekend. On Saturday, Prigozhin and his Wagner band of mercenaries came close to accomplishing that which evaded both Napoleon and Hitler; seizing Moscow, coming within 120 miles of Russia’s capital city before calling off the ‘coup.’

It’s worth noting that the Russian state has faced collapse on several occasions before; the Tsars were ended within hours in 1917, while a three-day-long coup by the KGB finished the Soviet Union in 1991.

While war in Ukraine rages on and Putin remains President of Russia, most analysts consider that the Russian regime has at the very least been weakened. Preparing for an end to the war in Ukraine — and like all wars, the fighting will eventually subside — makes good sense.

Of course, companies with operations in Russia and Ukraine including Ferrexpo and Polymetal could well benefit, and the Russian Rouble may see a boost as the end of the war could spell the end of two-way economic sanctions.

However, it’s the commodities market that could most likely see rejuvenation — with prices falling in the event of a brokered peace and rising in the event that the war ends in chaos. This is largely due to Russia’s size and geographical spread; it remains a commodities superpower.

Russian peace? Oil, gas and wheat prices

When the invasion of Ukraine commenced on 24 February 2022, the commodities markets went haywire. Much of the attention went to oil and gas — Brent Crude soared above $120/barrel and European natural gas prices rocketed to unsustainable levels — driven by sanctions on Russian energy exports.

Should peace be agreed, both commodities could fall sharply; of course, a violent breakdown of the Russian state could have the opposite effect.

But Russia and Ukraine are much more than oil and gas. Perhaps the second-most notable commodity is Wheat. Ukraine’s national flag signifies a field of wheat under a blue sky, and together with Russia, the ‘breadbasket of Europe’ generates circa 30% of global production.

Exports are so critical that this commodity is subject to a UN and Turkey-brokered deal between the two enemies, termed the ‘Black Sea Grain Initiative,’ to allow for safe export of wheat and ammonia fertiliser. Despite the hostilities, this deal has been ongoing since July 2022. But an end to the war could see wheat prices fall substantially, even after having fallen back to pre-war prices.

As a knock-on, pork prices could also fall as wheat is a key ingredient in pig feed — but of course, any falls in wheat would take time to feed through to Lean Hogs, potentially creating trading opportunities.

Ukraine War: critical minerals

Russia is also the sixth-largest exporter of Gold, accounting for 4.4% of global supply and also 3.5% of global Copper exports. Gold stands near a record high due to its status as a safe haven in times of inflationary economic stress, while the copper supply gap has been covered extensively. Peace could see new investment into the country to increase these exports.

Then there’s the critical minerals — Russia is the second-largest exporter of cobalt, a key ingredient of rechargeable batteries — and is also the second-largest exporter of vanadium. It’s also responsible for circa 10% of the world’s Nickel supply, mostly through Nornickel. It’s worth noting that nickel has seen seriously volatile trades over the past year, including one instance when it soared by 250% in a single day, with the London Metal Exchange even suspending nickel trading for hours at a time.

Russia also exports circa 12% of the world’s Platinum and is additionally the fourth-largest exporter of tungsten. Then there’s Palladium — essential to car catalytic converters and semiconductors — Russia produced 40% of palladium globally in 2021, representing some 2.6 million troy ounces, with Nornickel responsible for much of this as the metal is a by-product of nickel.

Penultimately, it’s worth considering Aluminium — Russia is the world’s second-largest exporter, having exported $7.42 billion of the metal in 2021 alone. 220,575 tonnes, or 53%, of the aluminium currently in LME warehouses originated in Russian, with companies taking delivery of contracted aluminium but refusing to use it and instead storing it.

Peace could see this stockpile used up and demand fall in the interim. Notably, Russia’s Rusal remains the largest aluminium exporter outside of China.

The final key commodity for traders to consider is uranium. While the reactive substance cannot be traded directly, Yellow Cake indirectly offers exposure to uranium’s price. State-owned Rosatom currently accounts for 35% of global uranium enrichment, and Russia itself accounted for 16.5% of uranium imported into the US in 2020.

Demand for the commodity is rising, especially as states look for energy independence and climate change solutions. Cessation of sanctions could see this source of uranium unplugged and the price fall.

Oil, gas, wheat, lean hogs, gold, copper, cobalt, vanadium, nickel, platinum, tungsten, palladium, aluminium, and uranium; Russia touches on virtually every important commodity on the market today. The eventual end of the Ukraine War will affect them all.

And while the price direction cannot be guaranteed, volatility — and trading opportunities — seems all but certain.

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