Oil, Copper, Louisville, Barack And Our Great Economic Leap of Faith


Quite a few years ago I thought I had a health issue, which was particularly bothersome.  For whatever reason I kept thinking or feeling that I had some sort of flutter in my chest area.  Of course this was a bit of a concern.  I was a young man and I had no clue what was happening.  I lived by myself, so if anything happened, I really didn’t have anybody to depend on.

Long story short, there was nothing to it.  I had all kinds of tests done and finally the coronary specialist told me I was in the top 3% of anybody he had ever given a stress test to.  Who knows what the heck it was.  Doctors I think wrote it off as stress, but at the time it was a real mystery.  I haven’t felt that way since.

Fast forward to this past week.  I was in Louisville Kentucky to attend the Super Bowl of Agriculture, the Louisville Farm Machinery Show.  I like to go because I work for several agricultural media outlets and the show acts as a conduit to collect information and gather contacts.  I also get to attend some excellent seminars on commodity marketing.

For those of you who don’t know I’m a commodity analyst too.  Each month I write a market commentary specific to corn futures and the Ontario corn complex which is podcast on the Ontario Corn Producers website. (www.ontariocorn.org)  So while there I made sure I attended the seminars of some of the top American commodity analysts.

What I took away from those seminars was three things, copper, oil and never having been here before.  I’ll start with the last one first.  Never being here before seemed to be a common theme among these American commodity analysts.  Simply put, most economists have never measured what is happening now with our greater economy.  None of the economists working now have the experience of what happened in the great depression.  Much of what is being proposed with the latest stimulus package is like the 21st century’s “great leap of faith.”

In other words, nobody if they are being really honest knows what is going on.  When I heard two different famous agricultural economists in Louisville say that this past week, I took it as gospel.

Simply put, they are paid a lot more than me to know what is going on.  If they don’t know, and are openly expressing that, what’s it say?  It says it’s just like my health problem way back when.  It sure felt that maybe something was wrong, but pinpointing the problem was a mystery.

So where does this leave us?  This week GM may declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  We also learned this past week that sales by Canadian manufacturers declined for the fifth straight month, the worst in 17 years.  We’ve got a stimulus package, which everybody hopes works, but may not.  Luckily for Canada President Barack Obama comes to Ottawa this week.  That will at least divert our attention for the six or so hours he is here.

It is a bit spooky.  Also too in Louisville my commodity expert friends were talking about copper and oil.  I could understand the oil thing, but copper caught me off guard.  Simply put, the price of copper is a barometer of economic growth.  It is a metal, which is used in almost everything durable, and everything to do with communication technology.  Copper prices have tanked and that is a reflection of a global economy, which has contracted.

Oil on the other hand everybody thinks about.  While in Louisville the price of oil went down to $34 and if it broke through price resistance, the next target level was $25/barrel.  Somebody pinch me.  Wasn’t oil sitting at $147/barrel last Canada Day?  It is what it is, however, what it really correlates with is a dramatic slowdown in the world economy.

Into this vacuum we have a meeting this week.  Barack Obama comes to Ottawa.  Of course that means its no ordinary President.  Obama has reached rock star status in the international arena.  A six-hour visit to Ottawa isn’t much, but it is his first international trip and for people counting, that counts for something.

So what’s he going to talk about with Stephen Harper?  Are they going to sit in the room and talk about the economy?  Is either one of them going to look at each other and say, “this has never happened before” and “what happens next?”  Thankfully, they don’t have the same latitude to do that as I do.  You can bet the economy will be front and centre.  Hopefully, there will be nothing about a “leap of faith” because if they are talking about it, the rest of us don’t have a prayer.

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