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Top five China commodities to eye for growth in 2021

  • Prices have eased as vaccine hopes spurred investors to redeploy capital, but bullion's outlook remains upbeat in 2021.
Published December 29, 2020

SHANGHAI: A China-led economic recovery should boost demand for these commodities in 2021 after COVID-19 roiled global markets in 2020.


Iron ore and steel outperformed in 2020 thanks to booming Chinese construction and manufacturing demand, but base metals are set to lead all metals in 2021 as vaccine rollouts spur a global economic recovery.

Copper should rise the most because of its widespread applications in construction, appliances and power grids, while aluminium should also gain.

"Next year, we're more bullish base metals than ferrous. Base is about the global economy. Ferrous is more reliant on China's economy via infrastructure construction," said Dong Hao, director of Chaos Research Institute, a subsidiary of Shanghai Chaos Investment, one of China's largest commodities asset managers.

"We'll probably see a broad-based recovery in the global economy next year and base metals are going to benefit more from this. Copper demand should go up."


Soymeal has been tapped as 2021's top agricultural commodity, with demand expecting to be super-charged by a rapidly recovering hog herd after the devastation caused by African swine fever in 2018 and 2019.

"China's hog sector continues to grow and recover. Live hog prices are still relatively high which means new breeding operations will be built. 2020 soybean imports were already a record," said StoneX senior analyst Darin Friedrichs.

"The shift towards large-scale farms as China rebuilds its hog sector will mean increased soymeal demand."


Iron ore outperformed all commodities in 2020, more than doubling to record highs on strong Chinese steel demand.

Prices may not gain as much next year, but supply worries in Brazil coupled with enduring strength in Chinese manufacturing and construction suggest the market still has legs.

"Strong end-user steel demand and robust Chinese property indicators suggest the rally in iron ore may not be over," said OCBC Bank economist Howie Lee.

Lee expects prices to peak in the second quarter of 2021 on demand from China's infrastructure projects. "But normalizing supply from Brazil and moderating demand from China could pressure iron ore by end-2021."


Oil prices turned negative for the first time ever in April as demand seized up during the global coronavirus lockdowns but have recovered since then, though not back to pre-COVID levels, amid hope that vaccines will restore consumption.

"However, there are some hurdles before the oil market can assume the worst is over," said an ANZ Research report. "Many governments are currently increasing restrictions to halt a resurgent spread while vaccine mass-production and distribution is worked out."


Traditional safe-haven gold scaled record highs this year as investors sought refuge from a weakening dollar and a global barrage of government spending that threatened rising inflation.

Prices have eased as vaccine hopes spurred investors to redeploy capital, but bullion's outlook remains upbeat in 2021.

"While rising risk sentiment may prove to be an early headwind for gold's allure as a safe haven asset, the triple combination of a weak dollar, low yields and rising inflation expectations should continue to drive gold higher," said OCBC's Lee.


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