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Is China panic buying commodities? Should we worry?

November brought us the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, the United Nations’ 26th ‘Conference of the Parties’ – the countries that signed the original UN agreement on climate change. 

Nearly 200 world leaders are expected to attend the Conference. It will unquestionably generate plenty of heated debate. Sceptics will ask why a conference on climate change needs 25,000 attendees, many of them travelling halfway round the world. Supporters will say that ‘not enough is being done.’ 

Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, did not attend but instead sent Xie Zhenhua, China’s special climate envoy.

China is generally accepted as the world’s biggest polluter. To give just one example, the country currently has 235 operational airports, with plans to build another 160 by the middle of the next decade. 

But perhaps there is a more immediate question with regard to China: is it buying up all the world’s commodities? Will we be paying higher prices in the coming months because China has been panic buying? 

At the end of September Goldman Sachs became the latest bank to cut its growth forecast for China, reducing its estimate for the full year from 8.2% to 7.8% and predicting nil growth for the third quarter. The reason cited was simple: China is struggling with energy shortages, with some economists estimating that up to 44% of the country’s industrial activity has been adversely affected. The consequent shortage of raw materials meant that China’s ‘factory gate inflation’ was the highest it had been for 13 years. 

That was September: the position unquestionably worsened in October. Recent flooding in China – particularly in key mining areas – has pushed the price of coal to a record high. When figures were released for September, factory gate prices had risen again and were growing at their fastest pace in 26 years, adding to inflation risks around the world as producers passed on higher prices. 

Most significantly, though, it appears that Beijing has given state-owned energy companies and industry a directive to secure winter energy supplies at any cost. 

Will this lead to possible supply shortages in other parts of the world? In a word, ‘yes.’ This change of tack by China – presumably in response to interruptions to industrial output and the possibility of a cold winter – could ‘ripple’ around the globe. We may not have heard the last of energy suppliers in the UK going bust or, sadly, of consumers facing significantly higher bills.

Sources
China and climate change: https://www.spiked-online.com/2021/10/19/stop-bashing-china-over-climate-change/
China airports: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9732557/China-aims-400-airports-running-2035-160-opening-14-years.html
China panic-buying commodities: https://www.zerohedge.com/markets/panic-buying-rush-hoard
Price of China’s coal surges to new high: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-58879481
China frees up coal prices to combat energy shortages: https://www.zerohedge.com/commodities/beijing-liberalizes-coal-fired-power-prices-combat-energy-crunch
China factory gate prices growing at fastest rate in 26 years: https://www.zerohedge.com/economics/beijing-trapped-china-producer-prices-surge-fastest-pace-26-years
And https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-58907308

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