By our international staff
Published: August 15 2008 10:20 | Last updated: August 15 2008 19:14
The dollar surged to a two-year high against the pound and a six-month peak against the euro on Friday, as fears about spreading economic gloom triggered a sell-off in commodities.
Against sterling, the US currency notched up its 11th consecutive day of gains – its longest uninterrupted rise in more than 35 years – as markets became increasingly convinced that the US was best-placed to weather the global downturn.
The strong dollar rebound undermined sentiment in the gold market, where prices fell below $800 for the first time this year to $774.90 a troy ounce, almost a quarter lower than early March’s record $1,030.80.
Prices for crude oil, platinum, copper, aluminium, corn and soyabeans have also retreated from records hit this year, prompting speculation that commodity prices have reached a turning point.
“The golden age when commodity prices could only go up is gone,” said Marco Annunziata, chief economist at Unicredit.
Military tensions between Russia and Georgia have offered little support to the price of gold, while oil prices have continued to fall in spite of interruptions to two key pipelines carrying crude from the Caspian sea to Turkey.
The long-running surge in commodities and resulting inflationary pressures had been a main factor in slowing global economic activity – playing a bigger role than global financial turmoil, for instance, in the eurozone. The eurozone economy shrank in the second quarter for the first time since the launch of the euro in 1999, while Japan’s economy contracted 0.6 per cent, its worst performance for seven years. The US staged at least a modest recovery in the same period.
The latest commodity price falls are unlikely to prompt any early reaction from central banks, market observers said. The European Central Bank remains concerned that high inflation rates will become entrenched and US inflation data this week showed consumer prices rising at the fastest rate since January 1991.
Analysts were divided on the outlook for commodities. Lehman Brothers believed oil prices had peaked, while Goldman Sachs repeated its forecast that they would hit $149 by the end of the year.
The Reuters-Jefferies CRB index, a benchmark for commodities, fell more than 2.5 per cent to its lowest level since late March. The index has fallen almost 20 per cent since an all-time high in July, but is still 22 per cent higher than a year ago.
Report by Peter Garnham, Chris Flood and Javier Blas in London and Ralph Atkins in Frankfurt