When Dr. Copper (CU), the only commodity with a PhD in economics, suddenly collapses from a heart attack, risk takers everywhere have to sit up and take notice. Since the 2011 top, the red metal has collapsed a shocking 35%.
So called because of its uncanny ability to predict the future of the global economy, copper is warning of dire things to come. The price drop suggests that the great Chinese economic miracle is coming to an end, or is at least facing a substantial slowdown. This dark view is further confirmed by the weakness in the Shanghai index ($SSEC) which has been trading like grim death all year. Will China permabear, Jim Chanos, finally get his dream come true?
It’s a little more complicated than that. Copper is no longer the metal it once was. Because of the lack of a consumer banking system in the Middle Kingdom, individuals are now hoarding 100 pound copper bars and posting them as collateral for loans. Get any weakness of the kind we have seen this year, and lenders panic, dumping their collateral for cash.
The high frequency traders are now in there in force, whipping around prices and creating unprecedented volatility. You can see this also in gold, silver, oil, coal, platinum, and palladium. Notice how they seem to be running the movie on fast forward everywhere these days? Because of this, we could now be seeing an overshoot on the downside in copper which may never actually materialize to this extreme in equities or other asset classes.
Watch Dr. Copper closely. At the first sign of any sustained strength, you should load up on long dated calls for Freeport McMoRan (FCX), the world’s largest producer, which also has been similarly decimated. The gearing in the company is such that a 50% rise in the price of copper triggers a 100% rise in (FCX).
So what is copper telling us today? The longer term charts show a prolonged bottoming process. If this holds, we could be seeing the early days of a resurgence in the global economy. Just get Syria, Egypt, the debt ceiling crisis, and the taper out of the way, and we could be in for a major run. That is a tall order. But just to be safe, I am buying long dated calls in the next major dip in (FCX), which may have started today.