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Escalating trade war could dim global demand for commodities, says options expert

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Iowa Soybean Association President Lindsay Greiner

Joseph L. Murphy | Iowa Soybean Association

The escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies could dim global demand for commodities, Brian Stutland, founder of Equity Armor Investments, said Monday on CNBC’s “Power Lunch. “

Copper prices, for example, were lower Monday due to demand concerns, he said, but there are still commodities where investors can “run in and hide.”

On Monday, China announced a new round of tariffs on more than 5,000 products. It followed President Donald Trump last week announcing additional tariffs on thousands of Chinese goods.

“China trade is going to affect global demand,” said Stutland, a CNBC contributor.

The July copper futures contract fell about 2% on the Comex in New York on Monday.

“A lot of what copper trades is basically global GDP demand and growth globally,” the options expert said. “We’re seeing some fear of weakness there.”

China accounts for nearly half of the world’s copper demand.

China’s new round of tariffs announced Monday includes various agricultural products, such as chicken, wheat, sugar, ginseng and peanuts.

In futures trading Monday, the July wheat futures contract rose 2.7% on the Chicago Board of Trade. The July sugar contract in New York was up just under 1%.

However, Stutland said wheat and sugar futures still present a possible investment opportunity. The thinking is some demand may be pulled forward for those commodities before China’s new round of tariffs take effect June 1.

“I think that’s why you’re seeing wheat and sugar sort of hang in there,” Stutland said. Those “might actually be an area to run in and hide, if you’re sort of looking to be a trader in all this.”

But some observers suggested wheat futures’ jump Monday had more to do with bouncing back from Friday weakness than with China trade issues. Wheat took a hit Friday after the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast a large global wheat crop.

Regardless, China purchased only $105.5 million worth of wheat last year, down 70% from $351.1 million in 2017, according to USDA data.

Soybeans have historically been the biggest U.S. agricultural export to China. Soybeans are already subject to a 25% Chinese tariff but were not hit with additional tariffs in the announcement Monday by Beijing.

On Monday, soybean futures remained under pressure due to the escalating trade tensions with China and supply concerns.

Last week, the USDA projected higher supplies of U.S. soybeans in the 2019-2020 marketing year.

The July soybean contract on Monday fell nearly 1% to $8.035 per bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade. Earlier in the session, though, the contract hit $7.91 per bushel — the lowest level since 2008.

“The fear really is global demand” for soybeans, said Stutland. “Is that going to be able to keep up with the supply?”

Before the trading war, China was buying more than $12 billion worth of U.S. soybeans annually, or roughly one-third of the nation’s crop. Last year, China bought about $3.2 billion worth of U.S. soybeans, according to USDA data.

Stutland said another risk for soybean demand is China’s current outbreak of African swine fever. Soybeans are used as a feed for hogs, and he said the disease “caused a drop in demand on the soybean product.”

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