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The one commodity that could defy the downturn
by Sarah Miloudi on Feb 16, 2012 at 13:43
Most commodity prices look set to fall sharply - that is the bottom line according to analysts keeping a watchful eye over the sector.
Despite a strong start to the year by the likes of copper, the lines of support are growing more fragile by the day as Greece moves closer to the brink of default and the euro's half life shortens.
It is all too easy to forget that the euro situation, which is hanging by a thread, can threaten commodity prices on the day that brent has surged past $120 per barrel on the back of concerns about Libyan supplies.
But as Capital Economics points out, the euro crisis is the biggest downside risk to commodities and gold may be the only clear winner in the event of its messy demise.
But lurking in the shadows of ubiquitous precious and resource commodities that typically steal the headlines is one that could defy the downturn. Miners have been reaping rewards in mineral sands, and fund managers are cottoning on to the year-on-year spike in contracts driving returns.
Encouraged by the Asian construction boom, resource miners have seen the price of mineral sand contracts jump between 300% and 400% year on year, and this follows on from a stellar run in the 12 months before. The commodity is not glamorous like gold, platinum or diamonds, but it is a necessary ingredient in tiles, paints and plastics, and a commodity which China has no domestic assess to and demand around the world runs high.
'It is a very niche story that not many people understand,' Smith and Williamson's Ani Markova, co-manager of the Global Gold and Resources fund, said. 'The big story is that China has none of its own resources and there are not a lot of companies that are in the space. The cycle will come and go as China builds homes, but what we like is the fact outlook for demand is multi-year growth, and behind that demand is not a lot of supply,' Markova added.
Unlike other obscure commodities such as rare earths, the fact the globe's biggest consumer has none of its own mineral sand resources may be helping to ramp up the cost of contracts.
The story is also filtering through to mainstream investors who are asking about the products of mineral sands - Zircon and titanium dioxide fished from the beaches of Australia and Africa - during discussions with analysts about miners like Rio Tinto and Australia's Iluka.
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