LONDON — Global commodities markets were hit on Monday by worries over rare demonstrations in China against COVID-19 curbs, with oil and grains hitting significant multi-month lows and safe-haven gold rising.
The protests added a new political dimension to investor concerns after months of stringent measures to curb the virus in one of the world’s largest importers of raw materials just as global economic headwinds mount and recession fears grow.
International benchmark Brent crude erased nearly all the gains seen in 2022 on the back of the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions on Russia, to hit a low of $80.61 a barrel earlier in the session, its lowest since Jan. 4.
Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) most-active wheat hit $7.82 earlier on Monday, its lowest since Aug. 22.
“The long-standing COVID restrictions in China have been extremely restrictive to its growth. As the world’s second largest economy, having civil unrest added to this backdrop is bound to create immense uncertainty,” Craig Erlam, senior markets analyst at OANDA in London, told Reuters.
“It remains to be seen whether the leadership listens and look into loosening its zero-COVID policy or it tries to double down on its policy and suffers the economic consequences.”
China has stuck with President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy even as much of the world has lifted most restrictions.
Hundreds of demonstrators and police clashed in Shanghai on Sunday night as protests over the restrictions flared for a third day and spread to several cities, with police on Monday stopping and searching people at the sites of weekend protests in Shanghai and Beijing.
Gold prices rose to more than one-week high on Monday, boosted by diminished investor appetite while copper prices fell on the China demand worries but a weaker dollar helped to support sentiment.
The impact on energy has been especially sharp, as markets brace for a meeting by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies (OPEC+) over the weekend which could rein in supply just as economic woes hit demand.
“A meltdown in energy markets continues to gather steam amid a money manager exodus. Concern for Chinese oil demand is adding to downside pressures on the complex as demand fears weigh,” analysts at Canadian bank TD Securities said.
Meanwhile traders await Beijing’s next move.
“CBOT futures are lower amid China’s rising daily Covid infections and the weekend protest of the government’s lockdown policy,” according to Chicago-based consultancy AgResource Co.
“There is a risk of social instability as traders await the reaction of President Xi.” (Reporting By Noah Browning; Editing by Conor Humphries)