Global Economy Starts to Gain Steam

By Steve Fiscor

Although the global economy is far from healthy, manufacturing activity in China, France, and Australia expanded in August, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. An index based on a survey of U.S. manufacturing purchase managers indicated that factory output grew for the first time since January 2008. China seems to be pulling away, while the pace of contraction in Germany and several other nations slowed markedly.

The cover story for this edition of E&MJ is German Mining Technology. Even though many of their mines have been depleted, German engineers and equipment makers export technology and services to mines around the globe. Mining represents only a small slice of German exports and, similar to most of the major economies, business has been slow in Germany. For the year, German and Japanese exports could finish down 30% over 2008, according to the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis. But, buried in those global export stats is a glimmer of hope. Global trade volumes increased 2.5% from May to June--the biggest one month increase since July 2008. One of the key components in those June trade figures was a 14.3% increase in exports of raw materials from Latin America to China. Commodities are a leading economic indicator and this has many economists thinking that the recession may have bottomed out.

Commodity prices year-to-date have posted some impressive gains. Although it probably represents a hedge against worsening economic conditions, precious metals are trading at 20% to 30% more than they were at the beginning of the year. The direction of base metal pricing would send a better signal. Copper, lead, and nickel are all now trading 40% to 50% higher than they were at the beginning of the year (See Markets, p. 72).

In Leading Developments this month, E&MJ opens with a few thoughts from Marius Kloppers, CEO BHP Billiton—the world’s largest mining company. He frames the last year as one where the mining industry saw rampant demand evaporate and then return and stabilize. Of the major mining companies, BHP would one regarded as having a glass-half-full outlook. The company cited growing demand in China and India based on stimulus packages and restocking, but they were less optimistic about the economies in North America, Europe, and Japan.

As this edition of E&MJ goes to press, the Group of 20 finance ministers will be meeting in London. Most of the discussions will revolve around whether stimulus money is working and whether to invest more, stay the course, or pull out. Many economists fear that the world could enter a double-dip recession if these politicians make the wrong move.

Meanwhile China has moved on. The Chinese stimulus seems to be working and the country is now debating how to sustain the expansion after withdrawing government support. Along with other developing countries, China is also showing signs that it is not so confident in Western economic policies. China recently signed an agreement to purchase $50 billion in International Monetary Fund (IMF) notes. The other BRIC countries are considering a similar move to diversify, rather than buying U.S. dollars. Similarly, the World Bank has been encouraging China to increase investments in Africa. China Investment Corp. (CIC), the nation’s largest sovereign wealth fund has expressed an interest in the World Banks’ asset management company. China’s moves to integrate vertically by purchasing mining assets has been well-documented in E&MJ.

All of this is good news for the mining business and not so good news for Americans or entities holding large amounts of American dollars. The U.S. will have the dig itself out of hole. Meanwhile, the country with the most momentum sees enormous value in the products and services the mining business provides, which drives the value higher. If these economists are wrong--and let’s hope they get it right--precious metals will only climb higher.

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From the Editor

Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief, EMJ, Engineering Mining Journal
Steve Fiscor heads a world class group of writers and editors serving the mining and construction markets. He has served as editor-in-chief for E&MJ since 2003 and Coal Age since 2001. He writes articles on mining and processing, organizes the technical programs for several conferences, and produces many of MMI's ancillary products.

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