Records tumble for commodities

From Reuters

Prices of nearly all kinds of commodities surged Friday, sending an index of 19 commodity futures to a record high.

Platinum futures hit their seventh record high in the last eight trading days. Wheat and rice futures also set records.

In the first three weeks of this year, markets for key natural resources such as oil, gold and copper saw volatile, mostly downward, moves on fears of a U.S. recession.

But this week they surged as real or threatened supply disruptions materialized in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Platinum and gold rallied on power outages in South Africa. Copper jumped after hazardous winter weather in China.

Oil gained on supply snags in Nigeria and the North Sea and an escalating legal battle between Exxon Mobil Corp. and Venezuela, which dealers said could lead the South American nation to suspend crude exports.

Investors also plowed into agricultural markets such as sugar, coffee and cocoa, apparently in the belief that commodities could trump stocks and bonds in the event of a U.S. or even global recession.

"Commodities seem to have the potential to outperform other asset classes in an economic downturn, and that might be the biggest power shift of all," Barclays Capital said in a commentary.

The Reuters-Jefferies CRB index, which tracks a basket of 19 commodity futures, rose to a record 375.67 points Friday, up 2.3% on the day. The index has risen 7.6% since Jan. 23.

But the upside for commodities could be limited if the dollar, which rose sharply this week, continues to climb, analysts said.

A weak U.S. currency creates advantages for buyers who use foreign exchange to purchase dollar-denominated commodities. The opposite is true when the dollar rebounds.

Oil futures recorded their biggest gain in two months Friday, rising $3.66 to $91.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as a chill in the northern U.S. increased forecasts of demand for heating products.

Copper, normally a barometer of economic health, jumped 3% after fresh draw-downs in stocks of the metal warehoused at the London Metal Exchange.

Benchmark copper for March delivery rose 8.55 cents to $3.5395 a pound in New York.

Platinum for April delivery closed at $1,884.90 an ounce, up $32.60. Gold rose $12.30 to $922.30 an ounce.

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