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The Massive Impact of EVs on Commodities in One Chart

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The Massive Impact of EVs on Commodities

How demand would change in a 100% EV world

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

What would happen if you flipped a switch, and suddenly every new car that came off assembly lines was electric?

It’s obviously a thought experiment, since right now EVs have close to just 1% market share worldwide. We’re still years away from EVs even hitting double-digit demand on a global basis, and the entire supply chain is built around the internal combustion engine, anyways.

At the same time, however, the scenario is interesting to consider. One recent projection, for example, put EVs at a 16% penetration by 2030 and then 51% by 2040. This could be conservative depending on the changing regulatory environment for manufacturers – after all, big markets like China, France, and the U.K. have recently announced that they plan on banning gas-powered vehicles in the near future.

The Thought Experiment

We discovered this “100% EV world” thought experiment in a UBS report that everyone should read. As a part of their UBS Evidence Lab initiative, they tore down a Chevy Bolt to see exactly what is inside, and then had 39 of the bank’s analysts weigh in on the results.

After breaking down the metals and other materials used in the vehicle, they noticed a considerable amount of variance from what gets used in a standard gas-powered car. It wasn’t just the battery pack that made a difference – it was also the body and the permanent-magnet synchronous motor that had big implications.

As a part of their analysis, they extrapolated the data for a potential scenario where 100% of the world’s auto demand came from Chevy Bolts, instead of the current auto mix.

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Commodities

China’s Staggering Demand for Commodities

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It’s said that in China, a new skyscraper is built every five days.

China is building often, and they are building higher. In fact, just last year, China completed 77 of the world’s 144 new supertall buildings, spread through 36 different Chinese cities. These are structures with a minimum height of 656 feet (200 meters).

For comparison’s sake, there are only 113 buildings in New York City’s current skyline that are over 600 feet.

China Demand > World

There are five particularly interesting commodity categories here – and in all of them, China’s demand equals or exceeds that of the rest of the world combined.

Cement: 59%
The primary ingredient in concrete is needed for roads, buildings, engineering structures (bridges, dams, etc.), foundations, and in making joints for drains and pipes.

Nickel: 57%
Nickel’s primary use is in making stainless steel, which is corrosion resistant. It also gets used in superalloys, batteries, and an array of other uses.

Steel: 50%
Steel is used for pretty much everything, but demand is primarily driven by the construction, machinery, and automotive sectors.

Copper: 50%
Copper is one of the metals driving the green revolution, and it’s used in electronics, wiring, construction, machinery, and automotive sectors, primarily.

Coal: 50%
China’s winding down coal usage – but when you have 1.4 billion people demanding power, it has to be done with that in mind. China has already hit peak coal, but the fossil fuel does still account for 65% of the country’s power generated by source.

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Commodities: The Top Performing Asset Class of 2018 So Far

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Commodities have kicked off the year as the top performing asset class. Could the commodity supercycle be back from the dead?

Commodities: The Top Performing Asset Class of 2018 So Far

Is the commodity supercycle coming back from the dead?

For now, such a claim could perhaps be considered both bold and premature – but there does seem to be some compelling evidence that is mounting to back it up.

The Asset Quilt

According to the most recent “Asset Quilt of Total Returns” put together by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, commodities are the top returning asset class of 2018 so far. The chart, which shows the total returns of asset classes over the years, has commodities at an annualized return of 22.7% year-to-date.

Right behind it is gold, which sits at 11.6% on an annualized basis.

Interestingly, commodities haven’t been on top of BAML’s chart since the years 2000 and 2002, which were at the beginning of the last commodity supercycle.

A Deeper Dive

Here is how commodities have fared from 2000 to 2018, based on annual returns. If the commodity sector keeps the pace for the rest of 2018, this will be the best year for the asset class since 2003.

Commodity performance 2000-2018

For various reasons, commodities have bounced back in the last three years.

The return of oil prices have helped to resurrect the sector. Ironically, the anticipated metal demand from renewable energy – which will be used to wean society off of fossil fuel consumption – is also a massive driver behind commodities right now.

Not only are base metals like copper, aluminum, and nickel essential for the “electrification of everything”, but lesser-known materials like lithium, cobalt, rare earths, vanadium, uranium, and graphite all play essential roles as well. They do everything from enabling lithium-ion batteries and vanadium flow batteries, to making possible the permanent magnets that generate electricity from wind turbines.

The environment for investing in commodities is the best since 2004-2008.

– Goldman Sachs, February 2018

Not surprisingly, here are how metal and energy commodities have performed since January 1, 2016:

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Some minor metals, like vanadium, have increased by over 400% in price in the last two years. That begs the question: how much room could there possibly be for price appreciation left?

Supercycle Potential

As Frank Holmes of U.S. Global Investors described in a recent post, the last boom was so prolific that investing in an index tracking commodities (such as the S&P GSCI) in 2000 would have resulted in the equivalent of 10% annual returns for ten years.

He also shared this chart, which shows the ratio in value between commodities and the S&P 500:

Commodities vs. Equities

In other words, commodities seem to be more undervalued than any time in the past 20 years, at least relative to equity indices such as the S&P 500.

Even if the above ratio comes back up to the median of 3.5, it’s clear that there could still be vast amounts of opportunity available in the sector for investors.

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