Commodities left out in the cold

Walt Breitinger
Round hay bales with corn field.

Virtually every sector of agriculture, energy and financial markets were impacted or even demolished by an arctic blast that ran through the southwest. Temperatures throughout the region were as much as 35 degrees below average for several days.

Fuels: The cold snap in Houston, our “capital of energy,” wreaked havoc on natural gas and crude production. Freezing pipelines and ground transit came screeching to a halt and hampered transportation of those fuels.

Demand for refined products, such as gasoline, propane, diesel and heating oil surged just as availability declined. Prices were chased higher as emergency needs spurred panic buying. Heating oil for March delivery traded at $1.83 per gallon on midday Friday, up about 3½ cents from last week. 

Livestock: While millions of people suffered from the cold and lack of utilities, farmers and ranchers faced those personal problems along with the added challenge of getting food, water, and warmth to their vulnerable livestock. Millions of animals were left without hay, food, water, or life-supporting temperatures due to power outages, frozen ponds and pipes, and treacherous driving conditions. Poultry and cattle were especially threatened. April cattle traded at $1.23 per pound midday Friday, unchanged from last Friday.

Crops: Texas citrus was severely damaged. Emerged winter wheat was nearly destroyed in Texas since new sprouts are sensitive to extreme cold. Feed mills and processing plants could not operate, disrupting both the supply and demand side for corn, oats, wheat, and beans. Chicago March Wheat traded at $6.54 per bushel, up about 20 cents from last week.  

Copper and Platinum Outshine their Kin: Gold and silver were relatively docile this week, but the lesser-traded platinum and copper contracts exploded as spectators anticipated greater demand.

It’s likely platinum and copper will be tapped to recover the global economy and transition to green energy, including the production, storage, and transmission of electric power. Texas utility companies will be pressed to increase their capacity to handle future threats and may require copious amounts of copper wire in the immediate future.

As of midday Friday, Feb. 19, March copper traded at $4.07 per pound, up about 25 cents. April platinum traded at $1,287 per ounce, an increase of $25.

Walt Breitinger

Walt Breitinger is a commodity futures broker with Paragon Investments in Silver Lake, Kansas.