The Case for Hard Assets: An Update (June 2023)

by Bill O’Grady & Mark Keller | PDF

Background and Summary

Secular markets are defined as long-term trends in an asset. There are both secular bear and bull markets. In most markets, there are also cyclical bull and bear markets, often tied to the business cycle, and in some markets, there are seasonal bull and bear markets that are usually tied to annual production or consumption cycles. For example, a secular bull market in bonds is characterized by falling inflation expectations that trigger steady declines in interest rates. A secular bear market in bonds is caused by the opposite condition―rising inflation expectations which lead to consistently rising interest rates. In comparison, a cyclical bull market in bonds is often related to the business cycle and monetary policy.

In general, secular cycles tend to last a long time. Using bonds as an example, we are likely concluding a four-decade secular bull market which encompassed several cyclical cycles. The length tends to be tied to specific characteristics of each market.

Commodity markets have secular cycles as well. Commodity demand is mostly a function of economic and population growth, whereas commodity supply comes from agriculture, ranching, mining, and drilling. As this chart shows, commodity producers face a serious secular headwind—capitalist economies tend to persistently improve their efficiency in producing finished goods from raw commodities. Commodity production is also subject to steady improvement in productivity.

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