Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
There are probably as many interpretations of the story in the Book of Revelation of the four horsemen of the apocalypse as there are religious sects; in fact, even further than religious, in some ways: there was a nineteenth century biblical scholar called C.F. Wimpel (nope, me neither) who postulated that the first – White – of the horses was ridden by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte. I guess he had some particular axe to grind, although by the time he made his startling revelation in 1866, the former Emperor had already been dead for about forty-five years.
Anyway, that aside, the most usual interpretation of the visions of John of Patmos is that the horsemen (in order of their emergence White, Red, Black and Pale) represent Pestilence, War, Famine and Death.
Well, now, were one of the mind to be a believer in these things, it would all look terribly, terribly as though we are reaching those times, wouldn’t it? The White Horse of Pestilence came leaping out of Wuhan in late 2019/early 2020, the Red Horse of War emerged to gallop across the Donbas at the beginning of this year; and if one looks at the global food supply and price expectations, Mr Black Horse, with his rider of Famine, is just getting into his stride. In fact, in the passage in Revelation concerning the Black horse, the price of wheat and barley becoming unaffordable is specifically mentioned; and the verse finishes “but do not damage the oil and wine” – I’d certainly go along with the last part of that phrase….. We can only hope that the fourth seal is not broken, and that the Pale Horse is contained in his box; death comes to us all, of course, but I rather think the Pale Horse has something more profound in mind than the natural course of human life and death.
On a more serious note – at least, more serious for those of us who do not see Revelation as a definitive picture of the future of the world – the effects of massive governmental spending and the war in Ukraine are are impacting severely on the metal markets. Let’s not forget that only eight or nine months ago, the general consensus view (frankly including mine) was that the stasis of the many months of Covid lockdowns and restrictions would usher in a surge in demand for consumer goods, thus in turn boosting metal consumption and prices. Well, so it began, and copper, for example, looked good for something like $12000/mt. But we’ve learned a lesson (at least, I hope we’ve learned it); printing money like there is no tomorrow comes with a nasty sting in the tail of climbing inflation. While that may have been digestible had other circumstances remained equal (ceteris paribus, as the economists love to say when they realise their model can only handle one variable at a time), sadly the actions of the wannabe-Czar sitting in the Kremlin have screwed up that model. Commodity prices are rising, but it’s energy and agriculturals rather than metals. Some years ago, we had a debate on this site – and at one of our annual lunches – about whether or not war was good for metals (in a purely economic sense, of course). We’re kind of seeing that debate played out in real – and sadly grim time – with the suffering of the people of Ukraine. The answer is not clear, but the immediate future looks bleak; the post cold war relatively settled environment is in the process of being shredded – and the weapons just get more and more lethal ( and I apologise for the “more lethal” phrase, which is meaningless, since lethal is an absolute; but you know what I mean).
So, maybe the best thing to do now – in the interests of preserving one’s sanity – is to put on the rose-tinted spectacles, and look back longingly at the past, and sigh, with one of my favourite poets, “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?”
Or perhaps, for those like me who came of age in the early 1970s, we could go with Cat Stevens (but he’s a bit more cataclysmic):
“Hunc ornatum mundi
Mundi et astrorum lumen
Mali hominis crimen
Tristitate et lacrimis
Gravis est dolor
De terraque maribus
Magnus est clamor”