Raw materials without a market?

Contrary to general entrepreneurial tendencies, Chinese and Russian state-owned enterprises are expanding their activities.  In times of delocalization and value chain fragmentation, these giants invest in sectors previously closed to them.  If finding factors of production wherever they are available in the best conditions is now fundamental, a new tendency reveals that it’s possible to intervene directly in the supply.  This is what’s happening to raw materials, whose prices were dominated by market conditions until now, which is to say by negotiations and distributors.  It’s important to note that raw materials are a commodity, therefore a product available on the market, without imbalances, and qualitatively homogenous.  The origin is not important, only the availability.  Today, things are changing and many clues converge into evidence.  The Russia state agency, Rosneft, acquired Morgan Stanley’s commercial oil division on Wall Street last week.  Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer, established two commercial companies in London and Singapore.  Deutsche Bank abandoned its raw materials trading activities, while Barclays and JP Morgan significantly reduced theirs.  Between contacts and works in progress, the list—reported by Reuters—could continue.  The reason for the disengagement must be sought in the restrictions imposed on big banks’ activities after the 2008 crisis and in the importance acquired by producers and users, which is to say by sellers and buyers.  Essentially, big Chinese and Russian enterprises want to directly enter business, ensuring and withholding profit margins.  They can do this because they have the capital, protection, and political mandates; they control the supply and demand.  Between them, sovereign funds play a central role, direct expressions of governments.  The control of sales and procurement is decisive.  The gulf states intend to sell gas and petroleum at guaranteed margins and China and Japan, Asia’s giant energy consumers, need to be able to buy it at reasonable prices, but most importantly with guaranteed availability.  Factories and cities need combustibles, in both the sophisticated Nipponese system and quantitative Chinese model.  It’s therefore likely that the pattern will strengthen: governments, their need, and their ability to close deals will increasingly determine the price of raw materials.  This will happen via the brokerage of sovereign funds and state companies that operate in supply and demand.  It will be a success for emerging countries or players already central to globalization.  Their development will no longer—at least in the medium term—depend on western countries’ banks.  It will involve a second step forward, after conquering the possibility of using natural resources for internal ends and not only to fuel colonial nations.  Now, this second step will tend to reduce intermediation.  We will probably witness price fixation on behalf of producing nations’ governments.  It would be ironic if globalization allowed the dominance of state-owned enterprises despite the triumph of liberalist principles.