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The Long-Run Behavior of Commodity Prices; Small Trends and Big Variability

  • Paul Cashin
  • C. John McDermott

Using the longest dataset publicly available (The Economist's index of industrial commodity prices), we analyze the behavior of real commodity prices over the period 1862-99, and have two main findings. First, while there has been a downward trend in real commodity prices of 1.3 percent per year over the last 140 years, little support is found for a break in the long-run trend decline in commodity prices. Second, there is evidence of a ratcheting up in the variability of price movements. The amplitude of price movements increased in the early 1900s, while the frequency of large price movements increased after the collapse of the Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates in the early 1970s. While there is a downward trend in real commodity prices, this is of little practical policy relevance as it is small and completely dominated by the variability of prices.

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Paper provided by International Monetary Fund in its series IMF Working Papers with number 01/68.

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Length: 27
Date of creation: 01 May 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:imf:imfwpa:01/68
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  1. Grilli, Enzo R & Yang, Maw Cheng, 1988. "Primary Commodity Prices, Manufactured Goods Prices, and the Terms of Trade of Developing Countries: What the Long Run Shows," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 2(1), pages 1-47, January.
  2. Paul Cashin & Hong Liang & C. John McDermott, 2000. "How Persistent Are Shocks to World Commodity Prices?," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 47(2), pages 2.
  3. Leon, Javier & Soto, Raimundo, 1995. "Structural breaks and long-run trends in commodity prices," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1406, The World Bank.
  4. Powell, Andrew, 1991. "Commodity and Developing Country Terms of Trade: What Does the Long Run Show?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(409), pages 1485-96, November.
  5. Alan M. Taylor, 2002. "A Century Of Purchasing-Power Parity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(1), pages 139-150, February.
  6. Diebold, Francis X & Rudebusch, Glenn D, 1992. "Have Postwar Economic Fluctuations Been Stabilized?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(4), pages 993-1005, September.
  7. C. John McDermott & Paul Cashin & Alasdair Scott, 1999. "Booms and Slumps in World Commodity Prices," IMF Working Papers 99/155, International Monetary Fund.
  8. Perron, Pierre, 1990. "Testing for a Unit Root in a Time Series with a Changing Mean," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 8(2), pages 153-62, April.
  9. Mark W. Watson, 1992. "Business Cycle Durations and Postwar Stabilization of the U.S. Economy," NBER Working Papers 4005, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Peter Wickham & Carmen Reinhart, 1994. "Commodity Prices; Cyclical Weakness or Secular Decline?," IMF Working Papers 94/7, International Monetary Fund.
  11. Cuddington, John T., 1992. "Long-run trends in 26 primary commodity prices : A disaggregated look at the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(2), pages 207-227, October.
  12. Cashin, Paul & McDermott, C. John & Scott, Alasdair, 2002. "Booms and slumps in world commodity prices," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 277-296, October.
  13. Mussa, Michael, 1986. "Nominal exchange rate regimes and the behavior of real exchange rates: Evidence and implications," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 117-214, January.
  14. Lutz, Matthias G, 1999. "A General Test of the Prebisch-Singer Hypothesis," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 3(1), pages 44-57, February.
  15. Gilbert, Christopher L, 1989. "The Impact of Exchange Rates and Developing Country Debt on Commodity Prices," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(397), pages 773-84, September.
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