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How Commodity-Exporters Can Hedge Volatility

The prices of minerals, hydrocarbons, and agricultural commodities have been on a veritable roller coaster. Although commodity prices are always more variable than those for manufactured goods and services, commodity markets over the last five years have seen extraordinary volatility.&

Countries that specialize in the export of oil, copper, iron ore, wheat, coffee, or other commodities have boomed. But they are highly vulnerable. Dollar commodity prices could plunge at any time, as a result of a new global recession, a hard landing in China, an increase in real interest rates in the United States, fluctuations in climate, or random sector-specific factors.&

Countries that have outstanding debt in dollars or other foreign currencies are especially vulnerable. If their export revenues were to plunge relative to their debt-service obligations, the result could be crashes reminiscent of Latin America’s debt crisis in 1982 or the Asian and Russian currency crises of 1997-1998.&

Many developing countries have made progress since the 1990’s in shifting from dollar-denominated debt toward foreign direct investment and other types of capital inflows, or in paying down their liabilities altogether. But some commodity exporters still seek ways to borrow that won’t expose them to excessive risk.&