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Chinese iron ore has stellar 2019, natural gas lags other commodities

By Naveen Thukral and Gavin Maguire
Cranes unload imported iron ore from a cargo vessel at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu

By Naveen Thukral and Gavin Maguire

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - China's iron ore futures were the best performing commodity in 2019, more than doubling in value while natural gas ranked as the biggest loser, dropping by more than a quarter.

Crude oil, Malaysian palm oil, precious metals, nickel and arabica coffee were among other gainers.

Supply disruptions played a role in fuelling gains, ranging from a dam collapse at Vale's iron ore mine in Brazil to crude oil export cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and lower palm oil production in Southeast Asia.

Analysts said slowing global economic growth and expectations of a prolonged Washington-Beijing trade war are likely to drive prices next year.

"The economy isn't that great. It has been slowing down, especially China and India," said Tony Nunan, senior advisor for the risk management team at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo.

"A lot of people feel that this trade war is going to be protracted, last longer than we think. That means the economy may be in a slow period next year."

The White House's trade adviser said on Monday the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal would likely be signed in the next week, but said confirmation would come from President Donald Trump or the U.S. Trade Representative.


IRON ORE SHINES

The Dalian Commodity Exchange's most-traded iron ore contract rallied more than 140%, hitting a record in July before retreating as supplies increased.

Prices are expected to drop in 2020 as Vale's production is likely to recover and some analysts expect Chinese steel output growth to moderate.

A record volume of new natural gas supply entered the market in 2019 just as the global economy slowed, curbing demand for the cleaner but comparatively more expensive fuel for power generation.

Gold prices are set to post their best year since 2010, having gained almost 20%, fuelled by worries about global economic health and loose central bank monetary policy.

For Malaysian palm oil, which is up more than 40% in 2019, there are concerns about lower production early next year as dry weather curbs yields across Southeast Asia.

A ban on nickel ore exports by top miner Indonesia lifted London prices more than 30% this year. But Sino-U.S. trade relations curtailed copper, widely used in power and construction, which is on course to gain about 4% in 2019.

Chicago soybeans and corn futures are poised to end 2019 little changed, with the focus on Brazilian supplies entering the market early next year and slowing demand in China in the aftermath of African swine fever.

Wheat gained around 10% in 2019, a third straight year of annual gains, on tightening supplies in the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia which is facing a third year of drought.

Arabica coffee rallied around 30%, Tokyo rubber added almost a fifth and New York sugar is up more than 10%.


(Reporting by Naveen Thukral and Gavin Maguire; Additional reporting by Enrico dela Cruz, Florence Tan and Zandi Shabalala; editing by Richard Pullin and Alexander Smith)