Shimmy is a well-known mechanical effect in aircraft landing gear. During landing and take-off, the nose wheel oscillates about the vertical axis, sometimes with increasing amplitude. In the case of severe resonance oscillation, shimmy may result in the wheel destruction. Instructively, shimmy usually occurs in a specific band of aircraft velocities. (A much safer but typical case of shimmy is observed in a shopping trolley.) The shimmy effect is well known and relatively well understood and modelled, although not completely.
As an economic analogue of shimmy, we propose to take a look at the current oscillations in commodity prices. Is it actually an economic shimmy? In several figures below we present the evolution of relative prices, pi, of selected commodities, iPPI. In order to remove the base effect we calculate the deviation from the overall PPI, PPI, and normalize it to the PPI:
where i corresponds to iron&steel, gold ores, crude petroleum (domestic production), copper ores, aluminium base scrap and grain. Four from these six basic commodities demonstrate a clear start of shimmy around 2005. Aluminium base scrap and grain had higher oscillations in the past, but can be also characterized by an elevated volatility during the past 5 years.
Overall, a higher volatility is not a surprise for the market but since 2005 is has a coherent driving force behind all commodities. It is likely that there is a positive feed back in the loop of commodity pricing with money flooding into the commodity market without any restriction. For a nose wheel, similar mechanical feedback leads to shimmy and aircraft accidents. For the U.S. economy, one can expect a price runaway (gold is a candidate) if the positive feedback observed since 2005 is further retained. How far is the current situation from an accident?