Our first day in Vancouver consisted largely of trying to stay awake long enough to start adjusting our body clocks. (Eight time zones is a killer.) Accordingly, we went for a walk in Stanley Park and admired the scenery, which is glorious. Mountains wrapped in low clouds, endless water, boats everywhere, and…what were those giant piles of yellow practically glowing across the bay?
My first guess was sulfur, which turned out to be right. It’s a byproduct of the processing of natural gas and oil sands, and used in the making of fertilizer. A bit of checking revealed that sulfur has surely made and broken fortunes, because between March 2007 and April 2008, the price per ton of Vancouver sulfur went from $50 USD to a whopping $650, thanks to the demand of a growing Chinese economy. Analysts were convinced that the spike was simply the springboard of another huge increase, since supplies were fixed but demand was increasing.
Instead, the price dropped again. Right now it’s around $95 per ton, even for Vancouver sulfur, which is considered the market benchmark. One wonders how many investors jumped on that springboard, only to fall into a deep abyss.
Fortunately, no one in our group was concerned with commodities prices, so we were able to enjoy the almost preternatural glow of those huge piles. Set against the gloom of the dark sky and water, they were an odd splash of beauty in an industrial landscape.