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Posts Tagged ‘commodity

Charting the journey of India’s agri commodity indices to 250% in four years

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From 2008 January agri-commodity indexes of the NCDEX and the MCX have gained in points as described by Chart 1. From 2011 April their rise has been especially rapid, the MCX index gaining 55% and the NCDEX index gaining 86% until 2012 February. Chart: Rahul Goswami using MCX and NCDEX data re-based to 2008 January

During the course of the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12) in India, the salient features of the sweeping change being quietly implemented in India’s agriculture and food structure became easier to distinguish. Many of these changes have been prefaced by the central government and its agencies pointing grimly to a farm sector that is under-performing in terms of its growth rate and which they emphasised is wanting for private sector investment.

Although elsewhere in Asia, Africa and South America the relation between food commodity trading and speculation, and continued high local food prices has been a contentious subject, India from one Plan period to the next has decided to pursue a talismanic 4% per year growth rate, attaching to this objective the idea of ‘inclusion’. The relationships between how capital is employed in the food and agriculture sector, what in fact happens to agricultural produce during its journey to urban shops, and the reasons for the steady rise of agri-commodity futures indices in India are still only irregularly researched.

Profiting from speculation in food staples – and protecting the household from the effects of hoarding – is behaviour that is the subject of legislation from 1955 when the Essential Commodities Act came into force, and also from 1980 with the Prevention of Black Marketing & Maintenance of Supply of Essential Commodities Act. The recent changes in agriculture and food however, employ many simultaneous mechanisms and methods, which legislation from an earlier era can only partly forestall.

[From ‘Food and Agriculture: Trends Into the Early Twelfth Plan’, a forthcoming paper.]

Four points higher, the FAO Food Price Index for 2012 January

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In the first major indication of the way food prices will move in 2012, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced that its Food Price Index rose by nearly 2% or four points from December 2011 to January 2012. This is the Index’s its first increase since July 2011. A close look at the FAO Food Price Index shows that prices of all the commodity groups in the index have risen (oils increasing the most). At its new level of 214 points, the index is about 7% lower than what it was in January 2011 (when it reached 231).

In 2010 July, the Food Price Index has begun a steep upward climb it maintained for 7 months until 2011 February, from 172 to 237. Now, this 4 point jump in a month is the sharpest since the rise from 231 in 2011 January to 2011 February. “There is no single narrative behind the food price rebound – different factors are at play in each of the commodity groups,” said FAO’s Senior Grains Economist Abdolreza Abbassian. “But the increase, despite an expected record harvest and an improved stocks situation, and after six months of falling or stable prices, highlights the unpredictability prevailing in global food markets,” he added. “I can’t see that the usual suspects – the value of the dollar and oil prices – were  much involved in January. But one reason is poor weather currently affecting key growing regions like South America and Europe. It has played a role and remains a cause for concern,” he concluded.

What FAO is seeing and saying is routinely misunderstood or deliberately miscast by the mainstream business and financial press. An example of this can be seen in a recent opinion found on Forbes, the business magazine, which links “a slowing UN FAO food price index” and “falling commodity prices” to the global economic slowdown. This, the magazine has said, is “putting further downward pressure on food inflation”. Of course this is completely untrue, as wage labour, informal sector workers and middle class residents in many cities and towns of the South know.

Thus the ‘market’ view is that global demand for agricultural products appears to be slowing. This view exists because this sort of media represents the interests of its owners – the 1% targeted by the Occupy movement. Ever since 2011 July, when the FAO Food Price Index ceased its steady upward march, organs and media representing the interests of the global money markets and the interests of the speculators have attempted to leaven their crooked discussion of the matter by saying that the global dynamic in food and commodity markets took a structural turn. Their insistence on linking “quantitative easing in the USA” and what they call “emerging market demand” (meaning mainly China and India) for food staples has been a consistent feature of this disinformation.

What we are seeing is that the FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 223 points in January, up 2.3% (5 points) from December. International prices of all major cereals with the exception of rice rose, with maize gaining most, 6%. Wheat prices also gained, though less significantly. Prices mostly reflected worries about weather conditions affecting 2012 crops in several major producing regions. Fears of decline in export supplies in the Commonwealth of Independent States also played a part.

[The FAO Food Price Index data sheet is available here (xls).] [The FAO Deflated Prices data sheet is available here (xls).]

According to FAO’s latest forecast world cereal production in 2011 is expected to be more than sufficient to cover anticipated utilization in 2011-12. Production is expected to reach 2,327 million tonnes – up 4.6 million tonnes from the last estimate in December. That would be 3.6% more than in 2010 and a new record. FAO lowered slightly from December 2011 its cereal utilization forecast for 2011-12, to nearly 2,309 million tonnes, still 1.8% higher than in 2010-11. That would put cereal ending stocks by the close of seasons in 2012 at 516 million tones, 5 million tonnes above FAO’s last forecast.

A sober note has been sounded in the Jakarta Globe. The Indonesian newspaper reported the Asian Development Bank warning that Indonesia and other nations in Southeast Asia should be prepared for a possible rise in food prices, which might stoke inflation. Changyong Rhee, chief economist at ADB, is reported by the newspaper as having said the global financial turmoil, marked by the euro zone debt crisis and a possible slowdown in the US economy, might increase the volatility of prices for food and other commodities. According to the ADB, research funding [in agriculture] is being depleted amid climate change, making it difficult for food production to keep up with growing demand. “Food price increases have become more persistent than in the past,” he said in Jakarta. “It has a major impact on food security for millions [of people].” The Jakarta Globe reported that the FAO Food Price Index has risen by 50% in the last four years, compared with a 16% increase from 1991 to 2006.

World food insecurity report 2011 – expect more of the same

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The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have released ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011’ (SOFI).

This year’s report focuses on high and volatile food prices, identified as major contributing factors in food insecurity at global level and a source of grave concern to the international community. “Demand from consumers in rapidly growing economies will increase, the population continues to grow, and further growth in biofuels will place additional demands on the food system,” the report said.

Moreover, food price volatility may increase over the next decade due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets and more frequent extreme weather events.

Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty while short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development, the report found. Changes in income due to price swings that lead to decreased food consumption can reduce children’s intake of key nutrients during the first 1000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity and an increased likelihood of future poverty, with negative impacts on entire economies.

Key Messages

Small import-dependent countries, especially in Africa, were deeply affected by the food and economic crises. Some large countries were able to insulate themselves from the crisis through restrictive trade policies and functioning safety nets, but trade restrictions increased prices and volatility on international markets.

High and volatile food prices are likely to continue. Demand from consumers in rapidly growing economies will increase, population will continue to grow, and further growth in biofuels will place additional demands on the food system. On the supply side, there are challenges due to increasingly scarce natural resources in some regions, as well as declining rates of yield growth for some commodities. Food price volatility may increase due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets, as well as an increased frequency of weather shocks.

Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty. Because food represents a large share of farmer income and the budget of poor consumers, large price changes have large effects on real incomes. Thus, even short episodes of high prices for consumers or low prices for farmers can cause productive assets – land and livestock, for example – to be sold at low prices, leading to potential poverty traps. In addition, smallholder farmers are less likely to invest in measures to raise productivity when price changes are unpredictable.

Large short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development. Changes in income due to price swings can reduce children’s consumption of key nutrients during the first 1,000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity, increasing the likelihood of future poverty and thus slowing the economic development process.

High food prices worsen food insecurity in the short term. The benefits go primarily to farmers with access to sufficient land and other resources, while the poorest of the poor buy more food than they produce. In addition to harming the urban poor, high food prices also hurt many of the rural poor, who are typically net food buyers. The diversity of impacts within countries also points to a need for improved data and policy analysis.

High food prices present incentives for increased long-term investment in the agriculture sector, which can contribute to improved food security in the longer term. Domestic food prices increased substantially in most countries during the 2006–08 world food crisis at both retail and farmgate levels. Despite higher fertilizer prices, this led to a strong supply response in many countries. It is essential to build upon this short-term supply response with increased investment in agriculture, including initiatives that target smallholder farmers and help them to access markets, such as Purchase for Progress (P4P).

Safety nets are crucial for alleviating food insecurity in the short term, as well as for providing a foundation for long-term development. In order to be effective at reducing the negative consequences of price volatility, targeted safety-net mechanisms must be designed in advance and in consultation with the most vulnerable people.

A food-security strategy that relies on a combination of increased productivity in agriculture, greater policy predictability and general openness to trade will be more effective than other strategies. Restrictive trade policies can protect domestic prices from world market volatility, but these policies can also result in increased domestic price volatility as a result of domestic supply shocks, especially if government policies are unpredictable and erratic. Government policies that are more predictable and that promote participation by the private sector in trade will generally decrease price volatility.

Investment in agriculture remains critical to sustainable long-term food security. For example, cost-effective irrigation and improved practices and seeds developed through agricultural research can reduce the production risks facing farmers, especially smallholders, and reduce price volatility. Private investment will form the bulk of the needed investment, but public investment has a catalytic role to play in supplying public goods that the private sector will not provide. These investments should consider the rights of existing users of land and related natural resources.

Higher agriculture commodity prices here to stay, says major OECD-FAO report for 2011-2020

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Higher agriculture commodity prices here to stay – this is the overall message of the OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-20. I will add material to this post from the main report. There is a database attached to the report which will also yield spreadsheets, to be posted here in the weeks ahead.

The OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-20 has said that a good harvest in the coming months should push commodity prices down from the extreme levels seen earlier this year. However, the Outlook said that over the coming decade real prices for cereals could average as much as 20% higher and those for meats as much as 30% higher, compared to 2001-10. The press release has more of the big picture message from the Outlook.

Some key questions and concerns have been mentioned. One of these is: what is driving price volatility? The Outlook takes a look at the key forces driving price volatility, which create uncertainty and risk for producers, traders, consumers and governments. About a period of higher commodity prices, the Outlook said commodity prices will fall from their 2010-11 levels, as markets respond to these higher prices and the opportunities for increased profitability that they afford. In real terms, agricultural commodity prices are likely to remain on a higher plateau during the next decade compared to the previous decade.

All commodity prices in nominal terms will average higher to 2020 than in the previous decade. In real terms, prices are anticipated to average up to 20% higher for cereals and 50% higher for some meats, compared to the previous decade. On the forecasts of net agricultural production, global agricultural production is projected to grow at 1.7% annually on average compared to 2.6% in the previous decade. Slower growth is expected for most crops, especially oilseeds and coarse grains, while the livestock sector stays close to recent trends.

Where biofuels and agricultural outputs are mentioned, the Outlook has said the use of agricultural output as feedstock for biofuels will continue its robust growth, largely driven by biofuel mandates and support policies. By 2020, 12% of the global production of coarse grains will be used to produce ethanol compared to 11% on average over the 2008-10 period.

[The OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-20 has a dedicated website here.]

[The OECD-FAO Agriculture Outlook 2011-20 Summary is available in English, Français, Español, Chinese, Português and Russian.]

A Nepalese vendor sells food from a roadside stall in Bhaktapur, some 12 kilometers southeast of Kathmandu. Photo: Foreign Policy/Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

Key points from the summary are:

(1) Commodity prices rose sharply again in August 2010 as crop production shortfalls in key producing regions and low stocks reduced available supplies, and resurging economic growth in developing and emerging economies underpinned demand. A period of high volatility in agricultural commodity markets has entered its fifth successive year. High and volatile commodity prices and their implications for food insecurity are clearly among the important issues facing governments today. This was well reflected in the discussions at the G20 Summit in Seoul in November, 2010, and in the proposals for action being developed for consideration at its June 2011 meeting of Agriculture Ministers in Paris.

(2) This Outlook is cautiously optimistic that commodity prices will fall from their 2010-11 levels, as markets respond to these higher prices and the opportunities for increased profitability that they afford. Harvests this year are critical, but restoring market balances may take some time. Until stocks can be rebuilt, risks of further upside price volatility remain high. This Outlook maintains the view expressed in recent editions that agricultural commodity prices in real terms are likely to remain on a higher plateau during the next ten years compared to the previous decade. Prolonged periods of high prices could make the achievement of global food security goals more difficult, putting poor consumers at a higher risk of malnutrition.

Even in the midst of violence in Ivory Coast, locals shopped at markets in Abidjan’s Koumassi district. Photo: Foreign Policy/Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

(3) Higher commodity prices are a positive signal to a sector that has been experiencing declining prices expressed in real terms for many decades and are likely to stimulate the investments in improved productivity and increased output needed to meet the rising demands for food. However, supply response is conditioned by the relative cost of inputs while the incentives provided by higher international prices are not always passed through to producers due to high transactions costs or domestic policy interventions. In some key producing regions, exchange rate appreciation has also affected competitiveness of their agricultural sectors, limiting production responses.

(4) There are signs that production costs are rising and productivity growth is slowing. Energy related costs have risen significantly, as have feed costs. Resource pressures, in particular those related to water and land, are also increasing. Land available for agriculture in many traditional supply areas is increasingly constrained and production must expand into less developed areas and into marginal lands with lower fertility and higher risk of adverse weather events. Substantial further investments in productivity enhancement are needed to ensure the sector can meet the rising demands of the future.

The climb to food price peak in two charts

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These charts describe the 12-month rise in two indices: FAO’s Food Price Index, whose all-time high is the cause for so much alarm, and the IMF’s commodity index for food, which is less often referred to for food price burden impacts, but is no less important.

The FAO Food Price Index, comparative rise over 12 months for 2010 Feb to 2011 Jan and for 2007 Jul to 2008 Jun.

The FAO Food Price Index, comparative rise over 12 months for 2010 Feb to 2011 Jan and for 2007 Jul to 2008 Jun.

We see the index movements until the 2008 peak and the current peak of the FAO index and of the IMF food index (below). Over a year’s rise they are similar, but the worrying factor is the base for the 2010-11 rise, which is higher in both.

The IMF Commodity (Food) Price Index, comparative rise over 12 months for 2010 Feb to 2011 Jan and for 2007 Jul to 2008 Jun.

The IMF Commodity (Food) Price Index, comparative rise over 12 months for 2010 Feb to 2011 Jan and for 2007 Jul to 2008 Jun.

Written by makanaka

February 4, 2011 at 15:00

The hammer blow of the triple crisis, food in February 2011

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FAO-food-price-index-201102The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) rose for the seventh consecutive month, averaging 231 points in January 2011, up 3.4% from December 2010 and the highest (in both real and nominal terms) since the index has been backtracked in 1990.

Prices of all the commodity groups monitored registered strong gains in January compared to December, except for meat, which remained unchanged. Changes in the composition of  the meat price index (read more) have resulted in adjustments to the historical values of the FFPI. One implication of this revision is that the December value of the FFPI, which previously was the highest on record, is now the highest since July 2008.

The Cereal Price Index averaged 245 points in January, up 3% from December and the highest since July 2008, but still 11% below its peak in April 2008. The increase in January mostly reflected continuing increases in international prices of wheat and maize, amid tightening supplies, while rice prices fell slightly, as the timing coincides with the harvesting of main crops in major exporting countries. The Oils/Fats Price Index rose by 5.6% to 278 points, nearing the June 2008 record level, reflecting an increasingly tight supply and demand balance across the oilseeds complex.


FAO food price index deflated, 2011 February

See earlier posts on food, grain and prices:

Food production and grain trade / FAO food price index tops the 2008 peak / Food inflation crippled India’s households in 2010 / Early price indicator for 2011 foodgrain / Only 16 points under the 2008 peak, FAO’s food price index / Bringing nutrition back into climate change talks / Grain market outlook, end October 2010 / How the World Bank is leveraging the new food crisis.

The Dairy Price Index averaged 221 points in January, up 6.2% from December, but still 17% below its peak in November 2007. A firm global demand for dairy products, against the backdrop of a (normal) seasonal decline of production in the southern hemisphere, continued to underpin dairy prices. The Sugar Price Index averaged 420 points in January, up 5.4% from December. International sugar prices remain high, driven by tight global supplies. By contrast, the Meat Price Index were steady at around 166 points, as falling prices in Europe, caused by a fall in consumer confidence following a feed contamination, was compensated by a slight increase in export prices from Brazil and the USA.

FAO-food-commodity-price-index-201102The Index averaged 231 points in January and was up 3.4% from December 2010. This is the highest level (both in real and nominal terms) since FAO started measuring food prices in 1990. Prices of all monitored commodity groups registered strong gains in January, except for meat, which remained unchanged. “The new figures clearly show that the upward pressure on world food prices is not abating,” said FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian. “These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come. High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food.”

“The only encouraging factor so far stems from a number of countries, where – due to good harvests – domestic prices of some of the food staples remain low compared to world prices,” Abbassian added. FAO emphasized that the Food Price Index has been revised, largely reflecting adjustments to its meat price index. The revision, which is retroactive, has produced new figures for all the indices but the overall trends measured since 1990 remain unchanged.

Food inflation crippled India’s households in 2010

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Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaThe price of a basket of staple foods has become crippling in rural and urban India. The government’s response is to favour agri-commodity markets, greater retail investment and more technology inputs. For food grower and consumer alike, the need for genuine farm swaraj has never been greater.

The retail prices of staple foods rose steadily through 2010, far exceeding in real terms what the Government of India and the financial system call “headline inflation”, and exceeding also the rate of the rise in food inflation as calculated for the country. These calculations ignore the effective inflation and its increase as experienced by the rural and urban household, and they ignore also the considerable regional variations in India of a typical monthly food basket.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaMoreover, from a household perspective an increase in the prices of food staples is not seen as an annual phenomenon, to be compared with some point 12 months in the past. It is intimately linked to employment (whether informal or seasonal), net income, and the pressures on the food budget from competing demands of medical treatment, education and expenses on fuel and energy.

When real net income remains unchanged for over a year or longer, the household suffers a contraction in the budget available for the food basket, and this contraction – often experienced by rural cultivator families and agricultural labour – is only very inadequately reflected by the national rate of increase in food inflation.

An indicator of the impact on households is provided by the price monitoring cell of the Department Of Consumer Affairs, Ministry Of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. This cell records the retail and wholesale prices of essential commodities in 37 cities and towns in India. Data over a 36-month period (2008 January to 2010 December) for the prices of cereals, pulses, sugar, tea, milk and onions reveals the impact of the steady rise in the Indian household’s food basket.

In 33 cities and towns for which there are regular price entries, the price per kilo of the “fair average” quality of rice has risen by an average of 42% over the calendar period 2008 January to 2010 December. In 12 of these urban centres the increase has been over 50% (Vijayawada, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Patna, Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar, Indore, Bhopal, Shimla, Karnal and Hisar).

The average price rise over the same period for a kilo of tur dal, for 32 cities for which there is regular price data, is 46%. In 11 of these urban centres the increase in the price of tur dal has been over 50% (Puducherry, Bengaluru, Patna, Agartala, Nagpur, Mumbai, Indore, Ahmedabad, Shimla, Jammu and New Delhi). Where wheat is concerned, from among the 27 cities and towns for which there are regular price entries over three years, in 10 the per kilo price rise is 30% and more.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaIf in search of a comforting cup of tea over which to rue the effect of the steady price rise, this too will cost a great deal more than it did three years ago. For 25 urban centres with regular price data, the average increase over the same period of 100 grams of loose tea leaf is 38% and in 11 of these cities and towns the increase is between 40% and 100%.

The sugar with which to sweeten that cup of tea has become prohibitively expensive over the January 2008 to December 2010 period. For the 32 cities and towns for which there is regular price data, the average price increase for a kilo of sugar is 102%, the range of increase being between 76% and 125%.

This increase for sugar – relatively homogenous for the price reporting centres – exhibits the countrywide nature of the price rise of the commodity. Nor is there a household economy case for substituting sugar for gur, or jaggery. For the 17 towns and cities reporting data for gur prices over the same 36-month period, the increase in price over the period has been an average 118% with 11 of these centres recording an increase of over 100%.

Vegetables, fruits and cereals market in in the city of Surat, Gujarat state, IndiaAdding a third element of higher cost to the humble cup of tea is the price of milk. For the 25 towns and cities which recorded increases in the per litre price of milk over the 36-month period (one city recorded a drop) the average rise is 37%. In seven cities a litre of milk costs at least 50% more in December 2010 than what it did in January 2008 – Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Indore, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Patna and Hyderabad.

In conspicuous contrast are the rates of increase in price of cooking media – groundnut oil, mustard oil and vanaspati. Over the January 2008 to December 2010 period the 37 urban centres recorded average price increases of 10%, 9% and 10% respectively for groundnut oil, mustard oil and vanaspati.

Finally, the volatile allium cepa, or common red onion. In 29 cities and towns reporting regularly the per kilo prices of onion, the increase in price of the vegetable has been astonishingly steep. The average increase for 29 cities is 197.5% and in 14 the increase has been 200% and above – New Delhi, Shimla, Ahmedabad, Indore, Mumbai, Rajkot, Agartala, Aizawl, Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Vijaywada. In pale comparison is the otherwise worrying average increase of 39.5% for a kilo of potatoes – this is the 36-month average increase recorded by 27 urban centres.

Oil’s up, oil’s down, it’s France, it’s China

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It’s up. Crude oil rose on speculation that growing French demand for imported fuel because of a strike will reduce stockpiles elsewhere, reported Bloomberg. France is importing “massive” amounts of fuel and tapping reserves to alleviate service-station shortages, Environment and Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said today. The French government last week authorized the use of fuel reserves after Total SA announced it would halt its five active refineries in France and other refiners took measures to reduce output. Workers at the country’s 12 crude-processing plants have extended their labor action since Oct. 12 to protest a plan to raise the minimum retirement age.

It’s up. Crude oil is poised to reach $90 a barrel by the middle of December, according to technical analysis by Lind-Waldock in Chicago. The December contract, which became the front-month contract yesterday, has been trading in an uptrend, a pattern of higher peaks and higher valleys, since touching a low of $75.10 on Sept. 23, Blake Robben, a strategist at Lind-Waldock, a division of MF Global Ltd., said in an interview.

It’s down. Crude oil may decline next week after China’s oil processing grew the least in 18 months as government measures to cool the economy reduced fuel demand, a Bloomberg News survey showed. Fourteen of 30 analysts, or 47 percent, forecast crude oil will fall through Oct. 29. Eleven respondents, or 37 percent, predicted prices will be little changed and five estimated an increase. Last week analysts were split over whether futures would drop or climb. Data from the China Mainland Marketing Research Co. yesterday showed that refineries in the world’s biggest energy- consuming country processed about 8.5 million barrels a day in September. That’s a 6.6 percent gain from a year earlier, the smallest increase since March 2009.

It’s down. Saudi Arabia has rejected claims that the era of cheaply produced oil is over, saying the world’s largest field in the kingdom’s eastern province still holds more than many countries. Many of the largest oilfields in Texas and the North Sea have passed their prime, forcing companies to target more costly prospects such as bitumen deposits in Venezuela, Canadian tar sands and ethanol. But Ali al Naimi, the Saudi Arabian oil minister, pointed to the Ghawar field’s 88 billion barrels of remaining reserves and the kingdom’s large cushion of spare pumping capacity as signs that oil was still abundant. “”I am sorry to disappoint people but the era of easy oil is not over,”” al Naimi said at a conference held in the Saudi capital to celebrate the 50th birthday of OPEC. “”How can you say the era of easy oil is over when we still have 88 billion barrels in the Ghawar field? That is more than many countries in the world. You can dismiss the notion that easy oil in Saudi Arabia is gone.”” The Ghawar field, measuring 280km by 30km, is by far the largest conventional oilfield in the world. Although details of the field’s performance are not made public, it is believed to have produced more than 65 billion barrels already since production began in 1951.

It’s up. Any oil price fall should be seen as an opportunity to buy the contract as the next move in the market is likely to be a rally, JPMorgan Chase & Co. said.“The signal that the next leg higher is imminent will be tighter Dubai forward spreads and a narrower Brent-Dubai spread,” Lawrence Eagles, head of commodity strategy in New York, said in a monthly oil market report. JPMorgan said it expects the dollar to weaken by four to five percent over the next six months, giving oil a boost. A declining dollar increases the appeal of energy as an inflation hedge. The strength in crude is also bolstered by rising demand in several regions, the bank said. A narrowing spread, when Dubai oil rises closer to North Sea Brent, typically shows increasing Asian demand. The Brent-Dubai exchange for swaps, or EFS, for December narrowed 12 cents to $2.40 a barrel today, according to data from PVM Oil Associates. The EFS is the price difference between Brent futures and Dubai swaps contracts and signifies Brent’s premium relative to the Middle East grade. The December-January Dubai spread shrank to minus 36 cents from minus 80 cents on Sept. 27, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “The key risk is that we are being too cautious and that the threat of $100 a barrel oil that is implicit in our fourth- quarter 2011 oil forecast arrives much sooner than we expect, driven by not only a weak dollar, but also by rampant Chinese and emerging market demand, the rebuilding of French strategic stocks, and an upward bias to food prices,” Eagles said in the report.

Written by makanaka

October 25, 2010 at 19:28

Food inflation in Asia and India, and a word about price indexes

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Vendors in Mapusa, Goa

Vendors in Mapusa, Goa. The middle basket contains 'nachne', local millet


The question in Asia again is food inflation. Entering the last quarter of 2010, news reports from South and South-East Asia cite continuing high food inflation as a persistent worry for consumers. The food weighting in Asia’s consumer price indexes is mostly high. China, India, Indonesia and Thailand have CPI weightings of 33%-46% for food.

Hence, persistently higher food prices pose a bigger risk of a rise in inflation expectations and wages in these countries as compared with higher per capita income economies on a relative basis, says the late September Global Economic Forum briefing from Morgan Stanley. “While job growth was affected by the latest global financial crisis, with GDP growth back to trend line and employment levels having recovered sharply, the risk of a rise in inflation expectations is significant. While employment statistics in the region are not very transparent, given the GDP growth trend, it appears that employment growth should have been strong.”

China, India and Indonesia together account for 40% of the global population. Any small increase in demand from these countries in the form of imports tends to push up global prices. The recent crop failure in India and its attempt to import sugar are a case in point. Moreover, there are some crops that are peculiar to local markets with very little global supply. For instance, in the case of India last year, the country fell short of pulses (lentils), and it was not really possible to import the crop even if the government had wanted to. Indeed, the top four (in terms of population) countries in the region (China, India, Indonesia and Thailand) are all net exporters of food items. All four countries tend to maintain inventories for staple items like rice and wheat, and have public distribution systems to ensure availability of these essential items at a reasonable price. Most countries in the region subsidise food for the poor.

Against this background, two recent speeches from senior figures in India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, are worth examining closely. First, in ‘Managing the Growth-Inflation Balance in India: Current Considerations and Long-term Perspectives’ the deputy governor of the RBI Dr Subir Gokarn talks directly about food inflation (he gave the speech on 05 October 2010 at The Private Equity International India Forum).

“The inflation rate, which was briefly negative in the middle of 2009, began to accelerate rapidly later in the year. This upward momentum continued into the first half of 2010, with double-digit inflation persisting for a few months. The rapidity of the transition was surprising, given the fact that the recovery in growth was just getting under way and, importantly, the global situation was still very uncertain. However, the reason for the sharp increase was that all the possible drivers of inflation were simultaneously contributing. Each one by itself may not have resulted in the outcome that we saw, but all three working together resulted in a rather sharp acceleration. Food prices rose sharply because the monsoon of 2009 was deficient in most parts of the country, impacting agricultural production. However, there are, I believe, longer term forces at work on food prices, which are a matter of concern.”


UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 / UNICEF Photo

UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 / UNICEF Photo


Next, in a speech titled ‘Perspectives on Inflation in India’, executive director of the RBI, Deepak Mohanty (on 28 September 2010 at the Bankers Club, Chennai) said that the Reserve Bank is concerned over “the unacceptably high inflation rate”. Mohanty dwelt awhile on the Indian government’s new wholesale price index series.

“In the meanwhile, the Government has also released the new series on the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) changing the base year from 1993-94 to 2004-05. In terms of change in the relative weight of major commodity groups, the share of primary articles has gone down by 1.9 percentage points, which has been compensated by increase in the share of fuel group by about 0.7 percentage point and manufactured products by 1.2 percentage points. There has been a reduction in weightage of primary food articles and manufactured food products by 2.6 percentage points in the new series to 24.3 per cent from about 26.9 per cent in the old series.”

“Second, notwithstanding a significant reduction in weightage, the food inflation in the new series is higher than in the old series. This is because of change in the consumption basket in favour of protein-rich items such as egg, meat and fish where price rise has been high apart from milk and pulses. Third, the non-food manufactured products inflation is lower in the new series than in the old series. This is because of a substantial overhauling of the basket with the introduction of a number of new items. For example, the new series has 417 new commodities of which 406 are new manufactured products. Fourth, the new series has wider coverage. For example, the number of price quotations has increased from 1,918 in the old series to 5,482 in the new series. The new series, therefore, is better representative of overall commodity price inflation.”

What is curious is that these trends have taken place during a phase of rapid growth in India’s formal economy. Gokarn explained that what was most significant from the monetary policy perspective was the growing visibility of demand-side pressures. He examined the price dynamics of the manufacturing sector – overall and without the food processing component. The latter, he said, has been used by many analysts as a reasonable proxy of demand-side inflation, which is the phenomenon that monetary policy can and should influence. Both sectors he said, and particularly non-food manufacturing inflation, “show a tremendous acceleration from a significantly negative rate of inflation during 2009 to reach rather worrisome levels by the middle of 2010”.

Mohanty finds that the new series of WPI inflation marks a major change in terms of scope and coverage of commodities and is more representative of the underlying economic structure. As per the new series, the manufactured products inflation is lower than what was seen on the basis of the old series, he said. The food price inflation, on the other hand, is higher than what was seen on the basis of the old series. “The high level of food prices is The 100th postindeed a matter of concern as the prices of protein-based items, which have a higher share in the consumption basket, are showing larger increases”. Moreover, Mohanty said, there is continuing shortage of food items such as pulses and edible oils. “If the supply response doesn’t improve, there is a risk that food price inflation could acquire a structural character”.

In an extraordinary meeting, FAO sizes up the turmoil in world cereal markets

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The FAO’s Committee on Commodity Problems has just concluded its Extraordinary Joint Intersessional Meeting of the Intergovernmental Group on Grains and the Intergovernmental Group on Rice (held in Rome, 24 September 2010). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN does not, it appears, want to cause any alarm bells to be rung in countries already worried by food inflation, and that is why its overall advise is at odds with the details highlighted during the day-long consultations.

Here are the main points of an advisory titled ‘Turmoil in Global Cereal Markets: Outlook for 2010-11, Short-Term Risks & Uncertainties’:

La Nina (colder-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean) often results in drier periods in Argentina and southern Brazil but wetter weather in Asia. It may strengthen through January
Any downgrading of wheat crops in southern hemisphere countries before harvest this year- Western Australia not so good
The final maize harvest in the USA (and China) – production may end up lower
Adverse growing conditions affecting secondary rice crops in Asia and main crops in southern hemisphere
Drought in Russia and delayed winter grain sowing (down 20%) – but some rains have arrived
Crop damage in Pakistan: implications for next season
Faster/slower economic recovery influencing demand prospects for feed and fuel: tightening maize supplies in the US if demand for ethanol rise faster than predicted
Larger than currently expected import purchases, maize by China for example
Trade measures, in particular further exports restrictions
Developments in outside markets such as currency (US Dollar), equity, energy and other commodity markets

UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 / UNICEF Photo

UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 / UNICEF Photo

The rhetorical question is asked – “Are we ready?” – and the points supplied are: (1) We are not in a food crisis and grain prices may even come down a bit, (2) But all indications point to still high prices and volatile markets with many uncertainties lying ahead, (3) Food security under growing market instability and price volatility: Are we ready?

The extraordinary joint meeting briefly explained what it meant by “Increased volatility & speculation” with the following points: Markets liberalisation, decline of price supports; Deregulation of the financial service sectorl Declining margins in securities tradingl Rising demand for food in emerging marketsl Under-investment in agriculture; Lack of price transmission to producers; Sudden governmental interventions in export marketl Ease of access to electronic market place; Exchanges restructured today as for-profit corporations.

The dangers, current and expected, are set out in the briefing paper on ‘Agricultural Futures: Strengthening market signals for global price discovery’. This said:

Volatility in commodity foodstuffs is a result of both fundamental factors and speculative inflows of managed money. Sharply differing opinions exist on how institutional money flows have changed the nature of the markets, particularly since the expansion of limits. While financial firms argue that they add volume and liquidity to the market, others maintain that large order size creates volatility and jagged price swings. In the August 2010 price hike of wheat, the CME wheat price moved up limit and down limit within two consecutive days. High frequency trading is also a controversial issue – one that a CFTC editorial recently stated needed “reining in,” commenting that “parasitical trading does not truly contribute to fundamental market functions.”

Global undernourishment (image: Nature)Much debated also is the effect of passive fund money (index funds and swaps dealers), with experts on both sides arguing whether they have caused chronic price elevation and steep contango in some futures contracts. In its 2009 Trade and Development Report, UNCTAD contends that the massive inflow of fund money has caused commodity futures markets to fail the “efficient market” hypothesis, since the purchase and sale of commodity futures by swap dealers and index funds is entirely unrelated to market supply and demand fundamentals, but depends rather on the funds’ ability to attract subscribers. Despite the risk transfer nature of futures trading, in which gains and losses are equally offset, passive funds have successfully packaged and sold futures contracts as an alternative investment class to institutional investors. However, most would agree that these passive funds do not affect volatility levels since their only trading activity is a forward “roll” of their positions and the timings of these rolls are announced in their prospectus.

This is worrying because the FAO is now being a great deal clearer about the same problem it tried to describe in 2007-08,

Finally, Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right To Food, has released a briefing paper entitled ‘Food Commodities Speculation and Food Price Crises: Regulation to reduce the risks of price volatility’. His recommendations:

1. Given the numerous linkages between agriculture, oil, and other financial markets demonstrated above, comprehensive reform of all derivatives trading is necessary. The very first step would be to require registration, as well as clearing to the maximum extent possible of OTC derivatives, so that there is real time reporting of all transactions made, without information privileges for OTC traders, and in order to allow for effective supervision. The small minority of derivatives that cannot be cleared must nevertheless be reported without a time lag.

Islamabad Water Carrier

Islamabad Water Carrier: World Water Day was just another Monday for Nasir Ali, who was photographed on March 22 hauling water to his home in an Islamabad slum. Water shortages have become common for many people in the capital who must gather their daily water from government tankers or private trucks—when the precious resource is available at all. The nation’s acute rainfall shortage has also cut water supplies at hydroelectric dams, exacerbating disruptive power shortages and forcing officials to implement some rather dramatic solutions. Photograph by Aamir Qureshi, AFP/Getty Images

2. Regulatory bodies should carefully study and acquire expertise in commodity markets, instead of regulating commodity derivatives and financial derivatives as if they were the same class of assets. It may be appropriate to assign the task of regulating commodity derivatives to a specific institution staffed with experts in commodity regulation, rather than have a single body regulating both financial and commodity derivatives.

3. Access to commodities futures markets should be restricted as far as possible to qualified and knowledgeable investors and traders who are genuinely concerned about the underlying agricultural commodities. A significant contributory cause of the price spike was speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds because other financial markets had dried up, or in order to hedge speculative bets made on those markets.

4. Spot markets should be strengthened in order to reduce the uncertainty about future prices that creates the need for speculation. However, these markets must also be regulated in order to prevent hoarding. Spot markets must be transparent, and holdings should be subject to strict limits in order to prevent market manipulation.

5. Physical grain reserves should be established for the purpose of countering extreme fluctuations in food price, managing risk in agricultural derivatives contracts, and discouraging excess speculation, as well as meeting emergency needs. Such measures and the abovementioned reform of commodity derivatives markets should be seen as complementary.