Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘emerging market

Finally some good news from the IMF

leave a comment »

The Dalai Lama at the IMF? Not at all, but we think he would like the IMF's new de-growth manifesto and would be delighted if all macro-economists turned vegetarian. Photo: Courtesy the official website of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

The Dalai Lama at the IMF? Not at all, but we think he would like the IMF’s new de-growth manifesto and would be delighted if all macro-economists turned vegetarian. Photo: Courtesy the official website of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet <http://www.dalailama.com/&gt;

The first signs of the long-awaited change in thinking at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can now be seen in the World Economic Outlook report. This routine blatherfest, which is issued by the IMF’s slick-but-barmy public relations department, is unremarkable on every occasion and the only reason you’d want to punish yourself by plodding through the 500-odd pages of this ode to deforestation is to admire the very latest chic for presenting boring graphs and charts. But this time, it’s as if a Buddhist rinpoche has edited the manuscript.

What’s changed and why? For the year 2013 the IMF has said that ‘global output’ (output of what, you may well ask, but do hold your horses) to expand 2.9% instead of the 3.1% it had, in an unsporting manner, forecast this July. Between that monsoon month and this one some heads must’ve rolled at the IMF (many more to follow suit I hope) because now the IMF has taken a firm long stride towards its manifest destiny: bringing about the no-growth economy.

However, some die-hard lumpens are still doing their best to rally growth insurrectionists to their tattered flag. They are still making announcements like “our analysis attributes the slowdown in part to cyclical forces, including softer external demand and in part to structural bottlenecks” and are wondering why “this has happened in spite of supportive domestic macroeconomic policies, (still) favorable terms of trade, and easy financing conditions, which only began to tighten recently” but confess to being bemused by “a non-trivial portion of the slowdown remains unexplained, suggesting that other factors common to emerging markets are at play”.

Not to worry, these radical elements will soon be overwhelmed, rounded up, their iPads and Nasdaq terminals will be confiscated and they will be issued the standard entry level rations of organically grown tulsi tea, second-hand kolhapuri sandals (‘chappals‘ to the initiated) and Indian khadi kurtas.

All you ever wanted to know about excel charts but were afraid to ask. I have suggested to our IMF comrades that they rename the 'current slowdown' bubble 'the fish'n'chips crisis'.

All you ever wanted to know about excel charts but were afraid to ask. I have suggested to our IMF comrades that they rename the ‘current slowdown’ bubble ‘the fish’n’chips crisis’.

Nonetheless, I will be the first to admit that their ideologues present quite a different challenge. You can see for yourself how difficult it is going to be to dislodge some of the rebel ideologues from an IMF that has already, in rank and file, enthusiastically redefined odious growth to in fact mean none at all. This soporific video will help you judge. I couldn’t get beyond 00:07 of the footage before falling over with acute narcosis, but perhaps you are made of sterner stuff.

Likewise, one of the leading rebel subcomandantes is broadcasting a steady tattoo of counter-revolutionary propaganda. She has been recorded as saying “changing global growth constellations have exacerbated risks in emerging market economies” and that “monetary policy accommodation combined with domestic vulnerabilities in emerging market economies may lead to further market adjustment globally” and even threatening “risks of asset price overshooting or even balance of payments disruptions”.

It is only a matter of time before this resistance is overcome. Meanwhile, I would be remiss in my duties as a degrowth advocate along the inspiring lines now redrawn by IMF if I did not remind these recalcitrants that Chairman Mao had said “A revolution is not a dinner partyy” or that Muammar Gaddafi had written (the Green Book, naturally) that “Mandatory education is a coercive education that suppresses freedom. To impose specific teaching materials is a dictatorial act” and that General Vo Nguyen Giap had when confronting the enemy firmly said “Their morale is lower than the grass”.

Finally, intelligence reports just in have confirmed that the conclusion of the IMF’s revolutionary new no-growth tract, which reads “a new round of structural reforms is a must for many emerging market economies, including investment in infrastructure, to reignite potential growth” is in fact a printer’s devil.

Advertisements

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

leave a comment »

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.

BRICS, agricultural commodities, G20 and experiments with truth

with one comment

There’s a flurry of activity around the start of the G20 and the IMF-World Bank meetings. Some of this activity has to do with food and agriculture, and with the agricultural commodity markets and its ties to the financial markets. While the G20 has a lot to do with the growing strength of the BRICS bloc and the IMF, what stands out is a trenchant and insightful commentary by Unctad’s Trade and Development Report 2011 on the matter of agricultural commodities and the markets (exchanges rather) which control them.

Financial investment in commodities as a proportion of global oil production, 2001–2010. Chart: Unctad Trade and Development Report 2011

It has attracted the attention of Emerging Markets, a periodical (online too) which talked about food price and agricultural commodities markets with Joerg Mayer, senior economic affairs Officer at Unctad. Emerging Markets has quoted Mayer as having said that the risk management strategies promoted by the World Bank “only make sense if you assume that exchanges are working well for hedging purposes – and our research shows that, when large numbers of financial investors are present, they don’t work well“. Hear, hear.

Mayer said that the World Bank’s approach would also be logical “if you assume that financial investors have no impact on prices, or that their presence improves [pricing]”. Of course to make such an assumption is to agree with an untruth, for Unctad’s Trade and Development Report 2011 has said quite plainly that strong investment across agricultural commodities markets mean that they have “followed more the logic of financial markets than that of a typical goods market”.

The chapter ‘Financialized Commodity Markets: Recent Developments and Policy Issues’ from the report is worth reading closely and in full. Here is an indicative paragraph:

“The commodity price boom between 2002 and mid-2008 and the renewed price rise of many commodities since mid-2009 have coincided with major shifts in commodity market fundamentals. These shifts include rapid output growth and structural changes, both economic and social, in emerging-market economies, the increasing use of certain food crops in the production of biofuels and slower growth in the supply of agricultural commodities. However, these factors alone are insufficient to explain recent commodity price developments. Since commodity prices have moved largely in tandem across all major categories over the past decade, the question arises as to whether the very functioning of commodity markets has changed.”

Prices and net long financial positions, by trader category, selected commodities, June 2006–June 2011 (CIT = commodity index traders; PMPU = producers, merchants, processors, users). Chart: Unctad Trade and Development Report 2011

Unctad’s research on the subject has shown that investors are motivated by “factors totally unrelated to commodity market fundamentals”. This is as bald an assessment of the behaviour of investors as you can hope to see from an inter-governmental organisation (the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are incapable of stating truths like this one).

“Against this background, the French Presidency of the G-20 has made the issue of commodity price volatility a priority of the G-20 agenda for 2011, since excessive fluctuations in commodity prices undermine world growth and threaten the food security of populations around the world (G20-G8, 2011). These fluctuations are seen as being related to the functioning of financial markets and the regulation of commodity derivatives markets.”

Unctad’s Trade and Development Report 2011 has argued for tighter regulation of financial investors, including limits on the positions taken by individual market participants; a rule to prevent banks that have insider information about commercially based market sentiment undertaking hedging operations for clients; a similar rule to prevent physical traders betting on outcomes they are able to influence; and a transaction tax or a requirement to hold positions for a minimum amount of time.

Instead, the World Bank’s analysts have generally argued that price volatility is driven by fundamentals, such as input costs, which other economists have failed to include in their calculations. This is an argument that cannot stand up to the merest suggestion of an examination of the cost of cultivation for, while inputs do cost more from one year to another in high-input farming (in Asia and Africa and South America, even with smallholders who are held to ransom by industrial agriculture companies) these are not the “fundamentals” the Bank-IMF crowd insist are responsible. The trouble is, they won’t admit to any others. Worse, they have enfleshed this delusionary tack with the help of their old collaborators, such as JP Morgan, which now has a hedging business that works on agricultural commodities markets and this year joined the World Bank/International Finance Corporation to launch an Agricultural Price Risk Management Facility, “designed to fund small players to hedge more effectively” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, etc).

Correlation between commodity and equity indexes, 1986–2011 (The data reflect one-year rolling correlations of returns on the respective indexes on a daily basis). Chart: Unctad Trade and Development Report 2011

Said the chapter ‘Financialized Commodity Markets: Recent Developments and Policy Issues’ from the Trade and Development Report, 2011:

“Indeed, a major new element in commodity markets over the past few years is the greater presence of financial investors, who consider commodity futures as an alternative to financial assets in their portfolio management decisions. While these market participants have no interest in the physical commodity, and do not trade on the basis of fundamental supply and demand relationships, they may hold – individually or as a group – very large positions in commodity markets, and can thereby exert considerable influence on the functioning of those markets. This financialization of commodity markets has accelerated significantly since about 2002–2004, as reflected in the rising volumes of financial investments in commodity derivatives markets – both at exchanges and over the counter (OTC).”

We think the G20 participants (finance ministers, central bank administrators and similarly high-powered persons) ought to have mentioned the matter. Instead, this is what they said.

“The BRICS countries, represent quite a big share of the global economy. In today’s crisis period, internal demand of each economy is important, and we should find a way to enlarge internal demand in our economy.” – China Central Bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan. “We represent a group of countries where there is (an) enormous amount of demand for resources at home for poverty reduction … so there is going to be big, big tension between giving money to a multilateral institution for the purpose of restoring global stability and meeting our own aspirations at home.” – Reserve Bank of India governor Duvvuri Subbarao.

“Enlarge internal demand” and “enormous amount of demand for resources at home”? Isn’t that exactly the sort of prognosis the World Bank, IMF and IFC will happily enlist as fundamentals of food prince index drivers? As for the rest of us, it’s back to promoting and practicing ecological economics.