Speculation in agricultural commodities may not have reached fever pitch yet but with food shortages expected in 2010, it could.
Jim Rogers, one of the world’s most astute investors has been bullish on commodities in general for several years. On agricultural (or soft) commodities, he says: ‘Food inventories worldwide are at the lowest in decades as the world continues to consume more than it produces. We even have a shortage of farmers now since agriculture has been such a terrible business for three decades. We should all hope prices go higher or there may soon be a time when there will be little or no food at any price.’
Mr Rogers, who created his own commodities indices, has put his name to several index funds. The Elements Jim Rogers International Commodity Index Agriculture Total Return which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange has, for instance, risen by about 6 per cent since the start of 2009.
Interest in soft commodities has had an impact on prices.
‘Whenever there are buyers of anything, it affects the prices. For example, if you live in an apartment or house, you are affecting the price of housing in Singapore,’ adds Mr Rogers.
There are several ways to invest in soft commodities including the futures contracts on commodities exchanges like the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT).
The index funds alluded to by the FAO include the more rarefied market of exchange traded funds (ETFs) that typically attract institutional investors.
There are more prosaic ways as well.
In China, the bubble people are talking about now is not in real estate but in garlic.
Worries about persistent swine flu prompted a spike in garlic consumption in 2009 and soon, everyone was hoarding it in hopes of making a quick buck. Prices are said to have gone up by 50 per cent in the last few months.
Rice could be next. Barclays Capital Research economist Leong Wai Ho says: ‘The bigger problem for food prices is an old one – physical hoarding that can limit physical availability, unlike derivative trading.
‘Rice prices are now at levels that are likely to induce physical hoarding in Vietnam and Thailand. And also in stricken countries – authorities in Southern Guangdong have introduced anti-hoarding measures in the wake of the ongoing drought.’
And Mr Leong also believes the significance of food prices may not have been factored into inflation either.
For 2010, the Singapore government’s inflation forecast has been revised from 1-2 per cent to 2.5-3.5 per cent. Citing rising Thai fragrant rice prices, the prospect of El Nino weather conditions, higher import demand from Asian countries, Barclays’ 2010 inflation forecast for Singapore is higher at 4 per cent, up from 1.5 per cent previously.
Still, the verdict is out on how this will impact the economic recovery.
‘I don’t think there will be a meaningful impact on growth,’ says Mr Leong. ‘While the monetary policy stance will be tightened from where it was before, the overall policy stance will still be largely accommodative in 2010. The exchange rate will be used to lean into imported inflation, while liquidity will still remain flush and fiscal policy still expansionary,’ he added.
Economists will nevertheless be ‘keeping an eye’ on food prices.
What a great move for the Labor govts in Oz to grant mining rights to the barbarians at BHP and the other Neanderthal low-IQ Big Miners over the most fertile arable land in both NSW and Qld, just at the time when sugar prices are at historic highs and every astute investor is screaming that farmland is a buy. If we had any brains we’d be hoarding our minerals until prices spiked in a decade, and we’d be focusing on innovation in solar power and recycling technologies instead of digging dirty ditches and selling our precious metals for worthless paper.
But no, let’s sell everything we’ve got RIGHT NOW! What forethought, what genius, what planning, what brilliance! Well done, Rudd, well done Bligh, well done what’s-her-name-puppet-of-the-Labor-Right-in-NSW!
This proves conclusively to me that (1) there is no God and (2) the NSW and Cth govts are infested with the dumbest people on this God-forsaken planet.
Why does everyone (including my wife) think I’m mad? It must be the flouride in the water supply poisoning their brains.
There’s gonna be a bull market in canned food and farmland and guns and oil. For the rest of your natural life.
It’s mildly reassuring when another analyst is suicidal about the future. It reassures me that I am not totally alone.
I disagree with Faber on two points however.
First, it’s unlikely we will see hyperinflation and the “pure” monetisation of the trillions in US debt. No hyperinflationist thinks through the precise mechanism of monetisation. To increase the budget deficit by even more, the US govt will have to increase its own debt levels. Bonds yields will likely spike at some point. Then the Fed will try to buy the bonds to keep prices up (yields low). This will allow relatively limited leakage of money to the US govt’s friends, but in no way plug the hole left by the collapse in the housing bubble. Not only will govt spending not replace the hole left by Peak Credit, govt spending further distorts the economy, resulting in more failed private businesses the further away you get from the US govt’s largesse.
You’ll end up with millions of debt-slaves sycophantically praying to the bankers and the Fed govt, running around doing the bidding of their Masters, and economic chaos and widespread starvation beyond the tiny green gated communities of bankers and govt employees.
Kabul is a good future model for the major Western economies (especially the US): There are some massive luxury (tasteless!) villas going up in Kabul. I’ve seen them. They are the houses for the govt ministers and associated hangers-on from the opium trade. Nearby are the hotels the UN employees frequent. Beyond these few blocks, hundreds beg for food from aid agencies and there’s complete chaos. But within these tiny communities connected close to the corrupt govt, the opulence is incredible. Govt banquets are frequent, whilst literally right outside the banquet halls, local Afghanis are starving.
That is our future. Kabul is our future.
And remember – Kabul is a city now created by the US. It is what the US govt “wanted” to create (or at least what it did create after taking over).
So that’s the best the US and UK govts can do today when “creating” a city. That’s the proof regarding what they are capable of. Sad, but true.
So that’s what they will continue to produce at home.
“Kabul” does not spell hyperinflation to me. It spells stag-deflation with a possible sudden depreciation of the US dollar at some point – but not hyperinflation. So I still think US govt bonds and gold are a better bet than US stocks if I was forced to choose. Of course, long-term, farmland, security services, and govt jobs will all be highly sort after. But I wouldn’t be buying canned food just yet. You don’t want it to go out-of-date before you need to eat it.
Second, there will be war, but it won’t be to distract people from their debt problems. It will be over the rapidly diminishing supply of food and water and oil. The malinvestments caused by the decade-long low-density housing boom in the West have actually caused massive environmental destruction as well as financial chaos. Literally millions of acres of fertile arable land across the US and Australia and other countries has been re-zoned and “redeveloped” (destroyed) for what is euphemistically termed a “more intensive use” (i.e. “for speculative property development”) – just at the time when unprecedented climate change has destroyed many “food basins” around the world (Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, China, Europe and the US have all experienced tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes or drought in their vital farming areas).
CCD is also a massive threat to our food supply. It is still a problem that no media organisation wants to talk about. The cause is unknown (I suspect GM crops, but who knows?).
No one seems to have connected up the housing boom and bust with massive unprecedented and irreversible environmental destruction.
But they will. Eventually.
Finally! A few mainstream media outlets are writing about this stuff.
More interest, more research, more scientists, more money to agriculture, (and hopefully birth control for the Third World), less of a pelican problem in a few decades’ time.
Consider any unsustainable growth pattern. Consider for example the growth pattern of a locust plague.
Initially, there’s lot of acres of farmland and a few fast-breeding locusts. Then the locusts multiply. And multiply. Their food source slowly dwindles, but at this stage they don’t notice. It’s all blue sky. Then a point occurs – the intersection between rising population and diminishing food supply. The crossing point of the “X”.
The locusts don’t notice they have just crossed into unsustainable territory – their population exceeds the carrying capacity of the remaining food source. The population continues to grow exponentially. Until, suddenly, just at the point of MAXIMUM population, there is a CRISIS – EXHAUSTION of the food supply!
What do the locusts do then? They are forced to eat themselves.
In the weeks leading up the massacre, can you imagine the likely “locust government reports” from the elite locusts, communicated out to the population: “Population growth soars! Production and consumption at record levels! Economy has never been bigger! Risk appetite for more food has never been better! It’s all blue sky when we extrapolate from our models! Everyone should keep consuming, paying their taxes in excess bushels of wheat to us without complaint! Get to work everyone!”
It works. Until it doesn’t.
I saw a documentary some months ago regarding the once-in-a-generation rains that fell in central Australia a few years ago. These rains created inland waterways and rivers and lakes, which then produced freshwater fish in abundance. For two seasons, the pelican population exploded. Then the water started drying up. For another season, the pelicans continued to breed.
Then the fish population dried up and died. And the camera panned across the breeding grounds of the pelicans. The scene was shocking. Half-dead maturing baby pelicans, still in their nests, slowly dying of starvation. Hundreds and hundreds of them. They were stuck – they couldn’t fly off to the coast, and yet their food supply had dried up. Overpopulation, just at the time when the waters were dwindling at their fastest rate, resulted in a mass wipe out of the inland pelican population. The sad, confused look on the faces of the pelicans about to die still stays with me. It was though they were asking “What the Hell is going on? Last season was fine! What’s happened?”
Many scientists have come to the conclusion that 6.8 billion people, with the increased consumption patterns that many in the developing world are following, is ALREADY exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet. Only 10% of our land mass is arable land. Much of that arable land is being destroyed by dry land salinity, desertification, residential and industrial re-zoning/re-development and over-farming.
I’ve done my own back-of-the-envelope calculations.
We are not even close to making it through this “X” without massive de-population. Who is going to be voted off the island? How?
If we just leave it, we’ll be like the Pelicans – a final sudden catastrophe will engulf us within a very short time-frame. Water, food… all essentials will be at risk. We will be “cornered” - too many young mouths to feed, with too few depleted, exhausted, overused resources. It will be too late.
And yet, no action is being taken to control exponential population growth.
Some consider that this will take care of itself. The developing world will slow its rate of fertility. Humans will adapt. New forms of farming technology will allow us to extract even more from even less land.
I’m not so sure. Peak oil may have already arrived. Oil has been our saviour, massively increasing our output capacity both industrially and in terms of agriculture. Once oil becomes more expensive, I see a huge bottleneck, where we need to move away from oil, and yet have not developed alternative systems of fertilization or transport. Local farming in many areas has already been destroyed by low-density housing and crazy zoning decisions by local councils needing a quick buck.
Are we going to be like the locusts? Like the pelicans? Cornered by the curse of the “X”?
Can we keep cheating Malthus?
“We are going to have to produce as much food in the next 50 years as was produced over the past 5,000 years. Nothing less will do.”
Sad that our government has sent a huge contingent to the “non-event” regarding climate change and not one word has been “wasted” by the government on dry land salinity or pesticide use or GM crop use or oil dependent intensive farming or a dozen other topics regarding our long term food security, but then what do you expect from our dim-bulb government?
It’s troubling that overseas hedge funds are buying cattle stations in Oz (according to today’s AFR) and the government doesn’t care. I would have thought food security would be part of the national interest test.
and the NSW govt is going to provide yet more funding for farmers in marginal areas that shouldn’t be farmed.
The number of problems here, compounded by govt, is truly mind-boggling.
The NSW govt – already neck high in debt – will be bailing out one group at the expense of others (me!).
Farmers on marginal land should get the Hell off the land and leave it fallow for a few years to recover and regenerate as natural reserve land. If govt bails them out, guess what – further environmental degradation will occur once the rains (briefly) come down again and they overfarm (yet again).
This is not like an earthquake. The farmers bought marginal farmland knowing it was marginal. Rainfall maps are now available to any buyer of farmland. No one can say they didn’t know drought was a risk.
This bailout creates moral hazard, with farmers buying marginal farmland knowing they will get govt bailouts if they overfarm and fall into drought.
Why are farmers trying to farm in drought-stricken areas? Because more fertile land in higher rainfall areas (Hornsby, Penrith, Dural) has been taken over (destroyed) by residential construction. Why? Because local govts and the NSW govt re-zoned the land from farmland to residential or commercial or industrial years ago. Why did they do that? Because they needed the money and residential development provides huge windfall profits. Why does re-zoning provide huge profits to developers and councils? Because banks lend huge amounts of money for houses. Why do they do that? Because fractional reserve banking creates huge distortions in the market, mispricing housing and underpricing farmland. Why do we have fractional reserve banking? Because banks and govts could not be as large and powerful as they are without embezzling FRB. Why do bankers and govts want to be large and powerful, if they know doing so results in such incredible destruction? Ask Freud.
Residential land gobbles up fertile arable farmland in the most productive areas of Australia, and farmers are marginalised, far from urban areas, in the most marginal farming lands of this great land.
This is insane.
This is govt and banking at work.
If oil was not available for transport and fertilizer, we’d need to survive sustainably off local land, local vegetation, local sea life.
An extended family of 10 hunter gatherers would require around 20 square kms of fertile land to live – perhaps more given they would move through a wider area seasonally, following the migration patterns of their food source. An equivalent family of farmers (without fertilizer or oil) probably 5 square kms. An equivalent fishing-based family, probably 5 square kms of fishing area (depending of course on the location).
The world’s human population far exceeds the arable land and near-land sea space that can sustainably, without oil, support human life.
Oil is a non-renewable, limited resource. Peak Oil has already arrived, according to some analysts.
Something is gonna break. 6.79 billion people (growing exponentially!) does not sustainably fit within 10% of our land mass.
Which 4 billion will be “voted off the island”? How?
Malthus wasn’t wrong. Just early.
In Oz, he’s a lunatic, rejected, ridiculed, treated as insane, told to shut up.
But at least by one respected overseas commentator who accurately predicted the GFC, he’s treated as someone who is out of the mainstream but whose views are very plausible.
and some are making the very reasonable prediction that the food supply will collapse with monetary collapse.
Reviewers in the US are labelling the film Collapse as extremist, nightmarish, apocalyptic…
But no one has analysed and critiqued the facts of a rising urban population, a squeeze on arable land, a spike in oil, a collapse in bee production and pollination, a collapse in the division of labour, a systemic crisis in the financial markets (which very nearly did happen in Sept 2008) or many other allegations that serious scientists and analysts are making.
Is everyone who follows conclusions logically from their facts extremist for following the facts to their logical conclusion? Just because we haven’t seen collapse in our lifetimes doesn’t mean it can’t happen. China, Japan, indigenous peoples around the world, the Mayans, the American Indians, the Romans, the Egyptians… all these civilizations have experienced (or are experiencing) catastrophic environmental and social collapse.
The question is not “How could this happen?”, rather “How can it not?”
I’ve been screaming for years about the upcoming food crisis and the “silent” crisis of dry land salinity, of a “phosphate depletion” crisis, of the destruction of arable land from commercial farming.
No one listens.
When will this catch on?
And why the Hell are blind corrupt govt bureaucrats screaming about a non-issue like global warming when this very real crisis is staring us in the face?
Ft.com today is full of stories I was dealing with over a month ago.
You saw it here first, if you were one of the Chosen Few who read this blog regularly.
Half of all food in the US is wasted, with most ending up in landfill.
This is clearly not sustainable. The amount of wasted nutrients that are not being recycled back into farmland and back into the food chain is frightening. The Native Americans must be turning in their unmarked graves over the inefficiency, the waste, the loss of natural habitat, the sheer madness of the whole system.
Only Michael Rowbotham would empathise with them.
Why are we worried about climate change when these OBVIOUS environmental problems are staring us in the face?
Because we have madmen in govt and in the banking system playing childish games. When the game is up, somehow I don’t think these idiots will be the ones to save us. They’ll be the ones running with the food under their arms, screaming “Let’s get away from the suckers.”
Collapsing arable land = need for higher and higher food productivity = eventual catastrophic collapse in food production through excessive depletion of phosphate and water. Simple
Ever painted yourself into a corner? Well, the system of fractional reserve banking induces supernormal profits for residential housing, which in turn distorts the economy towards debt-induced housing production and against farming and agriculture (which cannot “live” sustainably in a debt-based monetary system because the returns on farming cannot compensation for the higher uses the land can be developed into via re-zoning).
We’ve only been able to feed ourselves through more and more intensive use of less and less arable land. At some point that’s going to be unsustainable. We know the world’s human population could not live on 1,000 megalitres of water a year, feeding 1000 hectares of arable land. But what is the limit? And are we reaching that limit?
With exponential growth in human population, depletion of natural habitat, exhaustion of soil and river systems, the reliance on oil for food production (at a time of peak oil production) and an aging population I can see this is not going to work out well.
We will need a miracle for it to work out well. And that already happened with the green revolution increasing farming productivity in the 1960s and 1970s. That trick ain’t gonna happen again – and may have painted ourselves into a smaller corner by allowing more arable land to be gobbled up for residential development on urban fringes when this land would have been ideal for agricultural production when peak oil hits (meaning long-distance transport of food no longer becomes feasible).
To think the likes of Monsanto are going to get us out of this whole is madness. GM foods are more likely to destroy agriculture in the long-term, not save it.
Again, the insane depletion of the world’s tuna stocks - right under the world’s collective noses, with modern, sophisticated governments apparently powerless to stop it – is the “model” for all food crises in the future.
Lots of words, lots of plans, no action, the robbing of future generations’ food supply to pay down today’s debts, with two-faced politicians deploring the desperate environmental situation on the one hand, whilst trying to give their own fishermen every hidden advantage on the other.
To think this is going to work out well is madness.
Malthus was not wrong. He was just early.
I keep screaming about this. But no one wants to listen.
This is just one aspect of a collapsing food supply around the world.
A point will come when the environmental damage from bank-credit-sourced over-consumption and unsustainable large-scale industrial agriculture will become so bad that whole categories of food source will collapse within months.
Tuna fish are probably next. Then other fish. Then bee-pollinated fruits and legumes. Then meat (from high feedstock prices caused by a massive spike in oil prices and competition from humans for feedstock). Then even wheat and sugar due to GM stuff ups, disease and poor farming practices.
It won’t be the price that adjusts. It will be a catastrophic collapse in volume.
Overfishing in the late 20th century throughout the world is the model that will apply across the human food chain in the next 20 years. Everyone knows overfishing is insane and suicidal, but the most sophisticated, advanced societies in the world (EU, US, Aust, SE Asia) can’t seem to stop it. Fish stocks are collapsing. Whole categories of fish have been wiped out in European waters. It’s madness. And yet it’s happening before our very eyes. We can’t seem to help ourselves. The fishermen are in massive debt, they have to drag resources out of the sea to live themselves, the bankers won’t cancel the debts. We all end up with no fish due to the indebtedness of the fishing industry and lack of real savings in society. Caused by….caused by….caused by? The debt-based monetary system we all suffer under!
If you think governments and bankers can handle other areas of the food chain better than this, then you’re crazier than I am – and that’s saying something!
Banks and governments are pushing us literally towards extinction. It’s tragic – but so obvious and so stupid and so unnecessary, it’s almost funny to watch.