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Meanwhile, whilst Labor govts in Oz are killing farmers in NSW…

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Jim Rogers is screaming that soft commodities are the Buy of the Century and that arable land will be as precious as gold in coming decades.

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.

The imminent global food crisis

December 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Please remember when you read articles like this, that you heard about this first here, and on WP about three years ago.

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.

Gold wins gold: Best asset to hold this decade

December 26, 2009 1 comment

One picture truly can tell a thousand words:

Marc Faber reassures me that we are doomed

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

Baiji “fundamentals”

December 17, 2009 1 comment

This is going to be an even “crazier” post than usual, so please keep up with me and just go with the flow for a little while and hopefully things will make sense at the end.

Assume you’re a fan of freshwater dolphin meat.  I know you’re not, but just go with me here.  Assume you’re also an investor.

The “fundamentals” regarding freshwater dolphins from an “investor” perspective are very good.  The baiji on the Yangtze are dying due to their food source (fish) being massively overfished and appalling pollution problems contaminating the Yangtze from China’s industrialisation.  Some have declared that the baiji are “functionally extinct.”

As an investor, it would be wise to try to “invest” in baiji, wouldn’t it?  Supply down, demand either steady or up (on anticipation of limited supply).  Price should be higher.

Two points immediately need to be addressed from this hypothetical.

First, for those who think it’s “distasteful” to even consider valuing dolphins in terms of their meat, I say to you – think it through carefully.  The harsh reality of life is that animals and plants which are useful to humans are “protected” by humans and flourish. 

Those with no value to humans are vulnerable to extinction.

This has been proven time and time again throughout modern history.

I don’t like this either, and I wish the human population would not grow exponentially.  Then again, I wish I was a dictator so I could turn this loser nation of overconsuming mindless debt-drones on to a more sustainable path of development.  In both cases, I’m dreaming. 

We have to deal with reality.

And the reality is that animals that we can eat survive in this crazy world much better than animals that serve us no purpose. 

The absolutist thinking of so-called conservationists drives me crazy.  This kind of “leave alone!” thinking is naive and dangerous and infects so much of the environment movement.  I cannot believe their basic naive stupidity.

The ban on the sale of elephant tusks in my mind is crazy.  Elephants have become less valuable to local communities in Africa.  Elephants “compete” for arable land.  Guess what’s going to happen when you ban the sale of elephant products?  There’s going to be ongoing tension between local communities and international organisations who don’t have to live with the problem (and who coercively scream for a ban on the sale of anything elephant related).  Ultimately, the local communities will have even more of an incentive to kill the elephants and not help sustain the elephant population.  What do you think is going to happen over the long-run? 

Obviously, land will be taken over by local communities in need of food.  Elephants will die due to lack of natural habitat.  They will not have been “killed” literally by a gunshot, so the zealots in the international conservation organisations will be silent.  But the elephants will die just as surely as if they had been killed for their tusks.

Same with whaling.  Why we are so paranoid about Japanese whaling I will never understand.  We overfish, we pollute the waters with oilspills, chemicals, toxic sludge and refuse, we kill the natural habitat of the whales with a massive toxic plastic waste dump in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – and yet we criticise the Japanese for “hunting” the poor whales.  We kill them slowly but just as surely through starvation, through the destruction of their natural habitat, but because that’s one step removed, because it doesn’t involve a direct bullet to the head, somehow everyone is OK with that.  But when the Japanese actually kill a single whale – whoa… that’s barbaric! 

I can’t stand this hypocrisy, this stupidity, the childish incapacity to directly connect up destruction of natural habitat with the death of an animal.  As an animal I’d prefer the quick and relatively painless death of a bullet to the head (safe in the knowledge that some of my family would survive and possibly even by protected by my killers) rather than a slow and excruciating and depressing death by starvation and destruction of my whole natural habitat, grieving knowing my children will slowly but surely starve to death, perhaps be forced to eat toxic plastic… knowing that none of us will survive. 

Which would you prefer, if there was no other choice?  And don’t say there’s a third choice.  There isn’t. 

Unless humans agree TODAY to stop all human reproduction and start consuming less, there is no third option.

Given this sad reality, I have another invariable rule for environmentalists to consider:  Once an animal is valued by man, it is protected by man.

Sheep outnumber New Zealanders for a reason – sheep are valuable.  New Zealanders take care (good care) of their sheep. 

Kiwi birds can’t be eaten.  They have no direct intrinsic value.  They are difficult to spot in their natural habitat so they are not even valuable from a tourist perspective.  Guess what – they are dying and are nearly extinct.

So discussing dolphin meat for me is perfectly reasonable.  Ironically, if freshwater dolphin meat was more valuable perhaps the baiji would not be functionally extinct today.

But this is not even the main point of this post.

Let’s continue with this thought experiment. 

In a superficial sense, you would think as a naive investor (supply down, demand up) that somehow “getting into” freshwater dolphins would be a good idea.  BUT THE WHOLE HABITAT OF THE DOLPHIN IS BEING WIPED OUT.  This is not a matter of being able to “invest” in dolphins.  What we are witnessing in the case of the baiji, I’m sure you would agree, is inevitable extinction.

Similarly, Jim Rogers consistently states that the “fundamentals” for agriculture are incredibly positive.  He states that investors should get into agriculture.  Supply is down.  Demand (with population growth and rising Asian incomes) will inevitably go up.

Although I respect Jim Rogers as an investor, this shows his limited thinking, his inability to see the full implications of the trends here.  He has spent his whole life as a commercial trader and investor, not as a social scientist or economist or philosopher.  He sees the problem, thinks in terms of supply and demand and then concludes that investment in agriculture is a good idea.

I beg to differ.  Although I respect Jim Rogers as an investor, I don’t respect him as a deep thinker.

My view is that we are watching EXACTLY THE SAME PROCESS AS THE EXTINCTION OF THE FRESHWATER DOLPHIN, APPLIED TO HUMANS!

Overfarming cannot be reversed.  Topsoil is irreplaceable.  Phosphates, once lost, cannot be replaced if there is no supply.  The water table once polluted cannot ever be cleansed of chemical toxins.  Destruction of arable land is in most cases irreversible.

The price mechanism cannot transform houses into farmland, cities into arable land.  Once destroyed these things (vital for our very survival) cannot ever be put back in place. 

Similarly, once the freshwater dolphin is extinct no amount of hedge fund investment is going to get its natural habitat back.

So Jim Rogers is right to see the trend, but he hasn’t worked out the full implications. 

WE ARE ACTUALLY WATCHING THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR OWN FOOD SOURCE.  WE ARE WITNESSING BEFORE OUR VERY EYES THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR OWN HABITAT.  WE ARE INEXORABLY CAUSING OUR OWN EXTINCTION.

If you think I’m crazy, please read this article and this previous post and then tell me you’re 100% confident that governments and investors will get us through this little problem.

Sometimes the price mechanism has become so corrupted by bankers and governments that the warning bells don’t go off until it’s too late

I don’t believe we are watching a “bull market” in agriculture.

What we are watching is the massive extinction of our various food sources, resulting in a massive food crisis for the (much higher!) human population in a few short decades.

No amount of hedge fund money will turn Asian cities back to rice paddies, Western suburbs back into farmland, or polluted toxic African mining towns back to unspoilt Savannah.

It’s already too late, in my view.  The trends are “locked in”. 

We are the next freshwater dolphin.   We are killing ourselves.  Climate change, if it exists, will simply accelerate this process.

Those institutions supposedly designed to “forward plan” us out of this mess also happen to have control of the guns.  History records that when a crisis hits, governments turn from protector to predator, plundering the people for food.  Chile.  Zimbabwe.  Cambodia.  Talk to indigenous peoples in Australia, in New Zealand, in Hawaii, in North America, in South America, in Asia, in Africa about what elite governments do to those they supposedly have a duty to protect.

Sorry, that’s right. You can’t.

Because they’re already dead.

Forget climate change and focus on food

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

The curse of the X

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

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?