Stock market speculation linked to world food prices

Friday, 25 November 2011

Behind the story is a series of disparate elements including long-term decisions in the Eurozone and the US to produce biofuels as well as food from corn, driving grains prices to skyrocketing levels; climate change, which is cutting into some annual harvest yields while increasing them elsewhere; and finally the Malthusian proposition that population

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appears to be increasing faster than available food supplies.

But in discussions of the factors that drive prices, consultants and others largely don’t mention a relatively new one. That is “financialization,” an unwieldy word for the discovery by the boys in yellow suspenders — investment bankers, hedge fund and money market managers — of the profit to be made in commodities trading. Over the past decade a flood of speculative money has overwhelmed the quantity of goods for sale, with the result that prices have gyrated.

Ultimately, investment in the indexes tied to commodity prices — energy, good and metals — by early 2011were 55 times larger than in 2000, directly connecting rich-world investors to volatile food costs, Bjerga continued. While certainly there are other factors at work, this chart clearly shows the influence of the index funds.

“The effects of commodities trading on food prices is controversial,” he continues. “Regardless of cause, the price swings of global crop and energy markets have turned a quarter century of stable food costs into a marketplace casino where demand pushes prices higher – and drought drives them higher still — while a cooling economy or an unexpected gain in supplies cascades them down faster than any changes in how much people actually eat.”

Week 7

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