- U.N. Data Notes Sharp Rise in World Food Prices
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
Prices are expected to remain high this year, prompting concern that the world may be approaching another crisis, although economists cautioned that many factors, like adequate stockpiles of key grains, could prevent a serious problem.
The United Nations data measures commodity prices on the world export market. Those are generally far removed from supermarket prices in wealthy countries like the United States. In this country, food price inflation has been relatively tame, and prices are forecast to rise only 2 to 3 percent this year.
But the situation is often different in poor countries that rely more heavily on imports. The food price index of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization rose 32 percent from June to December, according to the report published Wednesday. In December, the index was slightly higher than it was in June 2008, its previous peak. The index is not adjusted for inflation, however, making an exact comparison over time difficult.
The global index was pushed up last year by rising prices for cooking oils, grains, sugar and meat, all of which could continue to remain high or rise.
“We are at a very high level,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist for the organization, which is based in Rome. “These levels in the previous episode led to problems and riots across the world.” Here's a more Asian perspective, on the same matter.
- SINGAPORE - RECORD high food prices are moving to the top of the agenda for many Asian policymakers as the prospect of higher inflation in 2011 poses a major threat to the region's strong revival from the global financial crisis.
The United Nations' food agency (FAO) said on Wednesday that food prices hit a record high last month, moving beyond the levels that prompted riots in 2008 in countries as far afield as Egypt, Cameroon and Haiti.
Food inflation in many Asian countries, including China and India, is already in double digits, raising fears that the price pressures could spread more broadly to other sectors and pose a threat to both economic and social stability as millions of Asians live in poverty.
Surging food prices have proved a trigger for social protests in the past, forcing governments to cave in to demands for action. They were a factor in the fall from power of Indonesia's long-term autocrat Suharto in 1998.
'Food price inflation could really go into double digits across the region and rise to such an extent that it undermines the purchasing power of households and as a result then slows consumer demand and overall economic growth,' said Frederic Neumann, regional economist at HSBC in Hong Kong.
'And that's a problem for Asian economic growth. But really it's also a problem for the rest of the world because as the Asian consumer increasingly is helping to stabilise world demand, it's actually a challenge of wider global significance.' Indeed, South Korean authorities sounded the alarm on Thursday over rising commodity prices. -- REUTERS
I just have a sneaky suspicion that one cause of the current food price inflation is increased activity by financial investors and speculators. It was just last month that my financial adviser was talking to me about investing in agricultural commodities.
Also, in the past few years, investment banks worldwide have been growing increasingly interested in the commodities business. As far as I'm aware, the bulk of their interest has been in metals such as copper, gold and steel. But really, if there's money to be made, they would just as well move into sugar, rice or corn.
In the end, it's all just money to the bank. Doesn't matter whether it's sugar or gold; rice or steel or widgets .... as long as it makes money.