Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Depression / recession / obsession

Have you seen the highlights?

"Food Rationing Confronts Breadbaskets of the World"

Here's a snippit of it.

Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks.

At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy. reports Food Price Inflation Set to Skyrocket

A huge and rapid rise in food prices is prompting poor food-producing countries to shut off exports — a decision which could make matters worse.

Indonesia, which imported 1.4 million metric tons of rice in 2007 and expected a bumper crop this year, has joined Vietnam, Egypt, India and China in banning rice exports. Other countries are holding back wheat.

The United Nations’ reports that global food prices surged 57 percent last month from a year earlier.

The World Bank estimates food prices have risen globally by 83 percent over the past three years. So far, the U.S. has been isolated — grocery prices here rose by just 5 percent last year.

Worldwide, cereal stockpiles are expected to fall to a 25-year-low of 405 million tons this year, down 5 percent from last year’s already low level.

Rice hit the $1,000-a-ton level for the first time ever this week the export restrictions, reports The Financial Times.

"Food prices, if they go on like they are doing today ... the consequences will be terrible," International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said during a recent conference on the problem.

"Hundreds of thousands of people will be starving,” he warned, adding that development gains made of the past five or 10 years could be "totally destroyed."

Strauss-Kahn’s fears are supported by figures from the World Bank that show food prices are largely responsible for forcing 100 million additional people into extreme poverty, setting the stage for famine and social unrest.

...The cost of rice, basic to most diets in Asia, has risen by 75 percent in two months.

The cost of wheat, a staple in most Western diets has gone up 120 percent in the past 12 months. Kazakhstan just joined the list of countries struggling with food inflation by banning exports of wheat. U.S. wheat stores are at a 62-year low...

Weird to think about this happening during our lifetime... we live in the land of excess.... oversized cars, super-sized waistlines, maxed out credit cards... crazy.

and then -- this is a little long but if you can muddle through it... crazy... read it though... I dare you. I got this in an e-mail

GLENN: Happy Earth Day, everybody, welcome to it. Gas prices at a record high, $3.51 a gallon but if you are lucky enough to be a trucker, you are now paying $4.20 a gallon for diesel. My question for truckers, and I know we got bunch of them listening. Question to truckers, what is the price of diesel where you say, I'm out; I can't do it anymore? What is the price of diesel? We talked about this when diesel broke three -- I think it was $3.25 and truckers were starting to say, I can't do it, you know. I put a second mortgage on my house; I don't know what to do.

So what is that magic number for truckers? Because you've got to remember, gang, everything is moved in this country by truck. Forget about the planes. The airline industry having all kinds of problems because jets were not designed to be profitable at $100 a barrel. Remember, $100 a barrel was insanity talk just six months ago. We're now $100 -- come on, flip on me, $116.83 right now for oil. $100.16. I told you last night on television, we went back and we looked at the records. It was about $60 a barrel when I said, what's the magic number that makes the economy fold? They said $100 a barrel. That's what you're paying right now. Because remember, the $116 is an oil future. That's -- you won't feel that at the gas pump for a couple of months yet. So when it's $116 a barrel in oil futures, that's what you got looking forward. What you're paying right now is the oil future that we saw about a month or two ago at about $100 a barrel. So your $3.51 is in the past. What's coming is $4, $4.50 and possibly $5 a gallon this summer.p>

Now, I had a guy who's the managing editor of Forbes magazine. Stu, you wouldn't think the managing editor of Forbes magazine was a nut job, would you?

STU: I do not think he's a nut job, I'm sure. I don't know what you are talking about but I'm sure.

GLENN: You didn't see it last night?

STU: I didn't see the segment.

GLENN: It was an amazing segment. I asked him, because I can't now get anybody to go on record because at first it was $100 a barrel of oil would cause the economy to stop. Then when we got close to $100, I said, oh, we're getting close to $100. And then all the experts said, it will probably be $115, $120 a barrel. Well, now that we're almost at $120 a barrel, what's the magic number? Now the editor of Forbes magazine said the number two actually choke it off is $200 a barrel. And he believes we could be at $200 a barrel quickly.

He also talked last night about how Saudi Arabia, they are not increasing oil production because they can't. Now, this goes to a very controversial theory on oil production and that is peak oil. We talked about it in our book and quite honestly it is the only chapter in "An Inconvenient Book" that is in the book that I don't know how I feel about. I put it in there and we did our homework. In fact, we did a lot of homework on that chapter because I'm not sure if I buy into peak oil. People have been saying about peak oil, and it's the one thing that we have really not talked about on this show that's in the book because I'm not sold.

STU: I think there's a healthy amount of skepticism in the chapter.

GLENN: No, no, there is. That's why -- I mean, you know, it was written by us and, you know, it's my book and I -- and Kevin was the one who presented me that chapter and said, I think we should do a chapter on this. And I said, show me the evidence. And so he did, and I still don't entirely buy it but I have to tell you, front page of the Wall Street Journal today talks about a new oil field that is now being -- getting ready to open up in Saudi Arabia. It will add, I think it was -- I don't have it in here -- about a million barrels of oil a day. In the grand scheme of things, Saudi Arabia does about 12 million barrels a day, 12.5 million barrels a day. That's what they're at now. They said at some point in the past they would never make it past 12.5 million barrels. That was their top capacity. It's now, the guy from Forbes last night was telling me that they are not only at their top capacity, it's now going to start to decrease because they're out of oil. That's as good as it gets. I was a little, still skeptical on that. He said, peak oil people looked like they were right.

This morning on the front page of Wall Street Journal, it talks about what the Saudis have had to do to open up this oil field. This is their last big oil field. They have to do horizontal drilling, they have to pump water down into the ground to be able to get this oil out. It's a different kind of oil. It is very, very difficult and extraordinarily costly to get this oil out of the ground. There's no way Saudi Arabia taps this oil field unless it's the oil field of last resort. Now, granted it is a big oil field but this is it, experts are now saying, on the Saudi Arabian front. And the proof to me at least for the first time is compelling because it's not, it's not speculative. It's tied directly to finances. There's no way Saudi Arabia takes that hit in their oil profits by opening up a less profitable field unless they have to.

Remember, they are not predicting that it's going to put more oil into the system. It's only going to keep Saudi Arabia at 12.5 million barrels a day. So you've got the gas prices happening, and gas prices are going to get worse. Then on top of it, you now have -- and we talked about this yesterday -- in some areas of the country, and it's very limited, but I brought it up to you yesterday because we have for the first time, I told you on February 11th, for the first time the United States is importing wheat. We've never had to do that before. We're importing wheat and I told you on February 11th the oil -- I'm sorry, the grain futures are through the roof and it hasn't hit you yet, but it will. Well, now it has started to hit, and it's hitting the rest of the world as well.

There are several things going on. Quite frankly it's extraordinarily complex and I'm still trying to get my arms around it because the most difficult is the actual futures, the wagering. I mean, we've got -- what we have, we've opened up for oil futures and commodities futures and the stock market. This is gambling, and it is changing the price of things. I'll get into that later on in the week. But here's what I want you to understand. Last night I'm reading a story about the shortage of butter -- you don't even know what my life is like -- the shortage of butter in Japan and there was a run on butter. You can't get butter now in Japan. It's off the shelves. It's empty.

Well, what happened? Japan didn't run out of butter. There was a panic and there was a shortage, a 20% shortage of butter. So when people started having a hard time finding it, they ran out and they snapped it all up. Now butter prices in Japan are through the roof, and they can't buy butter. This is a wealthy country. They can't get the butter into the stores.p>

What was the butter caused by? There's a shortage of cows in Japan. Japan has imported everything that they need. So there's a shortage of cows which means there's a shortage of milk. Part of the shortage of cows and milk comes from the same shortage that we have, the price of grain. So now you've got this problem and a panic in Japan. Last night when I saw this about 10:00, and I wrote one of the researchers and I said, I'm sorry, I'm going to dump a bunch of work on what I -- this doesn't make sense to me, a shortage of butter. This is not ethanol. What is this?

Well, this morning when I got up at 5:00, I had a stack of stuff to read, and this is what I found and this is what I think you need to understand because it doesn't matter what the cause is at this point. No one is telling you this yet, and you're going to get behind the eight ball if you don't know it now, and I'm going to give you not only the problem, I'm going to give you the solution.

This all started with a shortage of Japan, the butter in Japan, and here's where it's taken me. The U.S. agriculture secretary Edward Schafer last week said the world has never been less secure about the near-term future of wheat. That's key. Not long term. Near-term future of wheat. He said international wheat stocks are now at a historic 30-year low and the U.S. wheat stocks are at an unprecedented 60-year low. That's bad news. But then he added there is a highly virulent after can stem rust that is spreading quickly among certain types of wheat field. He said that 75% of U.S. wheat acres are planted to varieties that are highly susceptible to this disease. This disease started, I think in Ghana. Then it went all through Africa. It's moved by the wind. It's a spore and it moves by the wind. Then it wiped out all the wheat fields and now it's jumped over to India. This is why there's such a shortage of wheat overseas. They have been coming over here now and buying our wheat. We're having a shortage of wheat partly because we're not planting as much wheat as we used to. We're planting more corn because we want ethanol. So now this is spread across the globe. It has not come here. However -- and this comes from the research because I just, I said to one of the researchers, I'm not going to talk about mad cow, I'm not going to talk about another bird flu. Tell me what the secretary of agriculture said about mad cow and the bird flu. Nothing like this. Going back and looking at the newspaper stories and the trips of when they were talking about mad cow and the first case of mad cow was here, the secretary of agriculture and the agriculture department said nothing like this. They were saying, don't worry, it's not a problem, we got it under control. This is not what they're saying about the wheat.

So bad news has become terrible news. How fast do you think bread flour and other wheat products will literally disappear from our shelves if the virus hit? He says 75% of our wheat is vulnerable to this. If it hits 10% of our wheat fields, how fast can you not find flour? Remember they have a 20% reduction in butter and now you can't find it anywhere. Here's what I need you to understand. What's happening in Japan right now is panic. What's happening in Japan is panic. What's happening in Haiti, what's happening in Egypt, what's happening in all the parts all around the Middle East is real. There is a real shortage of food and it's happening in China, in India and everywhere else. What happened in Japan is panic. We will not run out of food. We're the United States of America. We have great farmers. We have great farmland. We will not run out of food. But because of oil prices, because if there is this rust spore that comes over here, this is the downward pressure that I was talking about. The price of food and the price of oil could be the downward pressure that we've been talking about.

ThThe only way -- you know what? I feel this to the core of my being. Our grandparents would slap us across the face right now. For anybody who is saying, oh, please. All I'm asking you to do is go out and buy some flour. Don't panic. Don't hoard it. Don't do any of that. Just go out and protect your family. Go out and store some flour. Store some rice. Put it in your basement. Use it through the summer or whatever. Just hang onto it and then if things get bad, you use it. So you batten down the hatches of your own finances. So you don't have to worry so much about food prices because futures are telling us that the price is going to continue to increase. The global food price has gone up 83% in the last three years alone. Futures are telling us it's going up. You will pay that price in gas soon. You will pay that price in food soon. The truckers will have to charge more for the delivery soon. So you're going to feel this much more than you are now. Spend your money wisely and store up on some food. So then when everybody else is panicking, you will be calm enough with your family and your neighbors and say, relax. Relax, we'll never run out of food and you won't be panicked because the worst thing that happens is when people panic, and there's got to be a core of people that don't panic if and when these things hit. And when it comes to food, when it comes to gas prices, they are going to hit because the price is based on futures, and the futures are telling you it's gone up, and you ain't paying it yet. You will.

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