Farm Input Costs Continue Driving Massive Food Inflation


Posted originally on the CTH on February 6, 2023 | Sundance 

John Boyd Jr., President of the National Black Farmers Association appears on Newsmax TV to discuss the ongoing issue of higher farm input costs.  Energy costs, fertilizer costs, fuel costs as well as all packing and distribution costs that are associated with petroleum manufacturing, are continuing to drive farm costs throughout the supply chain.

After a review of the current farm output status, there is a very strong possibility we will see the fourth wave of food inflation hit this spring, in combination with several manufacturing and production facilities.  Again, the lack of consumer spending on durable goods has moderated the price in hard goods (supplies up, demand down); however, the highly consumable products like food, fuel and energy continue to experience upward price pressure as a direct result of Biden energy policy.  WATCH:

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If consumers could eat missiles and weapons, the U.S. government would be offsetting the costs.  Unfortunately, for actual farming products, there is no government attention, policy or support.  Apparently, food is still not considered a national security issue.

Shortage of Bread Contributed to French Revolution


Armstrong Economics Blog/Agriculture Re-Posted Jan 27, 2023 by Martin Armstrong

Food shortages have historically contributed to revolutions more so than just international war. Poor grain harvests led to riots as far back as 1529 in the French city of Lyon. During the French Petite Rebeyne of 1436. (Great Rebellion), sparked by the high price of wheat, thousands looted and destroyed the houses of rich citizens, eventually spilling the grain from the municipal granary onto the streets. Back then, it was to go get the rich.

There was a climate change cycle at work and today’s climate zealots ignore their history altogether for it did not involve fossil fuels. The climate got worse at the bottom of the Mini Ice Age which was about 1650. It really did not warm up substantially until the mid-1800s. During the 18th century, the climate resulted in very poor crops. Since the 1760s, the king had been counseled by Physiocrats, who were a group of economists that believed that the wealth of nations was derived solely from the value of land and thereby agricultural products should be highly priced. This is why Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations as a retort to the Physiocrats. It was their theory that justified imperialism – the quest to conquer more land for wealth; the days of empire-building.

The King of France had listened to the Physiocrats who counseled him to intermittently deregulate the domestic grain trade and introduce a form of free trade. That did not go very well for there was a shortage of grain and this only led to a bidding war – hence the high price of wheat. We even see English political tokens of the era campaigning about the high price of grain and the shortage of food to where a man is gnawing on a bone.

Voltaire once remarked that Parisians required only “the comic opera and white bread.” Indeed, bread has also played a very critical role in French history that is overlooked. The French Revolution that began with the storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789 was not just looking for guns, but also grains to make bread.

The price of bread and the shortages played a very significant role during the revolution. We must understand Marie Antoinette’s supposed quote upon hearing that her subjects had no bread: “Let them eat cake!” which was just propaganda at the time. The “cake” was not the cake as we know it today, but the crust was still left in the pan after taking the bread out. This shows the magnitude that the shortage of bread played in the revolution.

In late April and May of 1775, the food shortages and high prices of grain ignited an explosion of such popular anger in the surrounding regions of Paris. There were more than 300 riots and looking for grain over just three weeks (3.14 weeks). The historians dubbed this the Flour War. The people even stormed the place at Versailles before the riots spread into Paris and outward into the countryside.

The food shortage became so acute during the 1780s that it was exacerbated by the influx of immigration to France during that period. It was a period of changing social values where we heard similar cries for equality. Eventually, this became one of the virtues on which the French Republic was founded. Most importantly, the French Constitution of 1791 explicitly stipulated a right to freedom of movement. It was mostly perceived to be a food shortage and the reason was the greedy rich. Thus, a huge rise in population was also contributed in part by immigration whereas it reached around 5-6 million more people in France in 1789 than in 1720.

Against this backdrop, we have the publication by Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) An Essay on the Principle of Population was first published anonymously in 1798. He theorized that the population would outgrow the ability to produce food. We can see how his thinking formed because of the Mini Ice Age that bottomed in 1650. All of this was because of climate change which instigated food shortages. Therefore, it was commonly accepted that without a corresponding increase in native grain production, there would be a serious crisis.

The refusal on the part of most of the French to eat anything but a cereal-based diet was another major issue. Bread likely accounted for 60-80 percent of the budget of a wage-earner’s family at that point in time. Consequently, even a small rise in grain prices could spark political tensions. Because this was such an issue, and probably the major cause of the French Revolution among the majority, Finance Minister Jacques Necker (1732–1804) claimed that, to show solidarity with the people, King Louis XVI was eating the lower-class maslin bread. Maslin bread is from a mix of wheat and rye, rather than the elite manchet, white bread that is achieved by sifting wholemeal flour to remove the wheatgerm and bran.

That solidarity was seen as propaganda and the instigators made up the Marie Antoinette quote: Let them eat cake. . Then there was a plot drawn up at Passy in 1789 that fomented the rebellion against the crown shortly before the people stormed the Bastille. It declared “do everything in our power to ensure that the lack of bread is total, so that the bourgeoisie are forced to take up arms.” 

It was also at this time when Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727-1781), Baron de l’Aulne, was a French economist and statesman. He was originally considered a physiocrat, but he kept an open mind and became the first economist to have recognized the law of diminishing marginal returns in agriculture. He became the father of economic liberalism which we call today laissez-faire for he put it into action. He saw the overregulation of grain production was behind also contributing to the food shortages. He once said: “Ne vous mêlez pas du pain”—Do not meddle with bread.

The French Revolution overthrew the monarchy and they began beheading anyone who supported the Monarchy and confiscated their wealth as well as the land belonging to the Catholic Church.  Nevertheless, the revolution did not end French anxiety over bread. On August 29th, 1789, only two days after completing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the Constituent Assembly completely deregulated domestic grain markets. The move raised fears about speculation, hoarding, and exportation.

Then on October 21st, 1789, a baker, Denis François, was accused of hiding loaves from sale as part of a conspiracy to deprive the people of bread. Despite a hearing which proved him innocent, the crowd dragged François to the Place de Grève, hanged and decapitated him, and made his pregnant wife kiss his bloodied lips. Immediately thereafter, the National Constituent Assembly instituted martial law. At first sight, this act appears as a callous lynching by the mob, yet it led to social sanctions against the general public. The deputies decided to meet popular violence with force.

So, food has often been a MAJOR factor in revolutions. We are entering a cold period. Ukraine has been the breadbasket for Europe. Escalating this war will also lead to accelerating the food shortages post-2024. It is interesting how we learn nothing from history. Wars are instigated by political leaders while revolutions are instigated by the people.

December Retail Sales Drop -1.1%, November Sales Data Revised Lower to -1.0%


Posted originally on the CTH on January 18, 2023 | Sundance 

There is something predictable about Main Street economics, eventually what you see around you overwhelms the great pretending.  CTH has been outlining the state of the consumer economy in great detail for quite a while, and though it is difficult to note when the outcomes will surface, eventually they do surface. [Reminder Here]

CONTEXT. CTH outlined the moment when the purchasing power of the U.S. middle class actually began contracting.  It was March and April of 2021 when that Rubicon was crossed.  We saw it in the second and third quarter data from 2021, but few were willing to admit.

What changed in those two months back in ’21 was a dramatic drop in the “unit sales” of stuff within the consumer economy.  The drop in unit sales was hidden because it happened simultaneously with the first wave of massive spike in prices.  Prices rose so fast the sales data was giving an artificial impression of sales growth, but in the background the actual unit sales dropped.   Those analysts correcting and adjusting historic data to ‘inflation adjusted terms’ are now noticing.

Additionally, and not coincidentally – because the metrics are connected, you will note this line from the Wall Street Journal review of the producer price index. “The producer-price index, which generally reflects supply conditions in the economy, rose 6.2% in December from a year earlier, the Labor Department said Wednesday, the slowest annual pace since March 2021.”  In essence, the current rate of wholesale price increase on materials is now returning to the rate of price increase that happened in the period when prices spiked.  Again, this is predictable.

Inflation is the measure of the ‘rate’ of price increase over time.  March and April of 2021 were the beginning of the first inflationary spike.

Driven almost entirely by the supply side shock from Biden energy policy, in the subsequent 20 months the rate of price increase skyrocketed, peaked August 2022, and now the rate of increase starts returning.  This does not mean price declines; this means the rate of growth in the price increase is lessening.

This is a cyclical outcome.

After 20 months of dropping unit sales, a result of massive price increases; and as the rate of inflation now starts to moderate created by the cyclical nature of it; what we now see is the inability of the price increases to continue hiding the drop in unit sales.   [Background pdf Data] Total retail sales data is now exposed and that’s why we will see this increasing story about negative sales data as the inflation cycle plateaus.

(Via Wall Street Journal) – Retail spending fell in December at the sharpest pace of 2022, marking a dismal end to the holiday shopping season as rising interest rates, still-high inflation and concerns about a slowing economy pinched American consumers.

Purchases at stores, restaurants and online, declined a seasonally adjusted 1.1% in December from the prior month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Sales were also revised lower in November and have fallen three of the past four months.

The decline in retail spending late last year adds to signs that the U.S. economy is slowing. Hiring and wage growth eased in December, U.S. commerce with the rest of the world declined significantly in November, and existing-home sales have fallen for 10 straight months. The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that industrial production slumped in December, led by weakness in the manufacturing industry.

S&P Global downgraded its estimate for fourth-quarter economic growth by a half percentage point to a 2.3% annual rate after Wednesday’s data releases. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal this month expect higher interest rates to tip the U.S. economy into a recession in the coming year.

“The lag impact of elevated inflation weighs heavily on U.S. households, it’s very clear that the median American consumer is still reeling from the loss of wages in inflation-adjusted terms,” said Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM US LLP. “We’re moving towards what I would expect to be a mild recession in 2023,” he added. (read more)

When the Baghdad Bob economic pretenders say, “mild recession,” anticipate something more akin to a mild nuclear meltdown, something with breadlines and soup kitchens.

Now, you must keep in mind that almost every financial media outlet used the same Retail Federation talking point about anticipating an 8% increase in holiday sales last year.  [Reminder] Apparently, collective pretenses must be maintained.  Meanwhile, news crews and camera crews were having a desperate time finding any holiday shopping to use as background footage for the claims that sales were strong.  Here we are in January and the pretending has hit reality.

Negative retail sales in November and December when prices are roughly +10% over the prior year, means the unit sales collapse was far more dramatic…. Far more.

Trying to survive policy driven price increases in housing costs, energy costs, electricity costs, home heating, food and fuel costs has forced consumers to reevaluate purchasing decisions.  Consumer demand for non-essential items has collapsed, and Americans are dig deep into their savings just to sustain unavoidable expenses.  Eventually, pretending this is not happening is going to run into the wall of reality.

On one hand the leaders of large multinationals must pretend everything is splendid; after all, the only acceptable position they can articulate is to support interest rates being raised because demand is just too darned high….  pretending.  But on the other hand – those same suppliers and multinationals are furiously trying to calculate how to avoid being stuck with billions worth of unsold inventory and idle industrial equipment.

The Albertsons and Kroger Merger Faces Legislative Scrutiny as European Company Ahold Assembles Competitive Bid


Posted originally on the conservative tree house on October 22, 2022 | Sundance 

Last week we discussed the announcement of a $24.6 billion merger deal between Kroger and Albertsons supermarkets {Go Deep}.  The majority stockholders in both companies are institutional investment groups, Blackrock, Vanguard and Cerberus.

The merger would consolidate the second and third largest food retailers in the U.S. and would certainly dilute the competitive dynamic amid the supermarket industry.  Concern over price controls and decreased competition has now arrived on the desks of DC legislators who are reviewing the deal.

(Reuters) – […] U.S. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Senator Mike Lee were quick to say that they would hold a hearing to discuss the merger. A European interloper could make deal plans even harder.

Frans Muller, Chief Executive of Stop & Shop owner Ahold Delhaize (AD.AS), has made no secret of his desire to consolidate U.S. grocers. The Netherlands-based firm is already the fourth largest grocery chain. If it managed to cobble together a better offer than Kroger’s bid for Albertsons, it would become the second largest supermarket. Plane spotters tracked two Albertsons jets next to Ahold Delhaize’s U.S. base in Massachusetts in early August. Ahold declined to comment.

Ahold can also afford a chunky deal. The Dutch grocer has debt of just 2 times its $6.7 billion of EBITDA estimated for this year, according to Refinitiv. That’s 50% less than the average. If investors reckoned there was merit in a deal, Muller could also use equity to beef up the offer. At more than 12 times, Ahold’s price-to-earnings ratio is a fifth higher than Albertsons’, giving it currency.

Aspects of the deal might make it easier for antitrust authorities to get comfortable, too. Kroger and Albertsons would have a combined market share of 13%, whereas a deal with its Dutch rival gives much less of the pie. Ahold focuses on the East Coast of America whereas Albertsons has a big presence on the West Coast. So regulators wouldn’t have to worry about a larger Kroger shutting down competing Albertsons stores.

[…] U.S. senators who scrutinise antitrust issues expressed “serious concerns” about grocery company Kroger’s plan to buy rival Albertsons, and said they would hold a hearing in November on the $25 billion deal.

The announcement by Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee antitrust panel, and Republican Senator Mike Lee confirmed a previous report by Reuters.

A Kroger spokesperson said the company looked forward to the hearing. “We welcome the opportunity to outline how this transaction will benefit America’s consumers by expanding access to fresh, affordable food,” the company said in a statement.

The Federal Trade Commission is expected to review the deal to ensure it complies with antitrust law. (read more)

This might be one of those rare times when a legislative and regulatory review may actually be beneficial to the outcome for the consumer.

December 16, 2020, Dozen Large Eggs $1.79

October 11, 2022, Dozen Large Eggs $7.29

(Source)

(DCBusinessDaily) – […] Scott Rasmussen Number of the Day shows 76% of voters have seen their grocery prices go up in the last month. The poll also found 60% of voters believe prices will continue to rise. Additionally, 54% of voters say gas prices have gone up in the last month and 59% believe gas prices will continue to go up. Ballotpedia’s poll methodology surveyed 1,200 registered voters from Oct. 6-8. According to the Ballotpedia website, the poll was lightly weighted by geography, gender, age, race, education, internet usage and political party to reflect a fair balance of voters across the country. The margin of sampling error is +/- 2.8 percentage points.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) summary for the nation on Oct. 13, which found that the rate of inflation over the last 12 months stands at 8.2%. It rose 0.4% in September. In the last year, food costs have risen by 11.2%, energy costs have increased by 19.8%, gas prices have risen by 18.2% and the cost to purchase a new vehicle has increased by 9.4%. (more)

Florida Agriculture Losses from Ian


Armstrong Economics Blog/Agriculture Re-Posted Oct 21, 2022 by Martin Armstrong

The damages from the hurricane are still being evaluated, but preliminary estimates state that Ian caused Florida’s agriculture industry to lose up to $1.56 billion. Around five million acres of farmland were destroyed by the hurricane, 60% of which was grazing land for cattle. An additional 500,000 acres were affected but not destroyed. Florida produces around $8 billion in agricultural goods per year, so this is a significant blow to the industry.

The Sunshine State was already experiencing hardships prior to Hurricane Ian, with some estimates saying the industry would decline by a third this year due to temperatures and disease.

“The impact on Florida’s affected commodities cannot be understated, especially the heartbreaking damage to Florida citrus, an industry already facing significant challenges,” state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried declared. Orange juice alone is expected to cause a $304 million loss. The US Department of Agriculture said that orange production was already 32% down YoY, marking the smallest harvest in eight decades.

Up to $393 million may be lost from destroyed vegetable crops, while horticultural crops may experience a $297 million decline. Cattle is expected to decline by over $220 million.

The true damage cannot be assessed until the fields dry up. None of these figures account for inflation. Natural disasters will only contribute to rising food prices and shortages.

Holiday Expenses Rise in Canada


Armstrong Economics Blog/Canada Re-Posted Oct 10, 2022 by Martin Armstrong

Wishing our friends in the north a happy Thanksgiving.

Canada’s Thanksgiving is not as widely celebrated as America’s November feast. However, outside Quebec, around 90% of Canadians plan to celebrate the holiday. Everything from fuel to food is more expensive this year. Statistics Canada reported a 10.8% rise in food prices this August, marking the fastest pace of food inflation since 1981.

The Agri-food Analytics Lab (AAL) and Angus Reid conducted a survey (sample size 1,244) to see how Canadians plan to celebrate the holiday this year. Turkey prices have risen 16% per kilogram this year. In British Columbia, 29% of respondents said that they would be making changes to the meals they typically prepare due to food prices, while 25% in Alberta and 20% in Manitoba said the same. Around 19% of those celebrating in Ontario will be changing the menu due to costs, followed by 17% in the Atlantic, 10% in Quebec, and 8% in Saskatchewan.

In addition to turkey prices increasing, potatoes have spiked by 22% this year. Bread and dairy prices have gone up 13%, while cranberries have increased by 12%. Prices vary based on location, but they’re up in every province. So many are grateful for the harvest, albeit less bountiful.

Categories: Canada