Saturday, May 21

Charting Global Economy: Soaring Food Costs Risk Destabilization


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Record-high food inflation is tightening its grip on the global economy, most critically in developing nations where financial distress is contributing to increased political instability.

The costs of staples such as wheat and cooking oils continue to accelerate as Russia’s war in Ukraine, a key exporter of commodities, upends trade and fuels concern about shortages. High energy prices are also adding to inflationary pressures.

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In Sri Lanka, consumer prices accelerated to about 19% — the highest in Asia — and could keep climbing to 25%, according to the central bank, which just increased interest rates by an unprecedented seven percentage points. The soaring costs have sparked street protests calling for the president’s ouster.

An emergency meeting by Pakistan’s central bankers resulted in the biggest rate hike since 1996 as more political chaos and higher oil prices risk developing into a full-blown economic crisis.

Here are some of the charts that appeared on Bloomberg this week on the latest developments in the global economy:

World

Global food prices are surging at the fastest pace ever as Russia’s war in Ukraine chokes crop supplies, piling more inflationary pain on consumers and worsening a global hunger crisis. The war has wreaked havoc on supply chains in the crucial Black Sea breadbasket region, upending global trade flows and fueling panic about shortages of key staples such as wheat and cooking oils.

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Across Ukraine’s farm belt, silos are bursting with 15 million tons of corn from the autumn harvest, most of which should have been hitting world markets. The stockpiles — about half the corn Ukraine had been expected to export for the season — have become increasingly difficult to get to buyers, providing a glimpse into the war has wrought in the approximately $120 billion global grains trade.

Emerging Markets

Pakistan’s central bank raised interest rates by 250 basis points following an emergency meeting, as escalating political chaos at home and higher global oil prices threaten to spill over into a full-blown economic crisis. The key rate now stands at 12.25%. Central banks in Peru, Uruguay, Romania, Poland and Serbia also tightened policy.

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Sri Lanka’s central bank also raised borrowing costs — by an unprecedented 700 basis points amid economic and political turmoil that has sparked street protests and left President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with a minority in parliament.

Turkish inflation soared to a fresh two-decade high in March, leaving the lira increasingly vulnerable by depriving the currency of a buffer against market selloffs. Turkey’s ultra-loose monetary policy is out of sync with the rising hawkishness of many of the world’s central banks at a time its economy is bracing for commodity shocks unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Europe

European natural gas prices gained after five days of declines on concerns that Russian flows through key transit country Ukraine may be disrupted. Russian military operations are putting the stability of flows to Europe at risk, Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine said.

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German factory orders fell for the first time in four months in the runup to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, underscoring concerns over slower growth in Europe’s largest economy. Expectations for Germany’s economic recovery have been slashed after the war in Ukraine sent energy prices higher.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated his opposition to reversing Germany’s exit from nuclear power to help cut reliance on Russian energy, saying the technical challenges would be too great. Germany is rushing to end its heavy dependence on Russian fossil fuels but the process has been complicated by the decision by former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s previous government to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants.

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US

The US trade deficit held close to a record in February as the merchandise shortfall shrank and the surplus in services declined, partly reflecting the impact of broadcast rights for the Olympics. Services imports increased to a record $51.6 billion, with about half of the rise coming from the biggest monthly increase in charges for use of intellectual property since 2016.

Spot rates for shipping goods in containers to the US from Asia fell for a sixth straight week, the longest skid of the pandemic, as Covid-19 lockdowns disrupt trucking, warehouses and port operations in China. The market for ocean freight is softening partly because that’s what it typically does after Chinese Lunar New Year. There’s also growing uncertainty about US consumer demand for goods given the broader acceleration in inflation and a shift back to services.

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Asia

Containers full of frozen food and chemicals are piling up at China’s biggest port in Shanghai as the lock down of the city and virus testing means truckers can’t get to the docks to pick up boxes. Shanghai is now the epicenter of China’s worst Covid outbreak in two years, with almost 20,000 new cases reported just on Wednesday.

Japan’s household spending dropped in February for a second straight month amid virus restrictions, adding to evidence that the economy contracted last quarter as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government mulls support measures. Outlays fell 2.8% from January, led by drops in spending on transport, communications and housing.

Japanese households’ inflation expectations climbed to the highest level in more than 13 years as rising energy costs impacted sentiment, even as overall price gains remain well below the Bank of Japan’s target.

©2022 Bloomberg LP

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