Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Food & Energy Volatile

The reasons cited as to why food and energy are so often excluded when calculating inflation usually include "they're too volatile".

According to Jeff Matthews, they're correct:

Now that the Federal Reserve has grudgingly begun to acknowledge inflation—and how could it not, with oil over $100 a barrel, “beans in the teens,” and gold near $1,000 an ounce?—a different contingent of the Powers That Be may be forced to likewise pay attention to what’s happening with the food supply around the world.

That’s because rice is now in short supply. And that’s not even the bad news. The bad news is that a shortage of rice, unlike the recent shortage of corn in our Midwest, can, and is, causing political unrest.
Here are a few excerpts from the New York Times’ report this weekend.

High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest

Published: March 29, 2008

HANOI — Rising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the world's largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export.

The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the world's population, has almost doubled on international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrest.

Shortages and high prices for all kinds of food have caused tensions and even violence around the world in recent months. Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. But the moves by rice-exporting nations over the last two days — meant to ensure scarce supplies will meet domestic needs — drove prices on the world market even higher this week.

There’s more—much more—to the story, including political panic in the Philippines and export reductions by Vietnam, India, Egypt, and Cambodia.

Good thing our Consumer Price Index excludes food as well as energy. Unfortunately, you can't adjust hunger for food, too.

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