Busted: Bankers and The Global Economy

September 24, 2010

U.N. Says World is at the Brink of Food Crisis through Speculation

Environmental disasters and speculative investors are to blame for volatile food commodities markets, says UN’s special adviser

The United Nations warned that the world is likely on the brink of a major new food crisis caused by environmental disasters and rampant market speculators today at an emergency meeting on food price inflation.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO meeting in Rome, Italy, on September 24 was called last month after a heatwave and wildfires in Russia led to a draconian wheat export ban while food riots broke out in Mozambique, killing 13 people. U.N. experts heard that pension and hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds and large banks who speculate on commodity markets are likely to be responsible for inflation in food prices being seen across all continents.

In a new paper released this week, Olivier De Schutter, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on food, says that the increases in price and the volatility of food commodities can only be explained by the emergence of a “speculative bubble” which he traces back to early this decade.

“[Beginning in] 2001, food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes began to see an influx of non-traditional investors,” De Schutter writes. “The reason for this was because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the U.S. housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last. Strong similarities can be seen between the price behavior of food commodities and other refuge values, such as gold.”

He continues: “A significant contributory cause of the price spike [has been] speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds or in order to hedge speculative bets.”

A near doubling of many staple food prices in 2007 and 2008 led to riots in more than 30 countries and an estimated 150 million extra people going hungry. While some commodity prices have since reduced, the majority are well over 50% higher than pre-2007 figures – and are now rising quickly upwards again.

“Once again we find ourselves in a situation where basic food commodities are undergoing supply shocks. World wheat futures and spot prices climbed steadily until the beginning of August 2010, when Russia – faced with massive wildfires that destroyed its wheat harvest – imposed an export ban on that commodity. In addition, other markets such as sugar and oilseeds are witnessing significant price increases,” said De Schutter, who spoke today at The U.K. Food Group’s conference in London.

Gregory Barrow, of the U.N. World Food Program said: “What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up. They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact.”

Sergei Sukhov, from Russia’s agriculture ministry, told the Associated Press during a break in the meeting in Rome that the market for grains “should be stable and predictable for all participants.” He said no efforts should be spared “to the effect that the production of food be sufficient.”

“The emergency U.N. meeting in Rome is a clear warning sign that we could be on the brink of another food price crisis unless swift action is taken. Already, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every night – another food crisis would be catastrophic for millions of poor people,” said Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid’s hunger campaigner.

An ActionAid report released last week revealed that hunger could be costing poor nations $450 billion a year – more than 10 times the amount needed to halve hunger by 2015 and meet Millennium Development Goal One.

Food prices are rising around 15% a year in India and Nepal, and similarly in Latin America and China. U.S.  maize prices this week broke through the $5-a-bushel level for the first time since September 2008, fueled by reports from U.S. farmers of disappointing yields in the early stages of their harvests. The surge in the corn price also pushed up European wheat prices to a two-year high of €238 a ton.

Elsewhere, the threat of civil unrest led Egypt this week to announce measures to increase food self-sufficiency to 70%. Partly as a result of food price rises, many middle eastern and other water-scarce countries have begun to invest heavily in farmland in Africa and elsewhere to guarantee supplies.

Although the FAO has rejected the notion of a food crisis on the scale of 2007-2008, it this week warned of greater volatility in food commodities markets in the years ahead.

At the meeting in London today, De Schutter said the only long term way to resolve the crisis would be to shift to “agro-ecological” ways of growing food. This farming, which does not depend on fossil fuels, pesticides or heavy machinery has been shown to protect soils and use less water.

“A growing number of experts are calling for a major shift in food security policies, and support the development of agroecology approaches, which have shown very promising results where implemented,” he said.

Green Party Parliament Member Caroline Lucas called for tighter regulation of the food trade. “Food has become a commodity to be traded. The only thing that matters under the current system is profit. Trading in food must not be treated as simply another form of business as usual: for many people it is a matter of life and death. We must insist on the complete removal of agriculture from the remit of the World Trade Organization,” she said.

You can read this article by Guardian environmental editor John Vidal, with reporting by various news agencies, in context here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/sep/24/food-crisis-un-emergency-meeting-rome

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April 1, 2010

Don’t Get Taken by Pyramid & Ponzi Schemes

What are some of the similarities and differences between ponzi and pyramid schemes?

Pyramid schemes and ponzi schemes are closely related. They both involve paying longer-standing members with money from new participants, instead of actual profits from investing or selling products to the public. Here are some common differences:

Pyramid Scheme
Ponzi Scheme
Typical “hook” Earn high profits by making one payment and finding a set number of others to become distributors of a product. The scheme typically does not involve a genuine product. The purported product may not exist or it may only be “sold” within the pyramid scheme. Earn high investment returns with little or no risk by simply handing over your money; the investment typically does not exist.
Payments/profits Must recruit new distributors to receive payments. No recruiting necessary to receive payments.
Interaction with original promoter Sometimes none.  New participants may enter scheme at a different level. Promoter generally acts directly with all participants.
Source of payments From new participants – always disclosed. From new participants – never disclosed.
Collapse Fast.  An exponential increase in the number of participants is required at each level. May be relatively slow if existing participants reinvest money.

What steps can you take to avoid schemes and other investment frauds?

When you consider your next investment opportunity, start with these questions:

  • Is the seller licensed?
  • Is the investment registered?
  • How do the risks compare with the potential rewards?
  • Do I understand the investment?

Many ponzi schemes share common characteristics. Look for these warning signs:

  • High investment returns with little or no risk. Every investment carries some degree of risk. Investments yielding higher returns typically involve more risk. Be highly suspicious of any “guaranteed” investment opportunity.
  • Overly consistent returns. Investments tend to go up and down over time, especially those seeking high returns. Be suspect of an investment that continues to generate regular, positive returns regardless of overall market conditions.
  • Unregistered investments. Ponzi schemes typically involve investments that have not been registered with the SEC or with state regulators. Registration is important because it provides investors with access to key information about the company’s management, products, services, and finances.
  • Unlicensed sellers. Federal and state securities laws require investment professionals and their firms to be licensed or registered. Most ponzi schemes involve unlicensed individuals or unregistered firms.
  • Secretive and/or complex strategies. Avoiding investments you don’t understand or for which you can’t get complete information is a good rule of thumb.
  • Issues with paperwork. Ignore excuses regarding why you can’t review information about an investment in writing, and always read an investment’s prospectus or disclosure statement carefully before you invest. Also, account statement errors may be a sign that funds are not being invested as promised.
  • Difficulty receiving payments. Be suspicious if you don’t receive a payment or have difficulty cashing out your investment. Keep in mind that ponzi scheme promoters sometimes encourage participants to “roll over” promised payments by offering even higher investment returns.

September 16, 2009

Double Dip Recession or Recovery?

Filed under: corporatism, credit, economy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 7:55 am

Global industrial production now shows clear signs of recovering at least when comparing the current ‘recession’ with the Great Depression. During that time, a decline in industrial production continued for a full three years. The question remains regarding final demand for this increased production. Will renewed demand actually materialize or did the U.S. government create a small bubble with $2 billion “Cash for Clunkers” program? Will consumer spending, especially in the US, remain weak, causing the increase in production to go into inventories? If production simply falls into inventories, this will result in sharp cut backs and result in a return to recession. The labor market combined with ailing business credit and finance in the U.S. does not hold out much promise for an end to the recession. Will the Obama administration jigger with credit markets to somehow expand credit markets?

Global stock markets and investment banking and profiteering have mounted a sharp recovery since the beginning of the year. Still, the decline in stock market wealth remains even greater than at a comparable stage of the Great Depression. The downward spiral in global trade volumes has abated. This may be due to the return of the old ways of doing business that President Obama has decried publicly in the last few days. Data exists for June that shows a modest uptick in trade, but  the collapse of global trade remains dramatic by the standards of the Great Depression.

July 16, 2009

Global Economic Crisis: G8 and the Papacy

G8 ItalyDuring the G8 economic meetings and debate in Italy, Pope Benedict released a new encyclical saying “there is urgent need of a true world political authority.” In that document, Pope Benedict XVI urged G8 leaders meeting in Italy to rewrite global financial rules and to defend the world’s poor from the effects of the economic crisis.

responsibility of the market

In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.

responsibility of business

Owing to their growth in scale and the need for more and more capital, it is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the life and the results of his company, and it is becoming increasingly rare for businesses to depend on a single territory. Moreover, the so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favour of the shareholders, who are not tied to a specific geographical area and who therefore enjoy extraordinary mobility. ...business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference.

The papacy has taken an interesting step by inserting itself into the G8 debate framework and  by ordering the involvement of Italy in the process. Certainly, in much earlier times, the papacy was directly involved in such matters without better consequences in those times. History is the best  witness of that truth. Now, the pope indicates that we need a man in charge once again as if the G8 institution is really in charge beyond politics. The real charge has been given to multinational corporations including central bankers on a global basis. The central bankers operate as a global corporate fraternal brotherhood through none other than the Swiss and Rome. Is the papacy and politics going to ‘take authority back’ or have they really lost any authority? The reality is that the papacy already holds ‘such coveted authority’ through the central bankers. Most of them have simply forgotten their moral compass in their need to service their clients. Pope Benedict is simply reminding his league that he holds them to a higher priority and that they need to exert a new influence as they continue to profit from money lending.

G8 first ladies and pope

February 18, 2009

More Fraud for Global Economy

sir-allen-stanford1Most people that have considered the recent plight and cause of the downturn in the global economy have realized that Bernard Madoff is just another tip of the iceberg where fraud is concerned. Now U.S. officials have added philanthropist Sir Allen Stanford of the Stanford Group to their short list of finance fraudsters.

Stanford is accused of “massive fraud,” although this writer cannot see how Stanford’s fraud is any worse than the Madoff fraud or for that matter, banking fraud by financial institutions and bankers that started the global economic downturn and housing collapse to begin with.

I suppose the idea that Stanford’s fraud is “massive” is supposed to make us feel better in that justice is being done. Bunk. We have a long way to go baby until the criminals that belong behind bars, the perpetrators of global financial ruin are removed from their posts. Most offenders of gross financial illiteracy are still operating with impunity as the U.S. government casts there eyes in the distance in the hope of looking for other scapegoats.

sir-allen-stanford-and-moneyStanford is one of those convenient scapegoats ripe for the picking. Until this writer sees action against the current bevy of offending bankers, people in high places that sanctioned criminal activity and financial ruin while supposing to know better, the U.S. government has little credibility in tracking offenders or really cleaning up the banking and finance mess that plagues the nation or the world. ~ E. Manning

April 8, 2008

UK: The Tight Credit Effect

Filed under: banking, central bank — Tags: , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 12:55 pm

The credit market has grown tight. Refinancing is more difficult. As a result of the scarcity, housing prices in the United Kingdom have began to fall. The numbers fell about 3% last month. Compared to the 10% – 20% fall in the U.S. housing market, the British situation appears small and is very early in the process.

British bankers are concerned. When buyers cannot get a mortgage, most buyers don’t buy a house. Then housing prices fall because the mortgage market deflates the housing market. Apparently, the confidence levels of UK bankers is questionable. They have been directly comparing their economy to the economy of the U.S. before the mortgage crisis. They are alarmed by the larger debt of British citizens compared to American citizens and the market is cooling dramatically.

The global banking economy has been shaken. National bankers are worried about having a repeat of the U.S. mortgage crisis. Expressed fear has a way of operating as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

April 3, 2008

Bernanke’s Optimism Flags

Filed under: banking, federal reserve, government, money — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 12:04 am

bernanke-defends-fed.jpgBernanke appeared less amiable and quietly confident as he spoke is more tense tones. He admitted that “recent actions appear to have helped stabilize the situation somewhat”, but that markets remained strained. Clearly Chairman Bernanke put a new floor under the U.S. economy. The economy would be rife would failure if the Fed had not gradually opened the floodgates of the market credit and proceeded to make an emergency infusion upon the failure of Bear Stearns. Last month alone, the Fed credited more than $300 billion in economic support to keep the banking economy in functional condition.

Bernanke recited that bankers were unwilling to loan to each other because of the large amount of securitized banking instruments on hand. Banks have been unwilling to take any changes holding bad debt or collateral. Since the Federal Reserve has been dealing with the securities (more…)

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