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

August 13, 2010

Fed Policy Lacks Real Power, Drains Economy

Filed under: banking, corporatism, economy — Tags: , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 10:49 am

Quantitative easing (QE) by the Federal Reserve did plenty for Wall Street and international banking, but hasn’t warmed up the real  U.S. economy. The Federal Reserve creates money out of thin air to buy U.S. Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities and corporate debt for temporary funding purposes with the  hope of selling them at an advantageous time.  Indications (based on gov’t figures) are that either the stimulus did not work or it did work, but the real economy was more severe and harder to control than advertised. Your opinion?   The ongoing structural and underlying massive debt is now more pressing thanks to the Federal Reserve policies. At this moment, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is arriving in Washington to testify before Congress to answer for the disaster. No doubt, he will bumble on about financial literacy, like this knowledge actually helps anyone when greed and corruption were and are the largest issues behind the meltdown. The Fed is just another large corporation with their own money-making agenda.

The policy followed by the Fed has bailed out the system that was initially responsible for the meltdown, but has done little to nothing for unemployment, exports, small business, consumer spending or declining revenues. For years America lived on credit as wages have not kept pace with real expenses.  Moral support by the banking community has vaporized since the they have been unable to monetize securities. On balance, the simple act of loaning money isn’t enough for them. They want another way to make runaway profits, as if the fractional reserve isn’t rich enough for them!

The Fed itself is aware of what they are facing and the obvious disconnect from all their past projections. This was published in a chart included in the latest economic paper by the Fed in Dallas titled “Unemployment Exceeds No-Stimulus Forecast.”

June 27, 2010

Jobs & G20: Budget Slashing Fever & Fantasy

To hear the G-20 proclaim it, the U.S. and other “prime economies” had better slash their budget deficits before the world comes to an end. The U.S. Senate quashes continued aid for the unemployed. Wall Street investment firms and banking succeeds in watering down financial reform. The fantasy continues while economists and politicians worry behind the scenes.  Even VP Joe Biden openly admitted that the United States will not regain the jobs that were lost in the “Great Recession.”

The official jobless rate, projected at below 10%, is pure fiction and must treated as such by those that seek the truth. It doesn’t consider many unemployed people that have dropped off the charts into oblivion. Underemployment is a national plague that the Labor Bureau of Statistics has revealed. Many are the discouraged job seekers and those that have settled for part-time work. The U.S. Labor Department shows that there are 79 million men in America between the ages of 25 and 65. Nearly 18 million of them, a record 22%, are out of work. This doesn’t include the underemployed. The impact is larger in African-American men.

The financial markets, like the government lawmakers, could care less about the deficit. Perhaps they should. As a result, investment rates in bonds is down. Almost all of them ignore engineered inflation which pays off central bankers to the tune of about 10% yearly, the real loss in buying power for the nation. In the meantime, the official inflation rate is a “convenient” 3% most years. Powers that be project an inflation rate 2.3% yearly for the next 30 years. Dreamland. Because of what is really a stagflation economy, falling prices and deflation of the dollar are more likely.

Wall Street and multinational capitalism seems to be in robust condition, to the cost of everyone but them. Corporate profit margins have reached record levels at 36% as the average American is short circuited entirely. These profits have never been so high since record keeping began. These figures are much the same as they were in the Reagan administration.

More than half of the national budget funds defense (don’t forget the wars), national debt interest and Social Security/Medicare. Politicians are eyeballing cuts on the latter, often silent as a senior political voice fades away. Don’t kid yourself. You’ll pay for seniors and the disabled one way or the other. Don’t kid yourself about the other major expenses either. Meanwhile, the national budget has climbed steadily for decades in the 6% to 10% range, much higher than the professed inflation rate.

There are no easy answers beyond beginning to live within our means as a nation. For years, Americans had forgotten about this necessity, encouraged by the system to spend endlessly, until the recession hit us between the eyes. Only bankers, multinationals and Wall Street have profited in their own economic bubble. Government has forgotten what economic balance and locally productive jobs mean, threatening to destroy their own system of weights and balances with unfettered spending and wars overseas, designed to keep terrorist attacks overseas and out of America. We have created our own reality. Are we willing to change?

June 24, 2010

The Iron Hand of the Federal Reserve

Filed under: banking, business, corporatism, federal reserve, money — Tags: , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 1:23 pm

Banks are notorious for sitting on their can doing little to promote the economic engine, even as they have a wealth of money creating power through the fractional reserve built into the system. They prefer to downgrade your credit worthiness while creating new ways to profit on Wall Street. The national government of the U.S. wants to look as though they are really doing something about regulatory reform. Today, the Federal Reserve has issued today’s “iron edict” for banking, which excludes credit card banks and special purpose banks. They pretend to foster financial literacy. With new powers firmly in place, the Fed intends to correct the banking system through “host state loan-to-deposit ratios.” (Applause) All banking institutions will be measured through revised figures based on compliance with section 109 of the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994. They evaluate these ratios yearly.

The act “prohibits a bank from establishing or acquiring a branch or branches outside of its home state primarily for the purpose of deposit production.” It “also prohibits branches of banks controlled by out-of-state bank holding companies from operating primarily for the purpose of deposit production.” Would you say that this has worked in the past to keep banks straight in their pursuit of profit? Hardly. That won’t stop the Fed from pretending to get bankers to follow law. It will only work if the Fed uses the law aggressively, especially where loaning money is concerned. Since the Fed shares a similar corporate structure and philosophy to banks, enforcing ratios is unlikely to have much traction.

The act also provides orders to test compliance with the statutory requirements.

“The first step in the process involves a loan-to-deposit ratio screen that compares a bank’s statewide loan-to-deposit ratio to the host state loan-to-deposit ratio for banks in a particular state.

A second step is conducted if a bank’s statewide loan-to-deposit ratio is less than one-half of the published ratio for that state or if data are not available at the bank to conduct the first step. The second step requires the appropriate banking agency to determine whether the bank is reasonably helping to meet the credit needs of the communities served by the bank’s interstate branches.”

With recent publicity, you can see where the Fed announces they are going. “A bank that fails both steps is in violation of section 109 and is subject to sanctions (italics mine) by the appropriate banking agency”: the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Don’t you feel all better now?

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.

May 8, 2009

The New Brand of Corporatism: Unemployment

unemployedThe fruits of the ‘new brand’ of corporatism have squarely placed the nation and world where it is today. Corporate cheerleaders and government experts are now combining forces to create a new outlook that fully accepts policy of the last few decades. For many decades, government has quietly adjusted record keeping to massage public statistics.  Once again, corporatism and a fully complicit government is seeking to adjust the future of the United States by redefining full employment. This vanity seeks to install the idea that we don’t need economic health or reasonable employment to enjoy record profits or the ideal of prosperity. If we can’t have prosperity the way the leaders of corporatism want, they will simply redefine that definition of prosperity to fit their own mold while continuing to blow their own horns.

The experts want the nation to bite off on the notion that “post-recession America” will be stressed with high unemployment even after the good times return. Good times for who? Obviously, the outlook of good times without a sizable portion of the United States participating involves only the outlook of corporate bodies and the capability of maintaining or promoting profits for the structure of the current system in place. The economy of the whole of the nation isn’t being considered, at least not realistically.

unemployment4Millions of jobs have vanished forever. Most will find it harder than ever to get hired again. The idea is being promoted that we will be required to accept lower earnings and a diminished economic role in the country as the rich get richer and the poor and disenfranchised fall off the economic map and into government assistance. As it stands approximately 54% of America that is employed is paying for the rest of America’s unemployed, disabled, retired and imprisoned.

unemployed1The ‘new brand’ of corporatism considers that employment has nothing to do with economic prosperity. Politicians and ‘economic corporatists’ console themselves and hopefully the populace by stating that the natural rate of unemployment neither accelerates or decelerates inflation.  They want us to accept a markedly higher ‘natural rate’ of unemployment by disassociating employment from the economy.

All this is drizzled by the news media with the admission that there is no relief in sight for the unemployed. By the admission of many, like Laurence Ball, it will be a long time before the nation sees 5 percent unemployment rates.

Then the media fully deploys the most heinous part of the corporate plan. The more time that workers spend without a job, the less attractive they become. Why? Ostensibly because the unemployed are not keeping up with ‘new technology’. This skewed outlook of corporatism is expected to keep the unemployment rate elevated. In the same breath, the experts say that the unemployed become discouraged and change lifestyle. Corporatism has dealt America a very nasty blow indeed and isn’t finished yet. Should Americans continue to bite off on the same old political and social wisdom of the past? We have a right and the privilege to reinvent ourselves. I encourage you to get on the road to reinventing yourself and standing on your own two feet without being dependent on corporatism. Otherwise, you have very little to look forward to beyond spending endless amounts of cash on dubious college training to continue to tickle corporatism’s insane fancies. ~ E. Manning

March 6, 2009

Arguing About Unemployment

Filed under: economy, politics, security — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 8:41 am

unemployment-adsYes, the job scene is bad for America. 650,000 jobs were lost in February alone. The economy is in a tailspin and confidence is low, if not non-existent. The pundits and experts continually want to argue about the measuring stick. As a writer, I have done the same. The truth can be an annoying reality.

Read commentary on MSNBC

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