Load Up the Pantry – The Wall Street Journal

I don’t want to alarm anybody, but maybe it’s time for Americans to start stockpiling food.

No, this is not a drill.

You’ve seen the TV footage of food riots in parts of the developing world. Yes, they’re a long way away from the U.S. But most foodstuffs operate in a global market. When the cost of wheat soars in Asia, it will do the same here.

Reality: Food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund. And there are very good reasons to believe prices on the shelves are about to start rising a lot faster.

Load up the pantry,” says Manu Daftary, one of Wall Street’s top investors and the manager of the Quaker Strategic Growth mutual fund. “I think prices are going higher. People are too complacent. They think it isn’t going to happen here. But I don’t know how the food companies can absorb higher costs.” (Full disclosure: I am an investor in Quaker Strategic)

Stocking up on food may not replace your long-term investments, but it may make a sensible home for some of your shorter-term cash. Do the math. If you keep your standby cash in a money-market fund you’ll be lucky to get a 2.5% interest rate. Even the best one-year certificate of deposit you can find is only going to pay you about 4.1%, according to Bankrate.com. And those yields are before tax.

Meanwhile the most recent government data shows food inflation for the average American household is now running at 4.5% a year.

And some prices are rising even more quickly. The latest data show cereal prices rising by more than 8% a year. Both flour and rice are up more than 13%. Milk, cheese, bananas and even peanut butter: They’re all up by more than 10%. Eggs have rocketed up 30% in a year. Ground beef prices are up 4.8% and chicken by 5.4%.

These are trends that have been in place for some time.

And if you are hoping they will pass, here’s the bad news: They may actually accelerate.

Read moreLoad Up the Pantry – The Wall Street Journal

Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club limits rice purchases

NEW YORK, April 23 (Reuters) – Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s (WMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) Sam’s Club warehouse division said on Wednesday it is limiting sales of several types of rice, the latest sign that fears of a rice shortage are rippling around the world.

Sam’s Club, the No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator, said it is limiting sales of Jasmine, Basmati and long grain white rice “due to recent supply and demand trends.”

U.S. rice futures hitting an all-time high Wednesday on worries about supply shortages.

On Tuesday, Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O: Quote, Profile, Research), the largest U.S. warehouse club operator, said it has seen increased demand for items like rice and flour as customers, worried about global food shortages and rising prices, stock up.

Sam’s Club, the No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator, is limiting sales of the 20-pound (9 kg), bulk bags of rice to four bags per customer per visit, and is working with suppliers to ensure the products remain in stock.

Warehouse clubs cater to individual shoppers as well as small businesses and restaurant owners looking to buy cheaper, bulk goods.

With prices for basic food items surging, customers have been going to the clubs to try to save money on bulk sizes of everything from pasta to cooking oil and rice.

Read moreWal-Mart’s Sam’s Club limits rice purchases

Bay Area Shoppers Asked To Limit Rice Purchases

The price of a food staple — rice — is rising significantly, NBC11 reported.
The price of rice has increased dramatically in recent weeks due to crop failure overseas and resulting hoarding, NBC11 reported.
And at least one Bay Area store is asking customers to hold back on their rice purchases. Costco has posted signs asking customers to follow their regular rice-buying habits.
The rice price increase is a result of a domino effect, NBC11’s Noelle Walker reported. Drought in Australia led to a severe decline in rice production that in turn led the world’s largest rice exporters to restrict exports. That spurred higher rice prices and hoarding in Asian countries, NBC11 reported.

Now in the United States, rice prices have skyrocketed.
Son Tran owns Le Cheval Vietnamese Restaurant in Oakland.
He said he’s seen the price of rice go from $20 to $40 in a matter of weeks.
And Le Cheval’s stockpiles are dwindling.
Add to that, the price of vegetables has gone up 50 percent, and some of Tran’s regular customers aren’t so regular anymore.

Read moreBay Area Shoppers Asked To Limit Rice Purchases

Hyperinflationary Depression

Until now, I have given equal credence to two possible scenarios:

  1. We could have several years of inflation as we do now, and the powers-that-be would have a sudden rush of brains to the head, like Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan did in 1980, and stop the “printing press,” ending inflation and the gold and silver bull market, for at least a few years; or
  2. It is too late to stop it. The political forces and the Unfunded Liabilities would prevent the powers-that-be from ending the money-printing process, and in fact, would grossly accelerate it. This would result in a hyper inflation (400 percent inflation or more), and the eventual total destruction of the dollar. Suddenly America would find its money totally useless. Store shelves would be empty, gas would go through the stratosphere, and Americans would suffer through the greatest threat since the Great Depression of the ’30s.

So what caused me to settle on number two?

I received John Williams’ recent newsletter “Shadow Government Statistics,” www.shadowstats.com in which he describes his case for a hyper-inflationary depression. It was most persuasive. It certainly persuaded me, and is consistent with what I’ve said for years.

I spent the ’70s fending off the media label of “Prophet of Doom,” arguing that I expected much less than doom. It turned out to be so.

With my new book in circulation, I’ll face the same accusations, and this time they are right. The financial world we know and love is facing genuine doom. You could lose the value of all your assets in the stock market. You could find yourself unable to buy essential commodities, when you want them, and gold and silver will be valued, not in the tens or hundreds of dollars per ounce, but in the thousands!

John Williams’ Shadow Government Statistics newsletter is most unusual. John is a consulting economist with all of the academic credentials. Most of his clients are bank officers and high-ranking corporate officers. He has rearranged the government data according to historical analysis.

For example, the government says inflation is under four percent by the simple expedient of eliminating energy and food from their calculations. John says inflation is over 11 percent, including energy and food.

His academic credentials are way ahead of mine, but at least I know enough to understand his work. It’s my job to try to reduce such things to terms my subscribers can grasp.

Here are some brief paragraphs from this 25-page report.

“With the creation of massive amounts of new fiat (not backed by gold) dollars will come the eventual complete collapse of the value of the U.S. dollar and related dollar-denominated paper assets.”

Read moreHyperinflationary Depression

Credit Crisis Turning into Credit Armageddon

While most investors are focused on the latest stock market rally, hidden from view is a monumental change that few recognize and fewer understand: Unprecedented amounts of old debts are coming due in America, and many are not getting refinanced.

Even worse, borrowers are going into default, lenders are taking huge losses, and outstanding loans are turning to dust.

The numbers are large; the government’s response is equally massive. So before you look at one more stock quote or any other news item, I think it behooves you to understand what this means and what to do about it …

New Evidence of A Credit Crack-Up

Until recently, economists have had only anecdotal evidence of credit troubles.

They knew that individual banks were taking losses. They knew that many banks were tightening their lending standards. And they realized that there were hiccups in the credit markets.

So they called it the “credit crunch” — essentially a slowdown in the pace of new credit growth.

But we didn’t buy that. Earlier this year, we warned that America’s credit woes involved much more than just a slowdown. We wrote that it was actually a credit crack-up — an outright contraction of credit the likes of which had never been witnessed in our lifetime.

Wall Street scoffed. No one had seen anything like this happen before, and almost everyone assumed that it would not happen now.

They were wrong.

Indeed, three new official reports are now telling us, point blank, that the credit crack-up is already beginning!

Read moreCredit Crisis Turning into Credit Armageddon

Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Many parts of America, long considered the breadbasket of the world, are now confronting a once unthinkable phenomenon: food rationing. Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks.

At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy.

“Where’s the rice?” an engineer from Palo Alto, Calif., Yajun Liu, said. “You should be able to buy something like rice. This is ridiculous.”

Read moreFood Rationing Confronts Breadbasket of the World

In lean times, biotech grains are less taboo

A farmer harvests soy beans on the outskirts of Gualeguaychu, north of Buenos Aires.(Andres Stapff/Reuters)

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

In Japan and South Korea, some manufacturers for the first time have begun buying genetically engineered corn for use in soft drinks, snacks and other foods. Until now, to avoid consumer backlash, the companies have paid extra to buy conventionally grown corn. But with prices having tripled in two years, it has become too expensive to be so finicky.

“We cannot afford it,” said a corn buyer at Kato Kagaku, a Japanese maker of corn starch and corn syrup.

In the United States, wheat growers and marketers, once hesitant about adopting biotechnology because they feared losing export sales, are now warming to it as a way to bolster supplies. Genetically modified crops contain genes from other organisms to make the plants resistance to insects, herbicides or disease. Opponents continue to worry that such crops have not been studied enough and that they might pose risks to health and the environment.

(Genetically modified crops have been studied long enough to know that GM food weakens the immune system within days, increases the cancer risk dramatically etc. – The Infinite Unknown)

Read moreIn lean times, biotech grains are less taboo

Bank of America Net Income Falls 77% on Writedowns

April 21 (Bloomberg) — Bank of America Corp., the second- largest U.S. bank, said profit dropped for a third straight quarter as the company set aside $6.01 billion for bad loans.

First-quarter net income declined 77 percent to $1.21 billion from $5.26 billion a year earlier, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank said today in a statement. The results fell short of analysts’ estimates and sent the bank’s stock down 2.5 percent in New York trading.

Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Lewis scaled back a January forecast of 20 percent earnings growth this year after reporting the two worst quarters since he took over in 2001. Lewis said he now expects “sequential profit improvement” for the rest of 2008. The bank’s consumer unit, which contributed more than 60 percent of operating income in 2007, faces a nationwide jump in unpaid debt and the highest unemployment rate since 2005.

“The first quarter was much worse than our expectations three months ago,” Lewis said on a conference call. “It’s too early to strike up the band and say that happy days are here again.”

Read moreBank of America Net Income Falls 77% on Writedowns

Energy producers in driving seat at Rome talks

ROME: Consumer countries and international oil firms keen to gain greater access to the world’s energy resources are likely to walk away empty-handed from talks with producer nations in Rome.

Record high oil, which struck $117 a barrel on Friday, has helped to drive up the profits of oil majors, but it has also increased the spending power of national oil companies and made them ever more reluctant to grant access to their resources.

“The relative positions of international energy companies and national energy companies are changing — and not in our favour,” Paolo Scaroni, chief executive of Italian oil and gas company Eni said in a speech at the opening of the International Energy Forum (IEF).

OPEC member Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, has spearheaded a global trend towards resource-holders seeking to maximise their returns from their energy wealth.

International firms have found themselves faced with tougher terms and shut out of the best energy territory.

During the 1970s, the international oil companies controlled nearly three-quarters of global oil reserves and 80 percent of production, Scaroni said.

Now, they control 6 percent of oil and 20 percent of gas reserves, and 24 percent of oil and 35 percent of gas production, he said. National oil companies hold the rest.

Read moreEnergy producers in driving seat at Rome talks

The REAL cost of inflation

The Daily Mail’s Cost of Living Index reveals food prices rising at SIX times official figure

The true, devastating scale of rising prices is revealed today – by the new Daily Mail Cost of Living Index.

It shows that families are having to find more than £100 a month extra this year to cope with increases in the cost of food, heat, light and transport.

According to the Consumer Price Index, inflation is running at only 2.5 per cent.

Yet the Mail’s index finds that food costs alone are rising at 15.5 per cent a year – more than six times the official rate.

And there are double-digit increases in other “must-pay” essentials such as petrol, gas and electricity.

Many families need to find more than £1,200 extra a year just to stand still.

Once higher mortgage costs are added, millions are having to pay out at least another £2,000 a year to keep their heads above water.

The Bank of England’s chief economist Charlie Bean admitted last night that higher food and energy costs are likely to push the Consumer Price Index over 3 per cent this year.

Read moreThe REAL cost of inflation