Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Peak soil: the next market killing?

You know it's time to worry when market analysts see 'opportunity.'

From 'Peak soil' and the agriculture re-boom are coming:

...We are talking about a commodity which is equally as important as oil. A commodity which has not been hit nearly as hard as almost every other one during this downturn. A commodity that is already in short supply. And one which will have a far greater run up this Summer (and more profitable for investors) than oil probably will.

A perfect storm for agriculture

The commodity is food. This Summer has the potential to be a very big one for agriculture commodities. The prices of everything – wheat, corn, barley, sunflower, among others – are on the verge of going much, much higher.

We all know the long-term case for agriculture. The “Peak Soil” crisis is something that has been followed closely in the Prosperity Dispatch for a long time. The combination of declining crop yields from overused soil and rising demand from a wealthier and growing population.

We are not going out on a limb and saying the long-term outlook for agriculture commodities and stocks is outstanding. Today though, we want to focus on the short-term prospects for agriculture. More specifically, how two big issues could launch agriculture commodity prices back to last year's highs and
beyond.

Just like every other commodity, agriculture commodity prices are driven by supply and demand. The catalysts for agriculture commodities in this summer rest on the supply side.

The first factor is grain stockpiles. They're at record lows. Corn is the perfect example. Corn stockpiles in the US have currently fallen to a 33-day supply. That means if there was no corn production this year, the US would be out of corn in a little over a month. This is the lowest on record since the old record of 34 days' supply set in 2003.

It's not just a problem in the US though. The rest of the world is probably not going to make up for the shortfall. Allendale, a commodities research firm, says: “Equally alarming is the lack of help from major world suppliers such as China, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects the world end stocks [are at] 128 million tonnes, down 8.6% year on year. This would imply the world's reserve supply of corn at 53 days, one day lower than the old record dating back to 1999.”

Sounds pretty bad right? Stockpiles are low and only another record-setting year of production will help ensure stockpiles remain at their current low levels. That's where the second factor could create some real fireworks over the next few months in the agriculture sector.

Another bumper crop this year is highly unlikely. And it has nothing to do with farmers getting financing, fertiliser shortages, or anything which can be compensated for. The problem is completely out of the control of the agriculture industry.

The sunspot cycle

A few weeks ago we had the chance to sit down with John Embry, the chief investment strategist at Sprott Asset Management. Embry has been a commodities analyst and portfolio manager for decades and has done exceptionally well during this commodities boom.

In our conversation, Embry brought up a very important point about agriculture. He said: “I think the real arbiter in the short run might be the climate. I see a lot of industry people bringing this up, changing sunspots. These changes in the sunspots suggest that we may be facing drought conditions in a lot of the world all at the same time.”

If that's the case, I think you are going to see massive food shortages which would underrate a considerable price appreciation in the food because there will be a real fight for it. ...

~ more... ~


From Peak soil investment: This quiet land grab is just beginning:

According to the Economist, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and China have been “quietly” buying up more than $20 billion of this asset.

It's not oil or natural gas assets though. And it's not the molybdenum they need to build thousands of miles of new pipelines. They're buying up one of my favorite long-term investments, farmland.

[ ,,, ]

Right now, official estimates for this year's crop are far too optimistic. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects world grain production to rise 4.9% this year. And they're expecting an increase of 3.1% in 2010.

Granted, that sounds reasonable to most people. But they're not reasonable expectations at all.

You see, these are very rosy expectations for so many reasons. First, you have to consider that 2008 was one of the top three crop production years in history. The sharp rise in crop prices over the past few years sent farmers around the world into full production mode. The past two years were exceptional. Even though, demand still outstripped supply and food riots broke out around the world.

Also, agriculture production doesn't grow that fast. It grows at a snail's pace. An average year will see about 1% to 2% growth - maximum. The past few years have been an exception, not the norm.

The final thing the USDA is missing is agriculture production goes hand in hand with the economy. According to a recent report by Credit Suisse, “[2009] would be the first global recession to coincide with increased crop production.”

So the USDA growth estimates are downright laughable.

~ more... ~


From Buying farmland abroad - Outsourcing's third wave:

EARLY this year, the king of Saudi Arabia held a ceremony to receive a batch of rice, part of the first crop to be produced under something called the King Abdullah initiative for Saudi agricultural investment abroad. It had been grown in Ethiopia, where a group of Saudi investors is spending $100m to raise wheat, barley and rice on land leased to them by the government. The investors are exempt from tax in the first few years and may export the entire crop back home. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is spending almost the same amount as the investors ($116m) providing 230,000 tonnes of food aid between 2007 and 2011 to the 4.6m Ethiopians it thinks are threatened by hunger and malnutrition.

The Saudi programme is an example of a powerful but contentious trend sweeping the poor world: countries that export capital but import food are outsourcing farm production to countries that need capital but have land to spare. Instead of buying food on world markets, governments and politically influential companies buy or lease farmland abroad, grow the crops there and ship them back.

Supporters of such deals argue they provide new seeds, techniques and money for agriculture, the basis of poor countries' economies, which has suffered from disastrous underinvestment for decades. Opponents call the projects “land grabs”, claim the farms will be insulated from host countries and argue that poor farmers will be pushed off land they have farmed for generations. What is unquestionable is that the projects are large, risky and controversial. In Madagascar they contributed to the overthrow of a government.

Investment in foreign farms is not new. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 foreign investors rushed to snap up former state-owned and collective farms. Before that there were famous—indeed notorious—examples of European attempts to set up flagship farms in ex-colonies, such as Britain's ill-fated attempt in the 1940s to turn tracts of southern Tanzania into a limitless peanut prairie (the southern Tanganyika groundnut scheme). The phrase “banana republics” originally referred to servile dictatorships running countries whose economies were dominated by foreign-owned fruit plantations.

But several things about the current fashion are new. One is its scale. A big land deal used to be around 100,000 hectares (240,000 acres). Now the largest ones are many times that. In Sudan alone, South Korea has signed deals for 690,000 hectares, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 400,000 hectares and Egypt has secured a similar deal to grow wheat. An official in Sudan says his country will set aside for Arab governments roughly a fifth of the cultivated land in Africa's largest country (traditionally known as the breadbasket of the Arab world).

It is not just Gulf states that are buying up farms. China secured the right to grow palm oil for biofuel on 2.8m hectares of Congo, which would be the world's largest palm-oil plantation. It is negotiating to grow biofuels on 2m hectares in Zambia, a country where Chinese farms are said to produce a quarter of the eggs sold in the capital, Lusaka. According to one estimate, 1m Chinese farm labourers will be working in Africa this year, a number one African leader called “catastrophic”.

~ more... ~

Liberating lipsticks and lattes

They arrived at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square in small groups on Sunday afternoon, proceeding two and three at a time to the fourth floor, where they browsed among shelves holding books by authors like Jacques Derrida and Martin Heidegger.

By 5 o'clock a crowd of more than 100 had gathered. Their purpose: to celebrate the publication of an English translation of a book called “The Coming Insurrection,” which was written two years ago by an anonymous group of French authors who call themselves the Invisible Committee. More recently, the volume has been at the center of an unusual criminal investigation in France that has become something of a cause célèbre among leftists and civil libertarians.

The book, which predicts the imminent collapse of capitalist culture, was inspired by disruptive demonstrations that took place over the last few years in France and Greece. It was influenced stylistically by Guy Debord, a French writer and filmmaker who was a leader of the Situationist International, a group of intellectuals and artists who encouraged the Paris protests of 1968.

In keeping with the anarchistic spirit of the text, the bookstore event was organized without the knowledge or permission of Barnes & Noble. The gathering was intended partly as a show of solidarity with nine young people — including one suspected of writing “The Coming Insurrection” —whom in November the French police accused of forming a dangerous “ultraleftist” group and sabotaging train lines.

As a bookstore employee announced to the milling crowd that there was no reading scheduled for that night, a man jumped onto a stage and began loudly reciting the opening words of the book's recent introduction: “Everyone agrees. It's about to explode.” ...

~ more... ~

A copy of the book is available here.

[ Via Dan Clore ]

"The most important meeting of the 21st century so far"

From The American Empire Is Bankrupt by Chris Hedges:

This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.

Barack Obama, and the criminal class on Wall Street, aided by a corporate media that continues to peddle fatuous gossip and trash talk as news while we endure the greatest economic crisis in our history, may have fooled us, but the rest of the world knows we are bankrupt. And these nations are damned if they are going to continue to prop up an inflated dollar and sustain the massive federal budget deficits, swollen to over $2 trillion, which fund America’s imperial expansion in Eurasia and our system of casino capitalism. They have us by the throat. They are about to squeeze.

There are meetings being held Monday and Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia, (formerly Sverdlovsk) among Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States, which asked to attend, was denied admittance. Watch what happens there carefully. The gathering is, in the words of economist Michael Hudson, “the most important meeting of the 21st century so far.”

It is the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe. Obama, endowed by many with the qualities of a savior, will suddenly look pitiful, inept and weak. And the rage that has kindled a handful of shootings and hate crimes in the past few weeks will engulf vast segments of a disenfranchised and bewildered working and middle class. The people of this class will demand vengeance, radical change, order and moral renewal, which an array of proto-fascists, from the Christian right to the goons who disseminate hate talk on Fox News, will assure the country they will impose.

I called Hudson, who has an article in Monday’s Financial Times called “The Yekaterinburg Turning Point: De-Dollarization and the Ending of America’s Financial-Military Hegemony.” “Yekaterinburg,” Hudson writes, “may become known not only as the death place of the czars but of the American empire as well.” His article is worth reading, along with John Lanchester’s disturbing exposé of the world’s banking system, titled “It’s Finished,” which appeared in the May 28 issue of the London Review of Books.

“This means the end of the dollar,” Hudson told me. “It means China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran are forming an official financial and military area to get America out of Eurasia. The balance-of-payments deficit is mainly military in nature. Half of America’s discretionary spending is military. The deficit ends up in the hands of foreign banks, central banks. They don’t have any choice but to recycle the money to buy U.S. government debt. The Asian countries have been financing their own military encirclement. They have been forced to accept dollars that have no chance of being repaid. They are paying for America’s military aggression against them. They want to get rid of this.”

China, as Hudson points out, has already struck bilateral trade deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan rather than the dollar, pound or euro. Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies. The governor of China’s central bank has openly called for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, suggesting in its place the use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. What the new system will be remains unclear, but the flight from the dollar has clearly begun. The goal, in the words of the Russian president, is to build a “multipolar world order” which will break the economic and, by extension, military domination by the United States. China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency. This is why Aluminum Corp. of China made so many major concessions in the failed attempt to salvage its $19.5 billion alliance with the Rio Tinto mining concern in Australia. It desperately needs to shed its dollars.

“China is trying to get rid of all the dollars they can in a trash-for-resource deal,” Hudson said. “They will give the dollars to countries willing to sell off their resources since America refuses to sell any of its high-tech industries, even Unocal, to the yellow peril. It realizes these dollars are going to be worthless pretty quickly.”

~ more... ~

Greece: 60 fires for one day

60 fires broke out for one day in Greece, due to the high temperatures and the strong winds and also due to hidden interests, who use the atmospheric conditions, in order to burn down a flank of a mountain and free some area for construction. Firefighters did not have enough means to fight the firestorm, because the government had decided to save some money and it didn’t hire enough firefighter choppers.

“Until yesterday it was raining in Northern Greece and on Wednesday it will rain again. We are not in the active fire season,” said deputy minister of internal affairs and responsible for the police forces Christos Makryanakos. His statement provoked a sharp reaction from the firefighter syndicate, whose members remind that officially, Greece enters the fire season from May 1st and the government is desperately trying to change this date to June 1st. Unions are warning that money are being saved not only from helicopters but also from ground equipment.

Regardless of the organizational disorder, today citizens and firefighters put up a great fight against the 60 fires around the country. Very close to private homes a big fire broke out in the luxurious sea suburb Glyfada at about 03:30PM. Together with firefighter the residents of the neighborhood successfully put out the fire after a five hour fight. This was done also with the help of 10 airplanes and two helicopters, 35 firefighter squads, tens of firefighters, over 60 soldiers from the land forces, 11 municipality tanks and about 100 volunteers. The firestorm spread very quickly, because of the strong wind and reached the neighboring suburb Voula, where it was taken control of.
Later on, another fire broke out near the Athenian neighborhood – Vrana, which is the historic village of Marathonas. The flames reached 300 meters before the historic museum but thanks to 4 helicopters and the land forces this firestorm was also put out.

~ Source: GR Reporter ~

Campaign to stop IMF and war funding

Anger over 'secret Iraq inquiry'

Opposition parties and campaigners have condemned Gordon Brown's decision to hold an independent inquiry into the Iraq war behind closed doors.

Tory leader David Cameron accused Mr Brown of "an establishment stitch-up", while the Lib Dems threatened to boycott the "secret" inquiry.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said all but the most sensitive evidence would be published in the final report.

And opposition parties had agreed to the composition of the inquiry team.

He said the government was "determined to match" the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war, which he said had set the "gold standard" in terms of thoroughness and access to papers.

'Lies and deceit'

But he also insisted that the inquiry would not find evidence of "dishonesty" in the use of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war, adding that, in his view, the Butler report had found none.

"If you are looking for a great conspiracy you are not going to find it," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But he said the inquiry would answer critics who have said the government has been unwilling to hold a "comprehensive" inquiry into the Iraq war and its aftermath.

"Now that British troops are home, it is right that we have a genuinely comprehensive inquiry and I also think it's worth pointing out that the prime minister's made clear that when the report is published, everything except the most sensitive aspects of national security will be published."

John Miller, whose son Simon was killed in Iraq in 2003, said private hearings would be marred by "lies and deceit".

~ more... ~

Dignity

Cynthia McKinney channel:

http://www.livestream.com/dignity

Inside the Peruvian Amazon



Ben Powless: President can hunt indigenous leader all he wants, the movement came from below

~ The Real News ~

Greece to set up internment camps for immigrants

From a great post by Teacherdude:

The Greek daily Nea newspaper reported that the government was in the process of setting up internment camps for illegal immigrants throughout the country. Eleven disused army bases have been chosen in order to house those found without legal residency documents.

Stung by their losses in the recent European elections the ruling conservative New Democracy party has taken a sharp turn to the right in order to win back dissatisfied voters who's defected to the far right LAOS party in last week's elections.

In addition the police have made hundreds of arrests of suspected illegal immigrants in the centre of Athens in an action which has been interpreted as a “get tough” message by the government of Kostas Karamanlis to the party's base following months of falling opinion poll results brought on by a series of corruption scandals and unhappiness with Athens's handling of Greece's deepening recession.

However, many opposition groups are doubtful whether the proposed measures will be anything other than a publicity exercise. Despite recent crackdowns the government has failed to formulate a coherent policy concerning the integration of the country's 1 million foreign born inhabitants.

~ more... ~

Readying Americans for dangerous, mandatory vaccinations

...On its web site, the ACLU says this about MSEHPA:

It's "written in a way that doesn't adequately protect citizens against the misuse of the tremendous powers that it would grant in an emergency. (It's) replete with civil liberties problems. Its three top flaws are that:

(1) It fails to include basic checks and balances (by) grant(ing) extraordinary emergency powers (that) should never go unchecked. (It) could have serious consequences for individuals' freedom, privacy, and equality."

(2) "It goes well beyond bioterrorism (with) an overbroad definition of 'public health emergency" that may be anything a local or national authority declares for any reason with no conclusive evidence for proof.

(3) "It lacks privacy protections (and) undercut(s) existing protections for sensitive medical information."

MSEHPA worries other organizations besides the ACLU, both conservative and progressive - including the Free Congress Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council, conservative association of state legislators, Human Rights Campaign, and Health Privacy Project.

The Real Threat of Dangerous, Mandatory Vaccinations

In the wake of the hyped Swine Flu scare, media reports suggest mass vaccinations are coming. The May 6 Kimberly Kindy - Ceci Connolly Washington Post one, for example, headlined "US May Add Shots for Swine Flu to Fall Regimen" without saying they'll be mandatory but reading between the lines suggests the possibility this year or later.

The writers report that "The Obama administration is considering an unprecedented fall vaccination campaign" to include regular and Swine Flu shots, the latter because it's "spreading across the globe." ...

~ more... ~

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