Economy

Wheat, Cotton, Sugar, Rubber: Why Commodity Prices Are Skyrocketing

A French analysis of global commodity prices, as 2010 quietly finishes with record highs

Corn has reached record highs


PARIS - Wheat, corn, coffee, sugar, rubber, cocoa, cotton, soy, rice. Each one of these commodities has seen their prices skyrocket this year, some to all-time record highs. The increase accelerated in December, with investors buying with the fever of those who fear shortages, or a more deliberate desire to hunker down for an austere 2011 protected by the guarantee of staple goods.

On the Chicago market Tuesday, cotton to be delivered in March hit a record high at $1.59 a pound. Its price has more than doubled since January, the biggest increase since 1973. The same day, sugar to be delivered around the same time hit prices not seen in almost 30 years, at 33.65 cents a pound, a 52% increase over the year. Arabica coffee went from $1.35 a pound in May to $2.20, hitting a 13-year-high. The day before, rubber blew all records at 411,40 yens a kilogram on the Tokyo market, a 60% increase.

In Paris, wheat for January is selling just under its all-time record (261 euros a ton in 2008), having shot up 70% since January. Corn prices increased by 46% and soy by 28%. The most obvious reason: weather. Too much rain or not enough. There where also some assaults on the market, especially this summer on cocoa, when the British hedge fund Armajaro went as far as owning 7% of the world production.

Semester Contrast

After this summer's drought in Russia and its consequences on the price of wheat, the new climatic phenomenon threatening commodity prices is the La Nina. It influences the temperature of the Pacific Ocean and often triggers heavy rains in South East Asia and Australia, and droughts in South America. Heavy rains recently damaged the wheat crop in Eastern Australia. Same thing for sugar and rubber. And if abnormal rains are brought into the mix, as in Pakistan and India, then a wide variety of crops are damaged.

But more broadly, the fundamental reasons for the price increases remain the same: a lackluster production incapable of satisfying a constantly growing demand, led by China. The country's growth is 4 times that of Europe. It tried to halt the rise in commodity prices, but the measures that were taken had only a limited effect.

"What is incredible is the contrast in the grain market between the first and second semesters of 2010," says Emmanuel Jayet, director of research on commodities at French bank Societe Generale. "During the first six months, crop estimates were very positive. They were on a downward trend even though prices were high. Record lows in 2010 for corn, wheat and soy were 50 % higher than the 2005 average."

But with the drought, Russia reduced its production estimates by 30%, strongly affecting supply since Russia is one of the world's top producers. Then the US had to revise its predictions, as Australia eventually did as well. "The lesson from 2010 for grains is that the worst can happen," says Jayet.

This upward trend will probably last through 2011. The drought in Argentina could have a major impact on corn, wheat and soy crops. As for the prospects of sugar, it is hard to predict price movement so long as the Indian government continues to withhold information on its forecasted exports.

Read the original article in French

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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