Buying staple foods now means making hard choices

Buying staple foods now means making hard choices
The unwelcome return of food price pressures has put policymakers and investors on high alert as economies are still reeling from the coronavirus crisis. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 09 February 2021

Buying staple foods now means making hard choices

Buying staple foods now means making hard choices
  • UN data shows food prices hit six-year highs in January after rising for 8 months

LONDON: For Cleanne Brito Machado, like millions of people in developing countries around the world, shopping for staple foods such as rice, beans, oil or potatoes now means making hard choices.

“The shopping cart is getting much smaller and we’re paying much more,” said the 41-year old, who works as a maid in Brazil’s capital Brasilia. “We’ve had to give up on little trips, visiting family at the weekend, and we haven’t been able to save any money for emergencies or to have in the bank.”

A mix of currency depreciation, rising commodity prices and coronavirus disruptions saw food inflation soar 14 percent last year in Latin America’s largest economy — the biggest increase in nearly two decades. The headline figure masks hikes in staples, such as a 76 percent jump in rice or a doubling of soy oil prices.

Other developing countries from Turkey to Nigeria also recorded double-digit jumps in food inflation. Major wheat and corn exporters such as Russia or Argentina have introduced curbs or taxes to preserve domestic stockpiles, exacerbating pressures elsewhere.

UN data showed food prices hit six-year highs in January after rising for eight consecutive months.

The unwelcome return of food price pressures has put policymakers and investors on high alert, worried what it means for inflation more broadly while economies are still reeling from the coronavirus crisis.

“Central banks will be watching the level of food prices quite carefully over the next few months because they will have to make a decision on whether to respond to this or not,” said Manik Narain, head of emerging market
strategy at UBS. Food is the single largest element of inflation baskets in many emerging markets, accounting for around half in countries like India or Pakistan compared to less than 10 percent in the US.

Rising food prices have contributed to social unrest in the past. Climate change effects are expected to exacerbate price swings and rising energy prices add to the pressure.

For those like Machado, higher food bills leaves less to spend on other goods, squeezing demand for items from travel to eating out.

Many countries have already seen hard currency revenues from sectors such as tourism crater and they lack the capacity of their richer peers to pump in stimulus.

For central banks, the temptation may be to let inflation rise and keep monetary conditions loose to support growth, say analysts.

“It is a very difficult balance — governments in emerging markets are damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said David Rees, senior emerging markets economist at Schroders.

“As a policymaker — do you choose to support your population or choose keeping the markets happy?“

Developed economies generally see food inflation as transitory. But in developing nations, persistent food price rises in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis lifted core inflation, prompting years of interest rate hikes.

In Istanbul, food market vendor Seref Geyik says he has seen the effect of opening hours cut short by the pandemic and rising wholesale prices of fruit and vegetables.

“Consumers are leaning toward cheaper stalls, they are not looking for good quality produce,” the 53-year old said.

Relying heavily on imported unprocessed foods, Turkey saw food price rises accelerate from August, when the lira chalked up monthly losses of 5 percent or more against the dollar.

With nearly all its energy also imported, rising energy prices from early November have added to the pressure. Dry weather has meanwhile hampered production of some local crops, from hazelnuts and chestnuts to apricots and olives.

Turkey’s experience of chronically high inflation two decades ago is a cautionary tale of how price pressures can derail economic growth and shatter household and investor confidence.


Suspected cases of corporate collusion in Saudi Arabia surge in 2021

Suspected cases of corporate collusion in Saudi Arabia surge in 2021
Updated 7 min 1 sec ago

Suspected cases of corporate collusion in Saudi Arabia surge in 2021

Suspected cases of corporate collusion in Saudi Arabia surge in 2021
  • Cases investigated rises to 86 in 2021 from 55 in 2020
  • Value of cases more than SR1 billion

RIYADH: Cases of suspected collusion in tenders being investigated by the Saudi General Authority for Competition (GAC) rose to 86 in 2021, up from 55 last year and 15 in 2019, Al Arabiya reported.

The value of projects being investigated in the Kingdom amounted to more than SR1 billion ($267 million), Abdulaziz Alzoom, governor of GAC, said in a statement.

In a previous statement, GAC said it had started investigations, research and gathering of evidence with a number of establishments, based on communications it had received from other authorities, and complaints from individuals and companies.


Oil prices rise further on tight supply outlook, eyes on OPEC+

Oil prices rise further on tight supply outlook, eyes on OPEC+
Updated 41 min ago

Oil prices rise further on tight supply outlook, eyes on OPEC+

Oil prices rise further on tight supply outlook, eyes on OPEC+
  • U.S. infrastructure bill brightens demand outlook - analysts
  • OPEC+ meeting on July 1, seen cautious with easing output cuts

SINGAPORE: Oil prices climbed for a third straight session on Friday, on track for a fifth consecutive weekly gain, as demand growth is expected to outstrip supply on bets that OPEC+ producers will be cautious in returning more output to the market from August.
Brent crude futures rose 6 cents, or 0.1 percent, to $75.62 a barrel at 6:46 a.m. GMT, heading for a 2.9 percent jump for the week.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 5 cents, or 0.1 percent, at $73.35 a barrel, headed for a 2.4 percent weekly gain.
Both benchmark contracts settled at their highest levels since October 2018 on Thursday.
“Expectations of tightness in global market is the major factor supporting crude oil as demand is recovering while OPEC+ has constrained supply and US stocks are falling,” said Ravindra Rao, vice president for commodities at Kotak Securities.
Oil also got some support on Friday as the approval of US infrastructure bill boosted optimism for energy demand outlook, analysts said.
All eyes are on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and allies — together called OPEC+ — who are due to meet on July 1 to discuss further easing of their output cuts from August.
“(The market) certainly has momentum behind it...It’s really in the hands of OPEC+,” said Commonwealth Bank commodities analyst Vivek Dhar.
On the demand side, the key factors OPEC+ will have to consider are strong growth in the United States, Europe and China, bolstered by vaccine rollouts and economies reopening, offset by rising COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in other locations, analysts said.
“I think OPEC+ will carefully calibrate production hikes from August onwards to meet rising demand without causing significant price fluctuations,” said Margaret Yang, a strategist at Singapore-based DailyFX.
“The market has likely priced-in an August hike in advance,” she added.
ANZ analysts have predicted OPEC+ would step up supply with a small increase of 500,000 barrels per day in August, adding to the 2.1 million bpd they agreed to return to the market from May through July.
The prospect of sanctions being lifted on Iran and more of its oil hitting the market anytime soon has dimmed, with a US official saying “serious differences” remain over a range of issues over Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.


Iraq, UAE’s Masdar sign solar power agreement

Iraq, UAE’s Masdar sign solar power agreement
Updated 56 min 49 sec ago

Iraq, UAE’s Masdar sign solar power agreement

Iraq, UAE’s Masdar sign solar power agreement
  • 2,000 MW of solar to be built according to agreement
  • Cost of deal undisclosed by Iraqi Oil Ministry

DUBAI: The Iraqi electricity ministry signed with Masdar, a United Arab Emirates-based renewable power developer, an agreement to build solar power projects in central and southern Iraq, with a total capacity of 2,000 Megawatts, the Iraqi oil ministry said on Thursday in a statement.
The project is the biggest investment in Iraq’s renewable energy industry, the statement said, without indicating its total cost.
Iraq is planning to build a number of power plants in the coming years in partnership with international and Arab companies. Some will use solar energy, while others will run on fossil fuels, including gas that is produced during the extraction of oil, by introducing it into the electricity production system, Iraq Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar told Asharq recently.


Lebanon caretaker PM approves financing fuel imports at weaker exchange rate

Lebanon caretaker PM approves financing fuel imports at weaker exchange rate
Updated 25 June 2021

Lebanon caretaker PM approves financing fuel imports at weaker exchange rate

Lebanon caretaker PM approves financing fuel imports at weaker exchange rate
  • Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis described by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions of modern history
  • Lebanon’s central bank asked the government on Thursday to provide it with a legal basis to lend it foreign currency from its mandatory reserves to fund the subsidised fuel imports

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister on Friday approved a proposal to finance fuel imports at the rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, instead of the previous 1,500 pound rate, amidst worsening gasoline shortages.
The weaker exchange rate, which will effectively decrease the subsidy on fuel, is expected to raise the price of gasoline for consumers but enable the government to supply fuel for a longer period of time.
Lebanon is in the throes of a financial crisis described by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions of modern history. Fuel shortages in past weeks have forced motorists to queue for hours for dribbles of gasoline.
Lebanon’s subsidy program, introduced last year as the country’s economic meltdown translated to harsher living conditions, covers basic goods such as wheat, medicine and fuel and costs around $6 billion a year.
Half of that amount is spent on fuel.
Lebanon’s central bank asked the government on Thursday to provide it with a legal basis to lend it foreign currency from its mandatory reserves to fund the subsidised fuel imports, an indication that the bank has all but run out of reserves.
Mandatory reserves — hard currency deposits parked by local lenders at the central bank — represent a percentage of customer deposits and are usually not drawn upon except in exceptional circumstances, with the correct legal permission.
Lebanon’s foreign currency reserves stood at slightly more than $15 billion in March. The Central Bank has not given an updated figure since then. 


Iraq targets 90% self-sufficiency in natural gas by 2025

Iraq targets 90% self-sufficiency in natural gas by 2025
Updated 25 June 2021

Iraq targets 90% self-sufficiency in natural gas by 2025

Iraq targets 90% self-sufficiency in natural gas by 2025
  • Iraq currently consumers 3,5000 cubic feet of gas, produces 1,300 cubic feet
  • Iraq imports the rest of its gas from Iran

RIYADH: The Iraqi Ministry of Oil plans to attract a contractor to invest in Akkas gas field, to produce 4,000 million cubic feet of gas by 2025, which represents 90 percent of Iraq’s need for electric power production, said Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar.

Iraq will need more gas for electric power by 2030 to keep pace with the rise in the population, which is expected to increase by 10 million people to 50 million by then, he told Asharq.

Iraq will still need to import 15 percent of the gas fuel it needs, he said. Infrastructure is being built in the south to open new outlets to import gas from other countries such as Qatar when needed, he said.

There are currently new projects in the governorates of Dhi Qar and Maysan, Abdul Jabbar said.

Iraq currently consumes about 3,500 million standard cubic feet of natural gas, of which 1,300 cubic feet is produced in Iraq and the rest imported from Iran, while the actual need for Iraq amounts to 4,500 million cubic feet, he said.

Iraq is planning to build a number of power plants in the coming years in partnership with international and Arab companies. Some will use solar energy, while others will run on fossil fuels, including gas that is produced during the extraction of oil, by introducing it into the electricity production system, Abdul Jabbar said.

Iraq plans to end gas flaring altogether by 2025, he said.