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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mideast Unrest spreads, Food prices, and trade balance

Since the relatively peaceful revolution in Egypt and Tunisia, other citizens in middle eastern countries have been inspired to rise up.

Protests are occurring in Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Iran, Kuwait, and Djibouti.

In Libya there are rumors Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has fled. It looks almost certain he will be deposed. Many people are dying for their country to change leadership.

Obviously with Egypt successfully overthrowing it's government it has inspired others to follow.
My belief is that the original source of unrest pushing people over the edge is rising natural prices, especially food. As already posted, World Bank President Zoellick Says Surging Food Prices Have Pushed 44 Million People Into Extreme Poverty.

Please keep in mind, millions more are having financial stress, without being pushed into extreme poverty. I keep reading blaming Ben Bernanke at fault for all of this. While I agree that loose monetary standards have an amplification effect on asset prices, I don't agree that the root cause is Mr. Bernanke.

Food supply is tight, and for this reason, prices are rising. However it is impossible to analyze if prices would be 1% lower or 50% lower if it wasn't for all the money being pumped into the system by Mr. Bernanke.

To illustrate the tight food supply, Russia had a rash of wildfires from drought, resulting in Russia BANNING wheat exports. The areas affected by wheat production issues includes Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, for a total of about 15 million metric tons.

India's Wheat crop is setting a new record, but India already has a ban on exporting wheat.

Of course prices will rise! Therefore I do not support trying to put a direct correlation of US monetary policy with food prices.

For 2010, US exported NET about 34 billion in agriculture. If food prices double on average in 2011, it would increase US NET exports to 70 billion dollars for 2011. How ironic that as food prices rise devastating other countries, the US balance sheet may improve, ever so slightly. And I don't believe those figures include manufactured food products exported (like cereal).

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