Speculation: It’s not just for coffee

Wheat?

Image by « Jonny Boy » via Flickr

A friend of the blog (thanks, Vanessa!) forwarded this recent NPR story to me as a follow up to my post about coffee speculators a couple weeks ago. Some critics are decrying investors who are creating what is starting to look like a commodities bubble, investing in products like wheat and soybeans not because they plan to produce anything with them but because they are hoping to turn a profit. A lot of factors make for rising food prices, including weather, ethanol policy, and growing international demand. Some economists, though, argue that financial investors are contributing to steep price hikes in some agricultural commodities the way that investors fed the tech-stock bubble of the 1990s and the residential housing bubble in the 2000s. The NPR story cites a UN report that notes that financial investment in food commodities rose precipitously from $13 billion in 2003 to $260 billion in 2008 — in other words, a 20-fold increase in just 5 years. In the face of data like this, it seems hard to believe, as some argue, that speculation has absolutely nothing to do with rising food prices.

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