Sunday, March 27, 2022

Hoarding is suddenly in, "lean" operations are out as shortages ripple across the globe

Ukraine, a major exporter of grains and other food crops, announced soon after the Russian invasion of the country that it would ban exports of many food crops to ensure that Ukraine has enough to feed its population.

Russia, another major exporter of grain, especially wheat, curtailed its exports of wheat, rye, barley, and corn. It also curtailed sugar exports.

The list of countries banning or reducing exports of foodstuffs is now increasing so quickly that it is starting to look like a pile-up on the freeway:

  1. Argentina, a major soy exporter, has halted exports of soy oil and soy meal.
  2. Hungary has banned grain exports.
  3. Moldova has halted exports of wheat, corn and sugar.
  4. India, the world's second largest sugar producer, is contemplating capping sugar exports through the end of September. The 8-million-ton cap would effectively cut off sugar exports after May.
  5. Indonesia, the world's largest exporter of palm oil, has curtailed exports to keep local prices in check as they have risen 50 percent so far this year.
  6. Serbia will stop exporting wheat, corn, flour and cooking oil.
  7. Turkey has halted the re-export of grains, oilseeds, cooking oil and other agricultural commodities sourced from other countries that are now sitting in warehouses and were bound for other countries until the ban.
  8. Jordan has banned export or re-export of rice, sugar, powder milk, dried legumes, fodders, wheat and wheat products, flour, yellow corn, ghee and all types of vegetable oil.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

World War III is here, but it's not what we expected

Movies and books have often portrayed World War III as either the final chapter of the human epoch or as a new but primitive restart for those who survive the nuclear conflagration. We cannot know if such prophesies will ultimately come true. For now World War III appears to have started with Russia's attack on Ukraine, but without nuclear missiles so far.

Make no mistake. The battlefield for this war is worldwide; it's just that it is primarily an economic battlefield. When Russia attacked Ukraine, the other great powers did not send soldiers and tanks. Instead, they orchestrated one of the most comprehensive economic warfare schemes ever devised.

Measures included cutting Russia out of the international payments system called SWIFT, blocking Russian exports (except most commodities) and discouraging commerce of many kinds with Russia. Many countries froze accounts owned by Russia's central bank and also accounts owned by prominent wealthy Russians. Wealthy Russians targeted by sanctions also saw yachts moored outside Russian territory seized. The value of the yachts runs into the billions of dollars.

In the wake of these unprecedented sanctions, many non-Russian companies have reduced, suspended or eliminated operations in Russia. Here is a list of over 400. Not all were forced to take action because of the sanctions. But companies expected that doing business inside Russia would become extraordinarily difficult and also did not want to get on the bad side of governments around the world participating in the sanctions.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

'Rogue states' and the necessity of oil

There is nothing like a sudden decline in available oil supplies to bring out forgiveness in what is dubbed in and around Washington, D.C. as "The Blob." This term refers to an amorphous, but powerful group of think-alike U.S. foreign policy actors both inside and outside of government who have influenced every U.S. administration since the end of World War II. The main tenet of The Blob is that America knows best how to lead the world and it must do so.

The Blob seriously penalizes those whom it regards as a threat to American power and security. The Blob likes to use words such as "rogue" and "pariah" to describe those countries which get on its wrong side. (Many are admittedly run by truly odious regimes.) To get a sense of who has violated The Blob's sensibilities, one needs only to glance at the U.S. Department of Treasury website page entitled "Sanctions Programs and Country Information." On it you will find The Blob's who's who of rogue and pariah states.

With the abrupt drop in oil supplies from Russia in the wake of the Ukraine/Russia conflict, the list of rogue and pariah states is about to get shorter as the necessity of obtaining ready oil supplies trumps any concern about previous challenges to The Blob's narrative.

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Ukraine conflict may portend end to current world trading system

At the beginning of nearly every war including the current one in Ukraine, there are those who loudly declare that it will be over shortly and then business-as-usual can resume. They are rarely right. While no one can say for certain what the trajectory of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict will be, the economic warfare that is going on alongside it is very likely to destroy the current global trading system.

The last time a worldwide trading system was destroyed was just over a century ago. From the late 1800s up to the eve of World War I the dominance of the British fleet on the high seas and the reach of the British Empire created an era of stability and interconnection highly favorable to worldwide trade.

Then, World War I blew that stability and interconnection apart. Later, the Great Depression led to a global trade war that finished off the remnants of the international trading system. The world did not achieve a trading system that spanned the globe unhampered again until the end of the Cold War—which had split the world into two trading blocks for nearly 50 years.

It is unlikely that Russia will simply back down even in the face of crippling economic sanctions. Things have gone too far and the Russian leadership has staked too much on its position that Russia must have its own sphere of influence free from NATO soldiers and rockets. What the Russians have historically called "the near abroad" must not harbor threats to Russian security, they say. Think of this as Russia's Monroe Doctrine.