Saturday, 30 April 2022

Special Update 30/4/22 Food Crisis Or Catastrophe?

 Baltic Dry Index. 2404 +01  Brent Crude 109.34

Spot Gold 1897                   

Covid-19 cases 02/04/20 World 1,000,000

Deaths 53,100

Covid-19 cases 30/04/22 World 512,945,987

Deaths 6,259,452

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.

Charles Dickens. Obsolete after the discovery of the Magic Money Tree forests, March 2020.

This weekend we focus on whether we just have a global food chain crisis unfolding or a global food chain catastrophe arriving. More on that in the inflation section.  Which one, now depends in 2022 on the grain harvests in the USA, Canada, Europe, India and China. 

But first this, global stagflation arrives.

Wall St Week Ahead Rocky stock market faces Fed test with eyes on tightening plans

NEW YORK, April 29 (Reuters) - A volatile stock market faces a critical test next week, when the U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates and give more insight on its plans for tightening monetary policy to fight surging inflation.

Worries over an increasingly hawkish Fed have helped drag the benchmark S&P 500 index (.SPX)down 13.3% so far in 2022, , its steepest four-month decline to start any year since 1939.

While investors have ramped up expectations of how aggressively the central bank may tighten monetary policy, many are concerned the Fed will not be able to keep the economy afloat as it battles the worst inflation in nearly four decades.

Compounding concerns over monetary policy, investors have been riled by everything from rising bond yields to the war in Ukraine and more recently lockdowns in China. The market is also entering a historically weaker six-month period for stocks.

“We’re going to be in for, I think, more dicey, choppy, volatile markets here for a while longer, just because of the uncertainty,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas, who said that "things turned the other direction right at the beginning of the year,” coming off a strong fourth quarter at the end of 2021.

Investors widely expect the Fed to raise rates by 50 basis points when the central bank's meeting concludes on Wednesday. They are also bracing for signals from Fed Chair Jerome Powell about the future path of interest rates, the central bank's plans for reducing its balance sheet and its view on when inflation will recede. Policymakers raised rates in March by 25 basis points, the first increase since 2018. read more

“If the Fed continues to expect high levels of inflation and they don’t see it moderating in the future, that will be a concern for investors," said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. "It will mean that the Fed will continue to raise rates and tighten monetary policy, which the market is expecting, but maybe even more aggressively."

Beyond next week's action, policymakers have coalesced around an overall increase of the federal funds rate to at least 2.5% by year end. read more

Crucial to the tightening plans will be how persistent officials view the current pace of inflation after March's consumer price index showed an annual increase of 8.5%, the largest rise in over 40 years.


China April factory activity contracts at steeper pace as lockdowns bite

BEIJING, April 30 (Reuters) - China's factory activity contracted at a steeper pace in April as widespread COVID-19 lockdowns halted industrial production and disrupted supply chains, raising fears of a sharp economic slowdown in the second quarter that will weigh on global growth.

The official manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to 47.4 in April from 49.5 in March, in a second straight month of contraction, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Saturday. That was the lowest since February 2020. read more

A Reuters poll had expected the PMI to ease to 48, well below the 50-point mark that separates contraction from growth on a monthly basis.

The headline PMI reading, combined with an even sharper crimp in services, offered the first clues into the performance of an economy ravaged by expanding COVID curbs, such as an extended shutdown of the commercial hub, Shanghai. read more

Factory activity shrank at its steepest pace in 26 months, a Caixin survey of private business showed, with the new export orders index diving to its lowest since June 2020, suggesting a weakening in one of the few bright spots in the economy.


Euro zone inflation hits record high for the sixth month in a row

Published Fri, Apr 29 2022 5:03 AM EDT

Inflation in the euro zone has hit a record high for the sixth consecutive month, sparking further questions over how the European Central Bank will react.

Headline inflation in the 19-member region reached 7.5% in April, according to preliminary estimates by Europe’s statistics office released Friday. In March, the figure came in at 7.4%.

European Central Bank Vice President Luis de Guindos tried to reassure lawmakers over rising prices on Thursday, saying the euro zone is close to reaching peak inflation. The central bank sees price pressures diminishing in the second half of this year, although energy costs are expected to keep inflation relatively high.

The latest inflation reading comes amid concerns over the ongoing war in Ukraine war and subsequent impact on Europe’s energy supply — and how this could affect the region’s economy.

Rising energy prices contributed the most to April’s inflation rate, though they were slightly lower than the previous month. Energy prices were up 38% in April on an annual basis, compared to a 44.4% rise in March.

Earlier this week, Russia’s energy firm Gazprom halted gas flows to two EU nations for not paying for the commodity in rubles. The move sparked fears that other countries may also be cut off.

Analysts at Gavekal, a financial research firm, said that if Gazprom were to also cut supplies to Germany, “the economic effects would be catastrophic.”

Meanwhile in Italy, central bank estimates are pointing to a recession this year if Russia cuts all its energy supplies to the southern nation.

----As a whole, the EU receives about 40% of its gas imports from Russia. Reduced flows could hit households hard, as well as companies that depend on the commodity to produce their goods.

Speaking to CNBC Friday, Alfred Stern, CEO of one of Europe’s largest energy firms, OMV, said it would be almost impossible for the EU to find alternatives to Russian gas in the short-term.

“We should be rather clear: in the short run, it will be very difficult for Europe, if not impossible, to substitute the Russian gas flows. So, this can be a medium-to-long term debate … but in the short run, I think we need to stay focused and make sure that we keep also European industry, European households supplied with gas,” Stern said.


Soaring costs and shortages push German industry to the brink

By Anna Cooban and Inke Kappeler, Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT) April 28, 2022

London/Berlin (CNN Business)Siempelkamp Giesserei has seen its fair share of crises in its 99 years. But pandemic shutdowns, supply chain disruptions and soaring energy prices have thrown the Düsseldorf metals factory into uncharted territory.

"There has never been anything like this before," Georg Geier, the company's managing director, told CNN Business.

The major difference between past and present? Customer demand is high, but Siempelkamp either can't find, or can't afford, the supplies of the iron, nickel and energy it needs.

It is a similar story at many of Germany's manufacturing businesses, which contribute almost a fifth of its GDP, according to the World Bank. Industry behemoths like Volkswagen (VLKAF) and Siemens (SIEGY) are grappling with supply chain bottlenecks too, but it is Germany's roughly 200,000 small and medium-sized manufacturers who are less able to withstand the shock.

These companies are a vital part of the "Mittelstand," the 2.6 million small- and medium-sized enterprises that account for more than half of German economic output and nearly two-thirds of the country's jobs. Many are family-owned and deeply integrated into rural communities.

The Siempelkamp foundry burns enough energy each year to power a town of 20,000 people. For years, the company paid between €40 ($43) and €50 ($53) per megawatt hour of electricity. But its bills shot up around September and "exploded" to all-time highs after Russia invaded Ukraine, Geier said. Average prices in March were around €250 ($267) per megawatt hour.

"We're made aware [of our energy costs] nearly each and every day," Geier said. "When we get up until we get out."


The four most expensive words in the English language are, ‘This time it’s different.’

Sir John Templeton.

Global Inflation/Stagflation Watch.         

Given our Magic Money Tree central banksters and our spendthrift politicians,  inflation now needs an entire section of its own.

Food chain crisis or catastrophe? It’s still to early to tell, but in about another month we’ll know.

Below, reasons to be really concerned.

Parched winter wheat crop is badly stressed

Drought escalates on the High Plains

By Bill Spiegel  4/28/2022

On either side of a county road in the Winter Wheat Belt, wheat fields – normally lush, green and waving with the breeze – are short, pale and turning blue, a surefire sign of stress.

The field photographed here is less than six-inches tall, less than half what it would be in a normal year. 

The Kansas wheat crop, recorded at a record 52 bushels per acre in 2021, could total a fraction of that this year unless rains fall on the crop soon. It's rated 36% poor to very poor, according to Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service. Another 38% is rated fair, and that rating could be generous.

According to the Kansas Mesonet, the western two-thirds of Kansas (an area often called America’s Breadbasket due to the widespread adoption of winter wheat) has gone at least 180 days without one-inch of rain. Counties on either side of the Kansas/Colorado state line are going from 200 to 330 days without one-inch of rain. The USDA Drought Monitor dated April 26 shows that in the the region where 75% of the nation's winter wheat crop is grown (Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas), almost all the acres devoted to wheat are in Severe to Extreme Drought. 

Daryl Strouts, president of the Kansas Wheat Alliance, says the conditions are abysmal.

---- The crop is a week or two behind normal. If rains come in the next week, the crop could turn out to be “okay.” If not, expect wheat growers from around the state to talk to crop insurance agents about abandoning the crop. Crop adjusters are already working fields where the drought is most severe. In southwest Kansas near Johnson, the adjuster has already zeroed out some wheat, Strouts reports.

“In southwest Kansas, the conditions are terrible,” he adds. “The crop is short, the color is blue. There was a narrow stretch from Sharon Springs to Dodge City to Great Bend where they had more rain. But outside of that, the wheat crop is not real good.”


Lake Mead plummets to unprecedented low, exposing original 1971 water intake valve

By Stephanie Elam, CNN  Updated 1608 GMT (0008 HKT) April 28, 2022

(CNN)The West is in the grips of a climate change-fueled megadrought, and Lake Mead -- the largest manmade reservoir in the country and a source of water for millions of people -- has fallen to an unprecedented low.

The lake's plummeting water level has exposed one of the reservoir's original water intake valves for the first time, officials say.

The valve had been in service since 1971 but can no longer draw water, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is responsible for managing water resources for 2.2 million people in Southern Nevada, including Las Vegas.

Across the West, extreme drought is already taking a toll this year and summertime heat hasn't even arrived yet. Drought conditions worsened in the Southwest over the past week, the US Drought Monitor reported Thursday. Extreme and exceptional drought, the two worst designations, expanded across New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado -- all states that are part of the Colorado River basin.

New Mexico's drought has been steadily intensifying since the beginning of the year, and extreme or exceptional drought now covers 68% of the state.

Further West, water officials in Southern California are now demanding that residents and businesses limit outdoor watering to one day a week, after a disappointing winter with very little rain and snow. It's the first time they've implemented such a strict rule.

"This is a crisis. This is unprecedented," said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "We have never done anything like this before and because we haven't seen this situation happen like this before. We don't have enough water to meet normal demands for the six million people living in the State Water Project dependent areas."

---- Water flowing down the Colorado River fills Lake Mead and Lake Powell -- another critical reservoir in the West -- and the river system supports more than 40 million people living across seven Western states and Mexico. Both reservoirs provide drinking water and irrigation for many communities across the region, including rural farms, ranches and native communities.

----- And in March, Lake Powell dropped below a critical threshold that threatens the Glen Canyon Dam's ability to generate power.

The West is in its worst drought in centuries, scientists reported Monday. A study published in February found the period from 2000 to 2021 was the driest in for the region 1,200 years.


Heat wave scorches India’s wheat crop, snags export plans

NEW DELHI (AP) — An unusually early, record-shattering heat wave in India has reduced wheat yields, raising questions about how the country will balance its domestic needs with ambitions to increase exports and make up for shortfalls due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Gigantic landfills in India’s capital New Delhi have caught fire in recent weeks. Schools in eastern Indian state Odisha have been shut for a week and in neighboring West Bengal, schools are stocking up on oral rehydration salts for kids. On Tuesday, Rajgarh, a city of over 1.5 million people in central India, was the country’s hottest, with daytime temperatures peaking at 46.5 degrees Celsius (114.08 Fahrenheit). Temperatures breached the 45 C (113 F) mark in nine other cities.

But it was the heat in March — the hottest in India since records first started being kept in 1901 — that stunted crops. Wheat is very sensitive to heat, especially during the final stage when its kernels mature and ripen. Indian farmers time their planting so that this stage coincides with India’s usually cooler spring.

Farm workers like Baldev Singh are among the most vulnerable. Singh, a farmer in Sangrur in northern India’s Punjab state, watched his crop shrivel before his eyes as an usually cool spring quickly shifted to unrelenting heat. He lost about a fifth of his yield. Others lost more.

“I am afraid the worst is yet to come,” Singh said.

Punjab is India’s “grain bowl” and the government has encouraged cultivation of wheat and rice here since the 1960s. It is typically the biggest contributor to India’s national reserves and the government had hoped to buy about a third of this year’s stock from the region. But government assessments predict lower yields this year, and Devinder Sharma, an agriculture policy expert in northern Chandigarh city. said he expected to get 25% less.

The story is the same in other major wheat-producing states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Overall, India purchased over 43 million metric tons (47.3 million U.S. tons) of wheat in 2021. Sharma estimates it will instead get 20% to nearly 50% less.

Even though it is the world’s second-largest producer of wheat, India exports only a small fraction of its harvest. It had been looking to capitalize on the global disruption to wheat supplies from Russia’s war in Ukraine and find new markets for its wheat in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

---- Beyond India, other countries are also grappling with poor harvests that hinder their ability to help offset the potential shortfall of supplies from Russia and Ukraine, normally the world’s largest and fifth-largest exporters of wheat.

China’s agriculture minister, Tang Renjian, said last month that the winter wheat harvest was likely to be poor, hindered by flooding and by delays in planting.

BRAZIL CORN WATCH: Concern over crop yields amid widespread dryness

27 Apr 2022 | 13:59 UTC

The lack of rainfall in some of the key corn-producing states of Brazil continues to be a cause of concern to producers amid dry weather and a mixed weather forecast for April-June.

The rains over the last week led to some improvements in soil moisture in the safrinha corn area, but dryness is widespread.

In Mato Grosso, second-corn crop development has been good so far, but the decrease in rainfall raises concerns. Similarly, in Goias there is a possibility of a reduction in crop yields due to the lack of adequate water, the national agricultural agency Conab said in a report.

In Minas Gerais, the dry climate in the main producing regions may cause irreversible damage to crops sown until the beginning of March, Conab said.

"Warm and dry weather is expected across the safrinha corn belt over the next week, which will allow dryness to increase and expand in coverage, stressing safrinha corn growth. Showers may increase a bit in southern and western safrinha corn areas late in the 6-10 day period," space technology provider Maxar said in its daily weather report on April 25.

Moreover, the rainfall forecast for April-June is less than ideal for the safrinha corn crop in Brazil.

The forecast sees below-average rainfall for practically the entire southern region of Brazil as a result of the impacts of the La Nina phenomenon, according to Brazil's National Institute of Meteorology.

----The country is expected to harvest a record 115.6 million of corn in MY 2021-22, including the first-corn output, according to Conab.

Brazil's 2021-22 corn crop will be marketed from February 2022 to January 2023.

The first-corn crop in Brazil is planted in September-December and harvested in February-May, while the second crop is planted in February-March and harvested in June-July.

Brazil is usually the second-largest exporter of corn following the US.

Corn buyers are hoping for a bumper harvest in the country this season amid heightened supply risk in the Black Sea region and high prices.

Meanwhile, in the export market sources reported increasing demand interest for Brazilian and Argentinian corn, but no trades were heard in FOB markets. Concerns regarding a drought weather risk in Brazil continued to support the port premiums, S&P Global Commodity Insights said in its assessment on April 26.


Indonesia's palm oil export ban heats up vegetable oil market

Issued on:

New York (AFP) – Indonesia's decision to suspend palm oil exports in the face of domestic shortages has pushed vegetable oil prices to new highs, further tightening a market already on edge due to the war in Ukraine and global warming.

The prices of palm, soybean, European rapeseed and even its Canadian GMO counterpart, canola oil, have reached historic highs following Indonesia's announcement on Wednesday.

"We already had problems with soybeans in South America, with canola in Canada," said Philippe Chalmin, an economics professor at Paris-Dauphine University in France, stating that both crops had been severely affected by extended droughts.

Then came devastation for the "sunflowers in Ukraine" due to Russia's destructive invasion, he added.

Palm oil is the most consumed vegetable oil in the world, and Indonesia accounts for 35 percent of global exports, according to James Fry, chairman of LMC consulting firm.

Indonesia's export ban is designed to bring down prices in the country and limit shortages, according to authorities.

But Chalmin said the move "comes at the worst time."

"The rise in prices dates back to last year already and it is exacerbated by the Ukrainian conflict," he explained.

Rich Nelson of the agricultural market research and trading firm Allendale said "the industry believes it'll last maybe for one month, perhaps two."

But in the meantime, prices are skyrocketing in a market that was "already accelerated," he said.

Unlike other oilseeds, palm fruit does not keep once picked and has to be processed immediately, Fry said.

Indonesia's palm oil storage system, which was already holding substantial reserves, is now under further stress, Fry said.

Even though the price of vegetable oil, in addition to multiple other agricultural commodities, has been rising for months, demand has yet to slow.

"It's difficult to ration demand for food commodities with higher prices," said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist at StoneX Financial.

Palm oil, which is used heavily in processed food such as instant noodles and baked goods, is also present in other consumer products, such as personal care items and cosmetics.

"Eventually it will trickle down," said Paul Desert-Cazenave of consulting firm Grainbow, "but it's still too early to measure price increases to consumers."


World’s Food Crisis Gets Another Jolt From Rising Protectionism

By Jasmine Ng  29 April 2022, 12:00 BST

Agricultural markets have been stunned this week by Indonesia’s chaotically delivered ban on cooking oil exports, marking an escalation in food protectionism due to fears of a food crisis.

Here’s more on that and a snapshot of the latest key food stories from around the world:

Grocery Shock

Indonesia’s ban on palm oil exports is significant because it’s the world’s largest supplier of the commodities relied on by countries for cooking food. Palm oil is found everywhere -- in chocolates, soap and even pet food. The move might add to turmoil facing emerging markets from Sri Lanka to Egypt to Tunisia. Even developed countries could see sharp rises in supermarket prices. 

India and China are the biggest importers of edible oil. Packaged food producers like Unilever Plc, Nestle SA and Mondelez International also purchase palm oil to make consumer favorites like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, instant noodles and Cadbury chocolate.

Messy Irony

Indonesia ships about a third of the world’s edible oil cargoes. Why did such a large producer have to resort to a complete export ban to meet its needs? The answer probably lies in the chaotic and fragmented nature of the local industry in a country that consists of more than 17,000 islands.

In general terms, much of the cooking oil industry is geared up for exports and not structured efficiently to handle local consumption. Many plants are located in bonded zones in Java and Kalimantan, and lack links to the domestic market and distribution chains. The segment of the industry oriented to the local market is scattered over Java and Sumatra, while 50% of the country’s consumption is in Java and Bali.

More Food for Thought

Breakfasts are poised to get more expensive in the U.S. this year, and choosing cereal or fresh fruits won’t provide relief, either.


Below, why a “green energy” economy may not be possible, and if it is, it won’t be quick and it will be very inflationary, setting off a new long-term commodity Supercycle. Probably the largest seen so far.

The “New Energy Economy”: An Exercise in Magical Thinking

Mines, Minerals, and "Green" Energy: A Reality Check

"An Environmental Disaster": An EV Battery Metals Crunch Is On The Horizon As The Industry Races To Recycle

by Tyler Durden Monday, Aug 02, 2021 - 08:40 PM

Covid-19 Corner                   

This section will continue until it becomes unneeded.

Well maybe, but maybe not. Predicting climate change is tricky in itself. Adding in new virus spread among animal species while trying to guess which might jump from animals into humans seems to me to be the modern equivalent of trying to guess how many Angels can dance on the head of a pin. Consult the Vatican for the correct answer.

Climate change may increase risk of new infectious diseases

April 28, 2022

Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spread among animal species by 2070 — and that’s likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study.

This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for deadly disease spread from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades, including the flu, HIV, Ebola and coronavirus.

Researchers, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Nature, used a model to examine how over 3,000 mammal species might migrate and and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warms by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which recent research shows is possible.

They found that cross-species virus spread will happen over 4,000 times among mammals alone. Birds and marine animals weren’t included in the study.

Researchers said not all viruses will spread to humans or become pandemics the scale of the coronavirus but the number of cross-species viruses increases the risk of spread to humans.

The study highlights two global crises — climate change and infectious disease spread — as the world grapples with what to do about both.

Previous research has looked at how deforestation and extinction and wildlife trade lead to animal-human disease spread, but there’s less research about how climate change could influence this type of disease transmission, the researchers said at a media briefing Wednesday.


World Health Organization - Landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines

NY Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker

Regulatory Focus COVID-19 vaccine tracker

Some more useful Covid links.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus resource centre

Rt Covid-19

The Spectator Covid-19 data tracker (UK)


Technology Update.

With events happening fast in the development of solar power and graphene, I’ve added this section. Updates as they get reported.

Glimpse inside a graphene sandwich

Date:  April 27, 2022

Source:  University of Innsbruck

Summary:  In the search for novel types of superconductors -- phases of matter that that conduct electric current without loss -- scientists are investigating materials that consist of multiple layers. A team has studied in detail the properties of a system of three twisted graphene layers and gained important insights into its properties.

Since the first successful fabrication of a two-dimensional structure of carbon atoms about 20 years ago, graphene has fascinated scientists. A few years ago, researchers discovered that two layers of graphene, slightly twisted against each other, can conduct electric current without loss. In recent years, this discovery has prompted scientists to explore such layered materials in greater detail. A recent notable example is mirror-symmetric twisted trilayer graphene, where three layers of graphene are stacked with alternating twist angles. It is the first moiré system that can both be efficiently tuned with a perpendicular electric field and was demonstrated experimentally to exhibit robust superconductivity, alongside various other phases. "This establishes trilayer graphene as an exciting platform for complex many-body physics, but the nature of the observed interaction-induced insulators, semi-metals, and superconductivity remains unknown," says Mathias Scheurer from the Department of Theoretical Physics of the University of Innsbruck.

In a paper published in Physical Review X, a team led by Scheurer numerically and analytically studied the phase diagram of this system for different numbers of electrons per moiré unit cell and as a function of electric field. "This is a very challenging problem as the system has both flat and highly dispersive bands," says the theoretical physicist. "Nonetheless, we managed to show that the ground state of the system in the absence of a field decouples into a product of the ground state of graphene and the ground state of twisted bilayer graphene," a property that has subsequently been confirmed by experiments. Their results further establish the dominance of insulating and semi-metallic phases in the presence of an electric field which are unique to the trilayer system, i.e., are not realized in twisted bilayer graphene. "We are able to use our resulting phase diagram for the correlated normal states to constrain the form of the superconductor," says Scheurer. "Among other aspects, the resulting two superconducting candidate states we get are consistent with the unexpected stability of the superconductor in magnetic field seen in experiment."

The relevance of the findings for the physics of twisted trilayer graphene is further attested by a subsequent collaboration with the group of Abhay Pasupathy from Columbia university. In a recent paper in Science, they report scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) data on this system. "We show that the measured tunneling spectra exhibit significant interaction effects that can be qualitatively captured by the numerics of our work," says Mathias Scheurer.

This weekend’s musical diversion.  Approx. 7 minutes.

Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) - Sinfonia con Tromba (c.1695)

This weekend’s chess update. Approx. 8 minutes.

Magnus copies Praggnanandhaa's Moves !!

This week’s maths update.  Approx. 16 minutes. Warning, incomprehensible.

Mathematical Olympiad | Algebra Problem | Math Olympiad Preparation

Finally, what happened to the missing bit of Rome’s Colosseum? Approx. 7 minutes.

What happened to the missing half of the Colosseum?

“I want to share something with you: The three little sentences that will get you through life. Number 1: Cover for me. Number 2: Oh, good idea, Boss! Number 3: It was like that when I got here.”

Homer Simpson.