The video below from The Economist looks at the supply and demand that impacts the price of vanilla. 80% of the world’s vanilla is grown in the perfectly suited climate of the north-east region of Madagascar. It’s the country’s primary export crop.
In 2014 vanilla was $80 a kilo.
In 2017 was $600.
Today it’s around $500.
The price rise is due in part to global demand. The trend of eating naturally means that food companies have shunned synthetic flavouring in favour of the real deal. Companies have started to look elsewhere for their natural vanilla. Indonesia, Uganda and even the Netherlands are growing the crop. For a century Madagascar has enjoyed a near-monopoly on vanilla. But this industry may be in line for a radical overhaul.
As the season drew to a close with the Europa League and Champions League Finals last week one couldn’t help noticing the dominance of the EPL sides. To have 4 clubs from the EPL in the finals is unprecedented and testament to the strength on the EPL. A lot of the other European leagues have a dominance of one or maybe two teams – EG
- Spain – La Liga – Barcelona won the championship easily this year. Real Madrid its closest rivals in previous years finished 3rd.
- Germany – Bundesliga – Bayern Munich won the league for the last 7 years although Borussia Dortmund have been close on a few occasions.
- France – Ligue 1 – Paris St German won the league by 16 points and have won Ligue 1 6 out of the last 7 seasons
- Italy – Serie A – Juventus won the league by 11 points and it was their 8th consecutive title.
- Netherlands – Eredivisie – Ajax won the league by 3 points from PSV Eindhoven. Third place was a further 18 points behind
US Economist Walter Neale said that a pure monopoly in sport is not good. If some team is totally dominant in a league the interest in the competition wanes and fewer fans turn up to games and also television rights become less attractive. Therefore if a club is dominant in a league it will have to look to other alternatives to generate more revenue – creating a super league amongst other teams at the expense of national leagues like the Premier League, La Liga in Spain and Germany’s Bundesliga. This would be like major sports in the USA where the same teams compete without the threat of relegation. It would also be to the detriment of local leagues in which clubs traditionally have huge followings and also generate a lot of income.
However the EPL has done well to have a very competitive competition with 6 clubs being serious contenders for the title – Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester Utd. With such competition there is interest from the fan base and TV rights which makes for a profitable league. So revenue in the sports arena is generated by competition not monopoly power. The EPL title went down to the last game whilst PSG won the Ligue 1 with 5 games left.
Source: Financial Times – 15th May 2019 – ‘Premier League wins by creating room at the top for football clubs’ by John Gapper.
Lucy Kellaway wrote an interesting piece in the FT about the cost of a nights stay at the most expensive hotel in London – a suite in the Mandarin Oriental will cost you £42,000 a night which is £10,000 to £20,000 more than London’s other most expensive suites.
You could say that the Mandarin hotel is a good example of conspicuous consumption which was introduced by economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. It is a term used to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status. So-called Veblen goods reverse the normal logic of economics in that the higher the price the more demand for the product.
Over the last three decades conspicuous consumption has accelerated at a phenomenal level in the industrial world. Self-gratification could no longer be delayed and an ever-increasing variety of branded products became firmly ingrained within our individuality. The myth that the more we have the happier we become is self-perpetuating: the more we consume, the less able we are to tackle the myth.
As with a lot of developing countries (and developed countries for that matter) there tends to be a reliance on a particular resource which can be to the detriment of its economy. Invariably if an economy is going to become more resilient it must be able to diversify into other areas that generate growth.
Traditionally Chile has relied on copper which accounts for over 50% of its export value but if it is going to become more developed it must start to rely on other goods or services. In November 2017 a free trade agreement (FTA) between Chile and China was signed and this was the catalyst for the cherry industry to flourish. Garces Fruit, just south of the capital Santiago, has become the world’s biggest producer of cherries and the development of the industry has been due to a combination of the government and the private sector. Cherries in China are viewed as a symbol of prosperity and marketed as something closer to a luxury product rather than ordinary fruit. With the harvest in Chile around the Chinese new year they make a perfect gift. However the benefits of the primary sector began in the 1990’s, with rising exports of wine, salmon and grapes but farmers are now tearing out vines and replacing them with cherries which are more profitable. Even though the cherry industry requires a lot of labour, which Chileans are not keen on doing, between 2015 and 2017 700,000 immigrants, mainly from Haiti and Venezuela, averted a labour shortage.
Chile Cherry export destination – 2017
Cherries remain the most planted fruit in Chile along with walnuts and hazelnuts due to its high profits and increasing demand from China. However, prices in China decreased with large supplies exported to that market (demand), but China still pays higher prices than the price other country destinations offer to Chilean exporters. China is the top market for Chilean cherries. Chile exported 156,497 MT or 85 percent to that market in 2017 (see graph above), a 109 percent increase over MY2016/17. Chilean cherry export season starts in November and end in February and it focuses its market promotion and export campaigns in China. It is expected that Chilean exports to China will increase to that market since demand for Chilean fruits keeps increasing, and Chilean exporters get higher prices in China for their fruits than in other destinations.
The Economist – January 19th 2019 – Bello Adam Smith in Chile
USDA – Chile Report Stone Fruit – 8th October 2018.
Another great graphic from The Economist showing the change in the price of an economy class ticket for both short-haul and long-haul flights. Routes longer than 5,000km have generally seen price drops of 30% and 50% on some transatlantic routes.
Reasons for the drop in fares:
- Fuel costs have come down – 2014 = US$0.81 / litre – 2016 = US$0.22 / litre
- Increasing long-haul competition from low-cost carriers
- More fuel efficient planes = lower costs
- Subsidies to state owned e.g. China
- Major airline deregulation
- Airlines have become much better at making more efficient use of their planes – i.e. having them full
Airlines and dynamic pricing
To the average buyer, airline ticket prices appear to fluctuate without reason. But behind the process is actually the science of dynamic pricing, which has less to do with cost and more to do with artificial intelligence. See video below from Tom Chitty of CNBC
Whilst there has been a lot of talk about Auckland’s flattening house prices the city is ranked only behind Hong Kong (94.1%) as the most unaffordable city in the Economist’s ‘cities house price index’ – house prices in Auckland are 73.8% overvalued compared to the average income. This figure is ahead of Sydney, Amsterdam, London, New York, Paris and Vancouver – see graph from The Economist – showing how housing is basically unaffordable in proportion to earnings.
There are 3 reasons why house prices globally have been accelerating at such a high rate – Demand, Supply and the cost of borrowing.
Regional population growth in Auckland has been significant and although is slowing it still has the fastest population growth in NZ. With the influx of people and the housing construction more jobs become available which in turn attracts workers from other areas. Furthermore foreign investors have played their part in increasing demand although this has reduced over the last year with the government putting in place regulations with home ownership.
Housing has become particularly scarce with supply unable to keep up with demand. But recent consent figures for 2018 show that 13,000 were issued in Auckland compared to 10,000 in 2017. Auckland was previously building too few houses relative to population growth, leading to a worsening housing shortage as indicated by a rise in the estimated number of people per dwelling.
Low interest rates
Since the GFC economics has been dominated by fiscal and monetary policies to stimulate aggregate demand. Tax cuts have added to consumers bank balances but it is monetary policy that has been particularly prevalent with record low interest rates encouraging consumers to borrow money and buy property. Furthermore with the stock market becoming a fickle location for investment investors sought the so-called safety of the housing market and in many cities did particularly well.
But prices are starting to level off and in some cities falling in a response to variety of reasons – rising yield on treasury bonds – tighter regulations on overseas buyers – uncertainty about Brexit – China tightening up on capital outflows of the super-rich.
Source: The Economist – Buttonwood – November 10th 2018
It wasn’t long ago that $100 for a barrel of oil was the norm but with the advent of the shale market the production increased which depressed prices. It was felt that the flexibility of large scale shale production from the USA could act as a stabiliser to global oil prices.
Oil shocks – supply or demand?
Oil shocks are not all the same. They tend to be associated with supply issues caused by conflict or OPEC reducing daily production targets. In the case of an increase in global growth there is the demand side for oil which increases the price. However this doesn’t have a great effect as in such cases the rising cost of imported oil is offset by the increasing export revenue. However today’s increase has a bit of both:
Demand – global consumption has increased as the advanced economies recover after the GFC especially China
Supply – supply constraints in Venezuela from the economic crisis. Also tighter American sanctions on Iran and OPEC producers are not increasing supply with the higher price.
Higher oil prices do squeeze household budgets and therefore reduce demand. Lower prices are expected to act as a stimulus to consumer spending but it can also have negative effects on the petroleum industries.
Emerging economies the impact of higher oil prices
Oil importing emerging economies are badly impacted by higher oil prices:
- Terms of trade deteriorate as the price of their imports rise relative to their exports
- Exports pay for fewer imports = importers’ current-account deficits widen.
- Normally this leads to a depreciation a a country’s currency which makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive.
However this is not the case today. World trade is slowing and with it manufacturing orders therefore higher oil prices make the current account worse which in turn depreciates the exchange rate. For emerging economies who have borrowed from other countries or organisations a weaker exchange rate intensifies the burden of dollar-denominated debt. Companies in emerging economies have borrowed large amounts of money being spurred on by very low interest rates but they earn income in the domestic currency but owe in dollars – a weaker exchange rate means they have to spend more of their local currency to pay off their debt. Therefore indebted borrowers feel the financial squeeze and may reduce investment and layoff workers.
Another problem for emerging economies, as well as higher oil prices, is that central banks are looking to tighten monetary policy (interest rates) with the chance of higher inflation.
Source: The Economist – Crude Awaking – September 29th 2018
Tomato, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli prices rose sharply in March 2018, boosting vegetable prices 9.5 percent in the month after adjusting for typically seasonal changes.
“Vegetable crops have been affected by a run of storms in recent weeks – lower supply (supply curve to the left) due to bad weather usually means higher prices,” consumer prices manager Matthew Haigh said.
“In February, we saw rising prices for lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower, due to a combination of humid weather and cyclone Gita. As expected, that wet weather has affected vegetable prices in March too.”
Tomatoes rose more than 60 percent in March to $4.65 a kilo. In March last year, tomatoes were 83 cents cheaper at $3.82 a kilo.
You are no doubt are well aware of the staggering wages that the English Premier League player receive especially when you consider other occupations.
What ultimately the salary explosion has been driven by the huge amounts of money that is now at the disposable of some of the top clubs. In economics this refers to the concept of demand-pull inflation where the supply has not kept apace with the demand for world-class players. Below is graph showing both demand-pull and cost-push.
Oil prices have been irregular over the last four years with the price of a barrel of oil being over $100 in 2014. This price had been suggested as the new $20 due to scarcity of oil reserves. However by 2016 the price had dropped to $28 a barrel the talk was that there was a global glut. Today the price is around $70 and analysts have been perplexed as to what is behind this increase. According to The Economist three significant questions arise:
1. Why has the oil price more than doubled in the space of two years against all expectations?
The 2016 slump in prices ($28) was in part due to the weak demand and an abundance of supply – simple economics. But demand recovered quickly and in particular the Chinese economy quickly pepped up its economy with fastest growth rates. On the supply side OPEC were able to restrict output and stocks of oil in the US started to fall. This saw D > S = P↑. Usually when there is an increase in price it attracts other sources of oil which are more expensive to extract – eg shale oil in the US and the tar sands in Canada. This is in turn will increase the supply and lower the price. But small suppliers are finding it harder to increase output as the financiers want more focus on profit rather than output. It can take months before oil actually comes on-stream.
Source: The Economist 20th January 2018
2. Why have stockmarkets been pleased with higher oil prices when it is usually associated with economic crisis?
The overall impact of higher oil prices has been to reduce aggregate demand in the global economy. With higher prices one might expect that the profits would be pumped back into the circular flow and therefore stimulating AD. However the Middle East producers tend to be big savers of oil profits at the expense of oil consumers in the West. Also countries have become less reliant on oil – demand peaked in 2005. Oil exporters depended on high oil prices to fund their government spending as well as importing consumers goods – Venezuela is a classic example of an economy that has relied on oil revenue for over 80% of government spending. Most big oil producers in the Middle East need the price of oil to be above $40 a barrel in order to cover their import bill. But a rising price of oil is usually a healthy sign that China is growing as it is the world’s biggest importer of oil.
3. What will be the ‘normal’ price of oil?
The critical change in the oil market from 30 years ago is that there is now an abundance of oil. Back then it was seen as an asset rather than a consumer good – oil in the ground was like money in the bank. But new sources of oil such as shale and tar sands have amounted to the existence of plentiful reserves. It must be added on the demand side the gaining momentum of mass-market for electric cars have reduced the demand for oil. It is being suggested that not all oil will extracted as there will not be enough demand. It makes sense that the five big producers in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait – which can extract oil for under $10 a barrel, to undercut high-cost producers and capture the market share. So it is better to have money in the bank rather than in the ground. Will oil prices plunge? Unlikely especially when oil exporters are cannot sustain low prices for very long – in order to fund their expenditure they need oil prices of $60 barrel.
Source: The Economist 20th January 2018 – ‘Crude Thinking’