Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Food Price Hikes Badly Hurting Average Pakistani Consumers

Global food prices are soaring by double digits amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Bloomberg News. Bloomberg Agriculture Subindex, a measure of key farm goods futures contracts, is up almost 20% since June. It may in part be driven by speculators in the commodities markets. These rapid price rises are hitting the people in Pakistan and the rest of the world hard.  In spite of these hikes, Pakistan remains among the least expensive places for food, according recent studies. It is important for Pakistan's federal and provincial governments to rise up to the challenge and relieve the pain inflicted on the average Pakistani consumer.  

Global Agricultural Futures Contracts. Source: Bloomberg

Global Food Prices:

Global food prices are increasing at least partly due to several nations buying basic food commodities to boost their strategic reserves in the midst of the pandemic.  A Bloomberg News report says that "agricultural commodity buyers from Cairo to Islamabad have been on a shopping spree since the Covid-19 pandemic upended supply chains".  It may in part be driven by speculators in the commodities markets. Here's an excerpt of the Bloomberg story:

"Agricultural prices have been on the rise as countries stepped up purchases, adding to demand from China and a drought in the Black Sea region. That has helped push the Bloomberg Agriculture Subindex, which measures key farm goods futures contracts, up almost 20% since June. Sugar prices have gained a boost as China replenished stockpiles, said Geovane Consul, chief executive officer of a Brazilian sugar and ethanol joint venture between U.S. agribusiness giant Bunge Ltd. and British oil major BP Plc." 

Pakistan Household Expenditure on Food. Source: HIES

Supply Constraint in Pakistan: 

The Pakistan Government estimates final wheat production ended up at 25.5 million tons, slightly above the five-year average of 25.38 million tons, according to Grain Central. While that represented a 1.2 million tons increase on the 24.3 million tons harvested in 2019, it was well short of the government’s target of 27 million tons, forcing Pakistan to import wheat at higher global prices.

Demand for fruits and vegetables is also rising at about 9.5% a year, according to Mordor Intelligence. The supply is falling short of demand, putting pressure on prices. 

Global Food Price Comparison. Source: Bayut

Food Prices in Pakistan:

The food prices have risen 14% for urban and 16.8% for rural areas of Pakistan in the last 12 months, according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. In spite of this inflationary trend,  the grocery prices in Pakistan remain among the lowest in the world. A comparison by Dubai-based Bayut shows that groceries in Pakistan cost 72.9% less than in the United States. Other least-expensive countries for groceries include Tunisia ( 67% less), Ukraine ( 66.7% less), Egypt (65.6% less) and Kosovo (65.6% less). 

Globally, Switzerland sells the most expensive groceries, with prices 79.1% higher than in the U.S. Norway is the second most expensive place to buy groceries, with prices 37.4% more expensive than in the U.S., and Iceland is third most expensive, where food items are 36.6% pricier, according to Bayut.

Cost of Dining Out. Source:


Global food price hikes have hit average Pakistani hard in spite of the fact that grocery prices in Pakistan remain the lowest the world.  Bloomberg Agriculture Subindex, a measure of key farm goods futures contracts, is up almost 20% since June. It may in part be driven by speculators in the commodities markets. World food commodity prices are increasing at least partly due to several nations buying basic food commodities to boost their strategic reserves in the midst of the pandemic. It is important for Pakistan's federal and provincial governments to intervene in the markets to relieve the average Pakistani consumer's pain. 

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Rashid A. said...

Good analysis.

In the context of Pakistan, few points:

In Pakistan it is utter mismanagement that is ravaging the food supply.

In Pakistan besides food, inflation in other essentials (electric power, gas, petrol, and SEVERAL FOLD increase increase in medicine prices ) is also debilitating.

No. of people living below poverty line has jumped in last 2 years from 70M to 90M. Food prices are out of reach for these people.

Pakistanis spend a lion’s share of their income on food. So food inflation is devastating Pakistani society. Americans spend much smaller amount of their budget on food.

Besides price inflation, there is severe shortage of essentials. A large amount of wheat in storage was only in papers, it has disappeared from the warehouses. Fakhar Imam, Minister of Ag. & Food Security expresses his wonderment on the development in the Parliament.

The way sugar, power, and medicine mafia has been working, it appears they are all in the same business:

Rashid A. said...

Here is personal income chart.

It dropped significantly. That explains the double whammy effect of inflation.

Riaz Haq said...

Rashid: "Here is personal income chart...It dropped significantly. That explains the double whammy effect of inflation"

Farrukh Saleem’s income graph is misleading. It uses official US$-PKR exchange rate. People don’t buy/sell in US$ in Pakistan. The more relevant figure is in PKR or purchasing power parity terms.

Huma said...

No one mentioned locust infestation and heavy rain destroying crops.

Riaz Haq said...

FAO Food Price Index rises sharply

Global food commodity prices rose to a nearly six-year high in November. FAO also trims its cereal crop forecasts and notes 45 countries need external assistance for food

**3 December 2020, Rome - **Global food commodity prices rose sharply in November to their highest level in nearly six years, according to a benchmark United Nations report released today.

The FAO Food Price Index averaged 105.0 points during the month, up 3.9 percent from October and 6.5 percent higher than its value a year earlier. The monthly increase was the sharpest since July 2012, putting the index at its highest level since December 2014, the Food and Agriculture Organization said.

The FAO Food Price Index tracks changes in the international prices of the most globally traded food commodities. All of its sub-indices rose in November.

The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index gained a stunning 14.5 percent in the month, led by an ongoing rally in palm oil prices linked to sharp contractions in world inventory levels.

The FAO Cereal Price Index rose 2.5 percent from October and averaged 19.9 percent higher than in November 2019. Wheat export prices rose, linked to reduced harvest prospects in Argentina, as did maize prices on account of lower output expectations in the United States of America and Ukraine as well as large purchases by China. International rice prices held steady during the month.

The FAO Sugar Price Index rose 3.3 percent month-on-month amid growing expectations of a global production shortfall in the upcoming marketing season as unfavorable weather conditions drove weaker crop prospects in the European Union, the Russian Federation and Thailand.

The FAO Dairy Price Index increased 0.9 percent to near an 18-month high, driven largely by firmer butter and cheese prices and surging retail sales in Europe during a seasonal low period for milk production in the region.

The FAO Meat Price Index rose 0.9 percent from October, but it is still 13.7 percent below its value a year ago. Prices of bovine, ovine and pig meats all increased, while those of poultry meat declined.

FAO trims world 2020 cereal output forecast

FAO has further lowered its forecast for global cereal production in 2020, which now stands at 2 742 million tonnes - still a record high and 1.3 percent above the previous year's outturn.

The new forecasts released today with FAO's Cereal Supply and Demand Brief point to world coarse grains production of 1 470 million tonnes, wheat production of 761.7 million tonnes, and rice output of 508.4 million tonnes.

Looking ahead, planting of the northern hemisphere's winter wheat crop is underway and remunerative prices are expected to increase sowings in several major producing countries. However, crop conditions in the United States of America are moderately poorer due to dry weather conditions, influenced by the prevailing La NiƱa weather phenomenon.

World cereal utilization in 2020/21 is now forecast to rise to 2 744 million tonnes, up 1.9 percent from 2019/20, led by expectations of increasing feed use of maize and sorghum in China as well as a rise in the production of maize-based ethanol in Brazil and the U.S.A.

Worldwide cereal stocks by the close of seasons in 2021 are predicted to decline to 866.4 million tonnes, translating into a global stock-to-use ratio of 30.7 percent - which FAO notes is a five-year low but still a relatively comfortable level.

World trade in cereals in 2020/21 is forecast to rise 3.4 percent from the previous year to 454.6 million tonnes, driven primarily by a faster than expected pace in maize sales by the U.S.A. and continued strong purchases from China.

Riaz Haq said...

SPI-based weekly inflation falls 0.26pc

The Sensitive Price Indicator (SPI) based weekly inflation for the week ended on December 10, for the combined consumption group, witnessed nominal decrease of 0.26 percent as compared to the previous week. The SPI for the week under review in the above mentioned group was recorded at 141.04 points against 141.41 points registered in the previous week, according to the latest data of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). As compared to the corresponding week of last year, the SPI for the combined consumption group in the week under review witnessed an increase of 8.44 percent. The weekly SPI with base year 2015-16=100 is covering 17 urban centers and 51 essential items for all expenditure groups. The Sensitive Price Indicator for the lowest consumption group up to Rs17,732 witnessed 0.56 percent decrease and went down from 148.29 points in last week to 147.46 points during the week under review. Meanwhile, the SPI for the consumption groups from Rs17,732-22,888, Rs22,889-29,517; Rs29,518-44,175; Rs29,518 to Rs44,175 and above Rs 44,175 per month also decreased by 0.48 percent, 0.38 percent; 0.30 percent and 0.16 percent respectively. During the week, prices of 13 items decreased, 16 items increased while that of 22 items remained constant. The items, which recorded decrease in their average prices, included potatoes, sugar, onions, tomatoes, masoor pulse, gur, wheat flour, mash pulse, rice (Basmati broken), gram pulse, moong pulse, LPG Cylinder and curd. The commodities, which recorded increase in their average prices, included eggs, garlic, vegetable ghee, vegetable ghee, firewood, mustard oil, washing soap, rice (Irri-6/9), beef, bananas, chicken, cooked beef, shirting, cooked beef, cooking oil (lose), mutton, cooked daal. Similarly, the prices of the commodities that observed no change during the week under review included bread, milk (fresh), powdered milk, salt, chilies, tea (packet), tea (prepared), cigarettes, long cltoh, lawn, georgette, gents sandal, gents chappal, ladies sandal, electricity charges, gas charges, energy saver, match box, petrol, diesel, telephone call charges and toilet soap.

Riaz Haq said...

Aggregate measures of economic growth, like gross domestic product, get the headlines. But the rise of G.D.P. in recent decades has not lifted all boats, and the restoration of G.D.P. growth is not the same thing as helping those who have suffered during the pandemic. Telecommuters with their retirement savings in the stock market are doing fine, at least in financial terms. Meanwhile, the Fed estimates the unemployment rate for the bottom quarter of households is more than 20 percent.

My colleague Paul Krugman has aptly described this legislation as “disaster relief.” Perhaps fewer people should get $1,400 checks. Perhaps the government should keep shipping out unemployment checks until hiring rebounds, instead of setting an arbitrary deadline. But the right amount of spending is the amount necessary to get the pandemic under control and to get people back on their feet.

The necessary spending would stimulate the economy, of course. But even on those terms, it’s hardly clear that it would raise inflation to uncomfortable heights. The output gap is an elegant concept, but nobody knows how to measure it precisely, nor is its relationship to inflation clearly understood. Guesses by educated people are not the same thing as educated guesses. And there are plenty of smart people who don’t see inflation coming over the horizon. The most recent Survey of Professional Forecasters, published Friday, anticipates an annual average inflation rate of 2.03 percent over the next 10 years.

This is not meant to license profligacy, nor to ignore inflation. It is meant to put the spotlight where it belongs: on the merits of the plan.