Spin spin sugar
Overdosing on sugar may be a traditional Valentine’s Day celebration / survival strategy, but lately the world’s supply of the sweet stuff has slumped like human energy levels – ooh – approximately 20 minutes after chocolate mallow consumption.
Prices hit a 30-year high recently after Cyclone Yasi was estimated by the producers’ group Canegrowers to have obliterated at least a quarter of Queensland’s sugar cane crop. As a result of the damage in Australia – the world’s third largest sugar exporter – commodity forecasters including Rabobank have warned that global sugar output will probably fall short of demand this year. For its part, the European Union is mulling higher import limits following the panicky clearing of supermarket shelves in Portugal in December.
Before the birth such complicated deficit-enhancers as CFDs, CDOs and CDSs, there was a time when commodities occupied a more central part of the financial news. This “Dublin Weekly Sugar Report” from the Irish Times of April 15th, 1889, could easily be used to describe last week’s frenetic global sugar trade: “The market has continued to move upward, with considerable rapidity and with some excitement, broken only by momentary pauses… Business has been very large and has partaken a good deal of a speculative character.”
Updates from Liverpool produce markets into the 20th century went into superfine detail on “Messrs. Tate and Lyle’s” quotations for crystals, granulated and yellows, even citing a price for “Afternoon tea” cubes. Today, raw sugar is the most commonly quoted benchmark, though white sugar futures are studied carefully by food analysts eager to calculate margins and growth prospects for companies, including Tate & Lyle, in the refined sugar and sweetener business.
The sugar rush in Portugal – the first European country to face a shortage of sugar in more than 30 years – was a brief, temporary affair and some forecasters predict that greater output from Brazil could actually prompt a swing into a world sugar surplus. Still, life without cheap-and-ready access to glucose is something to ponder next time the winds gather up in a crop-destroying frenzy: Valentine’s Day 2012 could be a bitter one for more than just the broken-hearted.