First up the Wall Street Journal's ChinaRealTimeReport:
The Vital Role of China’s Pork Prices
While property values go through the roof in China, the price of an important consumer staple is plunging: pork. It’s roiling farmers, but making some economic policymakers quite happy.
Pork prices have fallen 14 weeks in a row according to China’s Ministry of Agriculture, their lowest level in four years, and cheaper even than some vegetables. In the first week of April, the average hog price was 9.43 yuan ($1.38) a kilogram.
The porcine price plummet has forced the government to add to its much vaunted frozen pork reserve, a series of icy warehouses around the country it set up a few years ago to stabilize pork prices.
The hope is that by adding to the frozen pork hoard, the government demand will take enough meat off the market to drive prices back up.
Why does the government want higher prices? Farmers are complaining. According to several stories in the Chinese press too many slaughtered pigs are coming to market, driving farmers to despair.
Pork plays a vital role in China’s commerce. There are almost half a billion pigs in China, one for every three people. In gross terms, like in humans, China dwarfs other countries in pigs. And there’s no India of pigs to rival China. The next biggest producer is the U.S., which has 65 million pigs, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. In fact China produces more pigs than the next 43 pork producing countries combined.
The cause of the recent glut of pigs was a reaction to a shortage just a few years ago. An epidemic of blue pig ear disease wiped out pigs across the country and sent pork prices skyrocketing, leading inflation to dangerous levels. The virus attacks pigs’ reproductive systems....MORE
Carnivores’ Dilemma Widens as Pork Signals Record Meat Prices
U.S. meat prices may rise to records this summer after farmers reduced hog and cattle herds to the smallest sizes in decades, the result of surging feed costs linked to demands for more ethanol.
Wholesale pork jumped as much as 25 percent this month to 90.68 cents a pound last week, the highest since August 2008, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Beef climbed 22 percent this year to $1.6896 a pound on April 23, the most expensive since July 2008. Chicken’s gain in March was the most in 20 months.
Demand for pork chops, steaks and chicken breasts is rising as the economy improves, backyard barbecues resume and China and Russia allow more U.S. imports. Domestic supplies may drop to a 13-year low because of culls to stem losses caused by corn prices that doubled after former President George W. Bush set targets to increase ethanol use.
“Ethanol-induced prices in meat are just now getting to the marketplace,” said Steve Meyer, the president of Paragon Economics, a meat industry consultant in Des Moines, Iowa. “Consumers are going to see the highest prices they’ve ever paid in meat and poultry because of the decisions made to make corn into ethanol.”
Hog futures have almost doubled from a low in August to 85.175 cents a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on April 23. The price may reach $1 by June, said Tom Cawthorne, director of hog marketing at broker R.J. O’Brien & Associates in Chicago. CME cattle jumped 14 percent in the past year.
Retail prices may hit records in the next 90 days as U.S. demand peaks during summer grilling season, said John Nalivka, a former USDA economist and the president of meat consultant Sterling Marketing Inc. in Vale, Oregon. The previous records were in 2008 for pork at $3.026 a pound in September, based on monthly averages tracked by the USDA since 1970, and for beef at $4.526 a pound in August. Chicken’s peak was $1.857 a pound in May 2009...MUCH MORE