Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Can the Credit Crisis Impact Global Hunger?

Brad Setser points out that growth in exports, which had been a source of optimism in the first half of the year, has reversed course:

The non-petrol goods deficit is now moving in the wrong direction. It increased from $29.3b in June to $35.6b in August. Non-petrol exports fell by $9.9b over the last two months, while non-petrol imports fell by “only” $3.7 billion. The sharp fall in exports shows up clearly in a chart showing “real” non-petrol goods exports and imports. Real data tries to show what is happening if changes in price are taken out of the equation — it is meant to measure the actual quantity of stuff that is traded.
Looking at year over year real exports (goods) by end-use category, we see a slowdown in September exports across the board, specifically for foods, feeds, and beverages:



As London Banker points out (via Yves at Naked Capitalism), a lot of this can be traced to letters of credit, which:
have financed trade for over 400 years. They are considered one of the more stable and secure means of finance as the cargo is secures the credit extended to import it. The letter of credit irrevocably advises an exporter and his bank that payment will be made by the importer's issuing bank if the proper documentation confirming a shipment is presented. This was seen as low risk as the issuing bank could seize and sell the cargo if its client defaulted after payment was made. Like so much else in this topsy turvy financial crisis, however, the verities of the ages have been discarded in favour of new and unpleasant realities.
How bad can it get? As we detailed above, the biggest drop has been in foods and feeds...
If cargo trade stops, the wheat doesn’t get exported. If the wheat doesn’t get exported, the mill has nothing to grind into flour. If there is no flour, the bakeries and food processors can’t produce bread and pasta and other foods. If there are no foods shipped from the bakeries and factories, there are no foods in the shops. If there are no foods in the shops, people go hungry. If people go hungry their children go hungry. When children go hungry, people riot and governments fall.

Everyone along the supply chain should worry about their children going hungry.

When that happens, everyone in governments should worry about the riots.
Source: Census