Role of commodity futures in food price rise catches EU attention

Vidya Ram London | Updated on April 27, 2011

As Barclays investors headed to the firm's annual general meeting on London's South Bank, protests were held across the country over the bank's alleged role in driving up global food prices.

Banners accusing the bank of ‘profiting from hunger' hung near the entrance to the AGM.

“We want to highlight the highly influential role that speculation on the price of food is playing on driving up prices, which has a devastating impact on people across the world,” said Mr Murray Worthy, spokesperson for the World Development Movement, an anti-poverty campaign group, which organised the protests.

Institutional investors across the globe have been pumping increasingly large amounts into global commodity futures markets – rising to $240 billion in 2008, from $35 billion in 2004, according to Gresham Investment Management. The impact that these investors have on food prices – long debated – has gained increasing attention over the past few months as food prices have soared across the globe.

Global food prices were up an astonishing 60 per cent year-on-year in March, the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated in its latest Food Price Index.

The organisation, which until recently had remained neutral on the role that speculation had on food prices, has joined the government of France in urging greater regulation.

The French President, Mr Nicholas Sarkozy, has made tackling instability in commodity prices one of the priorities for the G20 in 2011, a year when France holds the Presidency. The EU is also considering action – again spurred by France.

Among the measures being considered are limits on the size of positions that commodity traders are able to hold, and increased transparency about the size of the position.

Meanwhile, the French government has organised a meeting of G-20 Agriculture Ministers in June, where the issue of food prices – and the rise of speculation – will be addressed.

The World Development Movement estimated that Barclays Capital, the bank's investment banking division, has made up to £340 million in the last year from speculating on food prices.

“There are of course lots of different factors going into rising food prices – this is one we believe is relatively easy to fix,” argues Mr Worthy.

Published on April 27, 2011

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