General Mills fighting food inflation with innovation

Tom Hudson from the Nightly Business Report just tweeted the following: “how @generalmills is fighting food inflation with innovation on @bizrpt exclusive CEO interview.”

Sounds interesting! I will try go post a summary of the interview and/or point to the transcripts and video.


Despite declining coffee prices, Starbucks ($SBUX) hiking some prices by 1%

Although agricultural prices have generally decreaed for several months, coffee included, Starbucks (SBUX) announced today that it will hike the prices of some beverages by about 1% in the Northeast and the Sunbelt regions of the U.S. SBUX cites “the prices reflect competition in certain markets and higher costs for coffee, fuel and other commodities.”

Note that Starbucks stock was actually down today while the major indices experienced strong rallies.

For more detail see “Starbucks to raise prices in certain regions

Starbucks had a great 2011. Did today's news end the coffee run for now?

Starbucks had a great 2011. Did today's news end the coffee run for now?


Source: FreeStockCharts.com

Coffee prices have been sliding for months and ended 2011 down from 2010

Coffee prices have been sliding for months and ended 2011 down from 2010


Agflation finally slowing down

Global supplies of agricultural products are expanding, perhaps in response to past shortages. These forces are driving down prices and discouraging hedge funds from making bullish bets in agricultural commodities. According to Bloomberg in “Funds Reduce Bets on Rising Food Costs to Lowest in 27 Months: Commodities“, the bullishness of hedge funds has reached lows not seen in over two years.

Here is a key quote that describes the situation:

“World food prices tracked by the United Nations retreated for a fifth consecutive month in November, the longest decline in more than two years. The U.S. government said Dec. 9 that combined global inventories of corn, soybeans and wheat will be 3.2 percent larger than anticipated a month earlier. Cocoa capped its longest slump in 50 years last week on increasing supplies from Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest producer.”

DBA, the PowerShares DB Agriculturae Fund ETF, tells the story. the ETF has now sunk to 14-month lows. Today’s price marks the previous post-recovery high in 2009.

After going straight up for nine months starting in 2010, DBA has now gone nearly straight down since its April highs

After going straight up for nine months starting in 2010, DBA has now gone nearly straight down since its April highs


When is it really cheaper to make your food at home?

On Thanksgiving Day, NPR’s Marketplace included a follow-up segment to a story from 2009 on Jennifer Reese, a San Francisco woman who set out to determine when it is really cheaper to make things at home versus buying in the store. She has now published a book about her experience called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch — Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods.

Her general conclusion is that it is cheaper to do the “non-glamorous” things at home, but glamorous activities like raising chickens, goats, and turkeys cost too much in infrastructure to make it worthwhile. It is definitely cheaper to make your own bread and muffins but more expensive to make candied ginger. It is cheaper to buy lemonade than make it – not to mention all the effort it takes to squeeze the lemons. Reese also addresses convenience, food quality, and moral choices.

The book looks like a worthwhile read for those considering to beat higher food costs with homegrown and homespun creations.


Grocery prices falling in Switzerland

The Swiss franc has had an incredible run over the past two years that has accelerated in 2011 as many traders and investors have sought “safety” from the European sovereign debt crisis. The Swiss National Bank has utterly failed in its varied attempts to fight currency appreciation over this time. (See “No Currency Peg Yet for the Swiss Franc As SNB Escalates” for the latest in this drama).

At one point this year, the franc had gained over 30% on  the euro in the span of a few months!

At one point this year, the franc had gained over 30% on the euro in the span of a few months!


Source: dailyfx.com charts

A story out of Marketwatch provides a fascinating example of the impact of a much stronger currency: price deflation. In “Swiss supermarkets cut prices, cite franc strength” we discover Swiss shoppers are crossing the border to take advantage of their stronger currency to buy cheap goods in places like Germany and France. To win back the business, Swiss supermarkets are cutting prices and pressuring suppliers to lower their prices as well. Stories like these are important to watch as competitive devaluations continue to unfold across major currency countries.

Author disclosure: long USD/CHF


Imperial Sugar squeezed by poor demand and high sugar prices

Last week, Imperial Sugar (IPSU) lost 59% of its value in one day after reporting extremely poor earnings. The stock has continued to sell-off over a week later losing an additional 20%. The reason? IPSU is experiencing the worst of all operating squeezes: higher input costs (sugar) and the inability to raise prices to accommodate those costs. In this case, competitive pressures are to blame.

From the earnings report:

“Our inability to increase prices in the face of higher raw sugar costs because of competitive pressures from domestic and Mexican sources was the principal driver of the quarter’s disappointing results,” commented John Sheptor, president and CEO of Imperial Sugar. “Raw sugar purchased during the quarter was priced largely against the March and May futures contracts, which peaked near $40 per hundredweight prior to the USDA import quota announcement in early April. The subsequent decline in the raw sugar futures market which occurred after the quota announcement was only temporary and the raw market has rallied back to near the same level. Our raw sugar costs in the fourth fiscal quarter should see little relief, while sales prices thus far in the fourth quarter have only improved modestly.”

Higher manufacturing costs also hurt operating results in the previous quarter.

Note that last week, the International Sugar Organization (ISO) confirmed that no relief is in sight from higher sugar prices.

IPSU crashes after reporting very disappointing earnings

IPSU crashes after reporting very disappointing earnings


Source: Stockcharts.com


No relief coming from high sugar prices

Bloomberg reports that sugar prices are not coming down anytime soon. The International Sugar Organization says that current surpluses are not high enough to satisfy demands of importers for stockpiling. Production costs have also risen. See “Sugar to Stay High as Surplus Not Enough to Replenish Stockpiles, ISO Says.”