A roundup of what The Globe and Mail's market strategist Scott Barlow is reading this morning on the World Wide Web.
Three reports from vastly different parts of the world support the theory that global agriculture will be among the most profitable long-term investment themes in the decades ahead.
The CBC reports that widespread soil pollution is threatening China's bid for food self-sustainability. This comes at a time when a United Nations study predicted that an additional 240 million tons of grain will be needed by China per year to support expected pork consumption alone.
In the United States, the Telegraph presents an alarming set of before and after photos showing the agricultural devastation caused by "the worst drought in California's history." In the short term, the drought will have negative effects on Canadians' disposable income through higher grocery bills, but it also illustrates how fragile the global food chain has become.
Lastly, Forbes' magazine predicts that demographics will make Africa the new economic superpower. The extension of globalization and higher standards of living into Africa virtually assures higher global protein consumption and greater strains (read: higher prices) in the food chain.
The time may not be ripe yet for a wholesale shift of investment assets into global agriculture stocks, but we're not far away.
"China's farmers, consumers feeling the effects of widespread soil pollution" – CBC
See also: "Can the world feed China?" – Earth Policy Institute (United Nations statistics)
"Striking pictures show effect of California's record drought – Telegraph
"China understands what the west doesn't: Africa is our next superpower" – Forbes
George Mason University professor (and former chess prodigy) Tyler Cowen's column in the New York Times that represents a veiled warning to Ontario's industrial policymakers.
Prof. Cowen writes that 18th-century India went from producing 25 per cent of entire world's manufactured goods to two per cent by 1900. "The lesson is that a sufficiently large international trade shock can lead to decades of economic decline in a major economy, especially if that economy isn't geared to mounting a flexible response."
Applying these lessons to the present, Prof. Cowen cites Italy and France at two countries at risk of a prolonged decline in standards of living as a result of China's economic ascension. He supports this contention with reasons that also appear to apply to the struggling economies of Ontario and Quebec,
"They try very hard to preserve old jobs at high real wages, they are not very flexible at adjusting, and they have not engaged in a major economic restructuring. While China is not the main problem of these economies, Chinese export growth and wage competition may have been a kind of final straw that made old ways unsustainable."
"Lesson from old India: When an economy just doesn't get better" – Upshot, New York Times
Reuters reports on a major change in China's industrial policy that may represent a government appropriation of auto manufacturing assets in the country.
Stefan Wolf, chief executive of a German auto parts supplier ElringKlinger told a German newspaper that China has informed the company that it will no longer be permitted to operate in the country without a domestic partner.
Mr. Wolf goes on to say, "If that were to happen, it would be an attack on intellectual property. 50 percent of the company is being taken away – this, effectively, is expropriation."
"German car parts suppliers asked to form JVs in China" – Reuters
Diversion: The photos are just remarkable. "Ancient Mayan cities uncovered in Mexican jungle" – CBC