• World
    Bloomberg

    Food Supply Is the Next Virus Headache

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- It’s not just manufacturing that’s struggling with disrupted logistics. As more countries bring down the shutters to limit the spread of the coronavirus, risks are rising for the world's complex food supply networks. Snarl-ups in processing and transport could result in painful price spikes for many fresh goods, even if farms in developed markets can keep working through the outbreak.The picture isn’t all gloomy. On a global scale, stocks of corn, wheat, soybeans and rice are healthier than before previous periods of food inflation. While some prices have been heading higher, increases aren’t across the board. Sugar and corn have been held back by reduced demand from biofuels producers as oil plummets. Low fertilizer and crude prices, meanwhile, will help offset other rising costs for farmers.Yet with infection rates rising there are worrying signs of fraying nerves, as countries engage in their own version of the toilet paper panic. Kazakhstan has banned exports of buckwheat and wheat flour to preserve domestic supplies. Russia, the world’s top wheat shipper, could limit some sales overseas, a threat that has already pushed up prices. Vietnam, meanwhile, is stockpiling rice and has suspended new export contracts. During the 2006-08 spike, such behavior accounted for 45% of the increase in rice prices, and almost a third for wheat, according to a study published by the World Bank.For now, such protectionism isn’t the norm. Kazakhstan, after all, accounts for less than 5% of wheat exports. And cereal harvests are looking decent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects global wheat production to rise almost 5% this year, while rice is seen as stable. Still, supply of key products is concentrated. With restrictions dragging on and more countries scrambling to contain the virus, the resilience of the world’s shopping basket will face further tests.After years of low food inflation, several factors were already pushing up bills before the coronavirus pandemic: severe droughts in Southeast Asia and Australia; an African swine fever outbreak in China that decimated the world’s largest pork producer; and, more recently, swarms of locusts in Kenya, Pakistan, India and beyond. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said in January that, left unchecked, the number of crop-munching insects could increase 500 times by June. One desert locust can eat its own weight in a day — about 2 grams — and swarms contain hundreds of millions.While prices are still well below 2008 or 2011, there are glimpses of how quickly the situation could change. Chinese food prices surged more than a fifth in January from a year earlier as the epidemic took hold, and pork prices more than doubled. Rice is already feeling the combined impact of drought, rising demand from stockpiling households and export restrictions. Prices for standard Thai white rice have risen for six straight weeks, to more than $500 a metric ton, the highest level since 2013. Such gains encourage more beggar-my-neighbor economic policies, to the detriment of all.Then there are bottlenecks caused by virus restrictions. Deliveries and logistics have caused trouble since the outbreak began. Transpacific shipping troubles hampered exports to China from the U.S.;  in China, livestock producers struggled even within the country, finding themselves unable to get feed, and then blocked from sending poultry and eggs to market. It’s a problem that could easily repeat itself elsewhere. Coffee traders are already warning of disruptions: Closures in Brazil, El Salvador and Colombia, and missing stevedores, are driving the volatility.Labor is an additional concern. Virus restrictions prevent workers such as distributors and pickers from moving across borders. Laborers migrating to farms in France, or heading to pick fruit in Australia, may find it harder unless they are already in place. France’s agriculture minister last week encouraged unemployed people to go to work on farms; it’s unclear how many can or will heed his call, and at what price.Workers also face the risk of getting ill. That particularly threatens more labor-intensive corners of the industry, such as palm oil plantations or meat processing plants, as Aurelia Britsch, head of commodities research at Fitch Solutions, points out. In both, contaminated workers have already proved disruptive. Malaysia’s biggest palm-producing state, Sabah, has closed down operations in several districts until mid-April after some workers fell sick.In much of the world, preemptive policies can keep things moving. China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, for example, brought in incentives for sowing and mechanization in early February, as well as support for livestock farming, and “green channels” to help the movement of feed, breeding animals and produce. Governments can encourage trade, rather than nation-level hoarding. As the virus spreads, wealthier countries may also need to support developing ones, especially those hit by elevated import bills and weakened currencies. Disruptions will be inevitable. A global food crisis doesn’t have to be.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Clara Ferreira Marques is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering commodities and environmental, social and governance issues. Previously, she was an associate editor for Reuters Breakingviews, and editor and correspondent for Reuters in Singapore, India, the U.K., Italy and Russia.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Business
    Associated Press

    Booze buying surges; senators push airlines for cash refunds

    The outbreak of the coronavirus has dealt a shock to the global economy with unprecedented speed. Following are developments on Tuesday related to the global economy, the work place and the spread of the virus. INDUSTRY: Less than a week after saying it planned to reopen five North American assembly plants, Ford has decided that those facilities will remain closed indefinitely.

  • Politics
    The Daily Beast

    Joe Biden Is Smart to Get the Hell Out of the Way

    For weeks now, I’ve been worried about Joe Biden. Yes, the deadly coronavirus presents serious political problems for Donald Trump (despite his current glowing approval ratings, this crisis undermines the one thing he had going for him: a good economy), but consider how quickly the pandemic killed the Joe-mentum. It wasn’t that long ago that Joe, not COVID-19, was the talk of the town—and rightly so. After a campaign season when Biden barely managed to tread water, and when we nearly wrote him off on the heels of pathetic performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, suddenly Joe came roaring back with a stunning victory in South Carolina that propelled him to a huge Super Tuesday. How Joe Biden Will Counteract Trump's Virus Media CircusThe world was Joe’s oyster, baby—but that turned out to be a turning point in the news cycle. I know this because Super Tuesday was also the last time that I was invited to appear on cable news as a political commentator (in the Trump era, turns out, I should have become an FBI agent, lawyer... or a virologist).By the time Super Tuesday II (or whatever we’re calling it) came along, Biden’s miraculous turnaround was already headline story number II, taking a backseat to (deservedly) breathless pandemic coverage. By March 10, when Biden crushed Bernie Sanders in Michigan, Missouri, and elsewhere, out of the abundance of caution, he would be delivering his “victory” speeches to empty rooms. Talk about anticlimactic. Biden had waited 22 years to win his first presidential primary on Feb. 29. For the first time in his life, he was a candidate for president who was generating excitement and enthusiasm. And that lasted about 15 minutes. Emergencies change everything. Despite the misinformation Donald Trump regularly spews, he is (by virtue of being president) relevant. So are governors. Every day they hold press conferences and “make” news. They trot out experts and recite stats about the number of N95 respirators or surgical masks they need—or they talk about releasing their needed supplies from some (magical?) place called the “national stockpile.” During an emergency, they don flak jackets, NYPD baseball caps, or crisp polos with embroidered emergency logos. You’ve probably heard the scuttlebutt about Andrew Cuomo replacing Biden on the Democratic ticket. At least half of that is attributable to his outfit.So, while Trump and Cuomo were holding their daily press conferences, Biden was holed up (like the rest of us), wearing a dark suit (unlike any of us), staring warily into a computer camera (like the rest of us), positioned bizarrely behind a podium (unlike... anyone?). And now, while the president and governors are out there being relevant, Joe Biden is (like the rest of us) desperately trying to promote a podcast.  At first glance, this seems a sad, if unfortunate, development for a guy who has been through so much and was seemingly on the verge of parlaying his moment into a movement. But I’m starting to think that it might work out for him. Initially, I thought social distancing would be politically salutary for Biden, and not just for the obvious reason that after the “rally around the flag” effect wears off, presidents are usually blamed for what happens on their watch, especially when their lack of experience or competence leads to a botched response and lots of people die. A quarantine, I suspected, would allow Biden to run a sort of front-porch campaign where he could present a highly “curated” (read more coherent and robust) and choreographed image. That theory lasted a day or so. After that, I started to notice that Biden was becoming an afterthought. I became convinced that he simply had to find ways to be in the news cycle every day. He could run shadow briefings! He could form a shadow government with a shadow Dr. Fauci and a shadow Dr. Birx. He could wear his own “emergency casual” uniform. He (sort of) tried some version of that. But when he floundered, it struck me as just more confirmation that “sleepy Joe” had “lost a step” and wasn’t capitalizing on the moment. And then, it hit me. Joe Biden should social distance even more. He should recede into the background like Homer Simpson backing into the shrubs, only to reemerge tanned and rested after Labor Day. (As Andrew Card said, ''You don't introduce new products in August.”) He should embrace The 4-Hour Work Week. Now, I know that this thought process seems insane. It has become axiomatic you should never pass up a chance to have sex or be on TV. It has become political wisdom that you concede nothing. That you hustle. That (as Al Pacino might yell during a particularly motivational half-time speech), “We can fight our way back into the light. We can climb out of hell. One inch at a time!” There is wisdom in that. But sometimes, like the bamboo, it’s wiser to go with the flow. Yes, this theory of passive resistance goes against our human pretensions, which push us to believe that, by virtue of our efforts—our work—we have some semblance of control over our own fate. Like Boxer in Animal Farm, we want to believe that all our problems will be solved if we just work harder. What is more, it contradicts an assumption, which suggests media personalities and political leaders gain public support (and attention) by virtue of accretion and exposure. Like lifting weights to get stronger, we think that to become popular means you must put in the daily work and gradually gain a fanbase. But is this true? Citing a decades-old observation called the Feiler faster thesis, my former colleague Mickey Kaus recently argued that news cycles have sped up and that humans can process information quicker than most people realize. “Biden can wait until September, or whenever the conventions are, and then, he can gin up a huge publicity ‘Biden for president’ campaign,” Kaus said. “He doesn’t have to be omnipresent in our attention now in order to do that, then.” This reminds me of an old story. Heading into the 1968 Republican primary contest, Richard Nixon announced a six-month moratorium from politics. In 2014, former Nixon aide Pat Buchanan described it to me as an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” approach. Interestingly, it also had the effect of overexposing Nixon’s rival, George Romney. When a skeptical Buchanan questioned Nixon on the wisdom of this disappearing act, Nixon advised: “Let [the media] chew on [Romney] for a little while.” Kaus’s theory suggests that the Nixon example might now work in a general election. And in a world where conventional wisdom and historical precedent all seem so passe, he may well be correct. Certainly, the media aren’t averse to chewing on Trump. To be sure, a primary isn’t a general election—and George Romney ain’t Donald J. Trump. But the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder strategy is probably underrated and, largely, untried. So why not try it?It is, perhaps, ironic, but the Chinese proverb about “crisis” also meaning “opportunity” seems apropos. Laying low may be Joe Biden’s best strategy—and it’s one that wouldn’t be possible were it not for social distancing.My best advice for Joe may be this: Don’t just do something, stand there!Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. 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  • Entertainment
    Best Life

    20 '90s TV Shows You've Completely Forgotten About

    You may still be able to quote Friends, Seinfeld, and Living Single, but were you also a fan of these forgotten '90s TV shows?

  • U.S.
    Variety

    Twitter Requires Fox News’ Laura Ingraham to Delete Post With ‘Misleading’ Coronavirus Claims

    Twitter, stepping up its enforcement of misleading and harmful coronavirus-related claims, required Fox News host Laura Ingraham to delete a tweet from 10 days ago that misrepresented details of an unproven treatment for coronavirus. In the now-deleted tweet from March 20, Ingraham, host of the cable network's "The Ingraham Angle," wrote, "Lenox Hill [Hospital] in […]