Or why, as agricultural commodites have flown, have consumer price rises for food in the OECD stayed relatively low? Food price increases have caused much angst as a principal driver of rising inflation in developed economies, but food CPI has remained contained against sky-rocketing prices for wheat and rice.
Food prices in the developed world, point out UBS in a new report, have very little to do with food.
It is instead about people, packaging, and processes, as well as marketing, advertising and transport. The actual food, in terms of agricultural commodities, accounts for only about 20 per cent of consumer spending. Data from the US and the UK indicates that the food componenet of food spending has remained pretty static over the past four or five years.
Even milk, UBS’s economists note, subject to limited processing, has a food commodity component of less than 50 per cent.
We wonder then if that means that food price inflation driven by agriculatural commodity inflation has a tendency to feel greater in the nation’s shops than it actually is, because the benchmarks - a pint of milk or a loaf of bread - tend to be those with the highest commodity component.
Emerging markets are a different matter, as UBS demonstrates with a some pictures liable to get the dreaded Gillian McKeith on the warpath. Food will play a greater role in overall consumer spending, and commodity price inflation will be a more significant driver of emerging economy food inflation.
As an economy develops, consumer spending on food will increase.This does not mean that consumer spending on agricultural commodities will increase (or, at least, that it will increase by the same amount).
The UBS conclusion:
With the prospect of a labour market that continues to weaken, and where demand for lower skilled (lower income) labour is likely to be limited, it is unlikely that labour costs will support higher food price inflation. Coupled with mixed pricing power from food manufacturers and food retailers, this suggests that even if agricultural commodity price inflation stays at its current elevated level and commodity prices rise as dramatically in 2008 as they did in 2007, OECD foodprice inflation (at a CPI level) will slow.