The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Commodities casino losing steam?

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There’s some hope that the investor community might be trying to understand—and reduce—the impact of their actions on food security.

Tuesday, Deutsche Bank announced it would not seek new investments in basic agriculture commodities this year and will study the issue of how these investments might affect food prices. This is significant because Deutsche Bank (DB) is considered a big player among European commodities investors and has reported record profits in commodities. There’s some hope that the investor community might be taking this issue seriously and try to understand—and reduce—the impact of their actions on food security.

A small, but dedicated, group of activists and organizations have taken on the issue of excessive speculation in commodities markets, arguing that it is a factor in the recent rise in food commodity prices and has created volatility and confusion in commodities markets. Foodwatch, a German organization, is credited with pushing DB to take this action. Foodwatch released a report criticizing DB last year (My Oxfam Germany colleague, Marita Wiggerthale, gets a credit in the acknowledgements.).

In the USA, other organizations have been serving as watchful midwives for the US Commodities Futures Trading Corporation, which has been trying to give birth to new regulations to address the problem. They have also pushed institutional investors to take note of the possible impacts of excessive speculation on food commodities. Led by the Maryknolls, they convinced one of the country’s largest pension funds to reduce agriculture commodities from their portfolio.

But the biggest players still have not signaled any change in approach: Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley. It might be time for them to come in from the cold and start examining their role in food security.

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