Agricultural markets are particularly vulnerable to price fluctuations. many agricultural products have inelastic demand and inelastic supply. This means that any change in demand or supply has more of an impact on price than on quantity. Price fluctuations can also arise due to the time lag between planning agricultural production and selling the produce. The cobweb theory (so-called because of the appearance of the diagram) suggests that price can fluctuate around the equilibrium for some time, or even move away from the equilibrium. Dairy farmers base their production decisions on the price prevailing in the previous time period.
The supply of dairy products in New Zealand fits this assumption – farmers make their production decisions today, but the dairy cooperatives (Fonterra, Westland, etc.) don’t make a final decision on the price farmers will receive until close to the end of the season. However the New Zealand dairy industry faces a severe test over the next year. World price for dairy products have reached their lowest levels since late 2002. Last seasons low milk price $4.40/kg is to be followed by a payment of $3.70/kg.
So, what has happened? At the start of the milking season, farmers’ expected price was $7.00 per kg of milk solids (unless they had prescience), so they based their production plans on that price. In the diagram below, say that D0 and S0 are the initial demand and supply curves, respectively, with demand for dairy products relatively high. Farmers, who expect the price P0 ($7.00), produce Q0 units of dairy products (this is the quantity supplied on the supply curve S0, with the price P0). By the end of the season though, demand has fallen to D1. When the farmer cooperative tries to sell Q0 dairy products, the price falls to P1 ($4.50; this is the price where the quantity demanded, from the demand curve D1, is exactly equal to Q0).
Now, going into the next season farmers observe the low price P1 ($4.50) and expecting that low price to persist, they produce Q1 units of dairy products (this is the quantity supplied on the supply curve S1, with the price P1). Come the end of the season, the farmer cooperative finds that they can sell the Q1 dairy products for the much higher price P2 (this is the price where the quantity demanded, from the demand curve D2, is exactly equal to Q1). Now the price is high, farmers produce more but at the end of the season, the price falls… and so on. Essentially, the market follows the red line (which makes it look like a cobweb – hence the name of the model), and eventually the market gets back to long-run equilibrium (price P*, quantity Q*).
Source: Michael Cameron University of Waikato.
Price fluctuations can drive some dairy farmers who would make a profit in the long run form the industry and discourage other farmers from entering the industry. Farmers may also leave the industry as a result of the tendency for the price of dairy products to fall. This is because demand does not tend to increase at the same rate as supply. Demand for most agricultural products is income inelastic, so that demand rises relatively slowly.
I have mentioned the resource curse in previous posts especially those countries with natural resources. Below is an extract from a previous post.
Africa may have enormous natural reserves of oil, but so far most Africans haven’t felt the benefit. In Nigeria, for instance, what’s seen as a failure to spread the country’s oil wealth to the country’s poorest people has led to violent unrest. However, this economic paradox known as the resource curse has been paramount in Africa’s inability to benefit from oil. This refers to the fact that once countries start to export oil their exchange rate – sometimes know as a petrocurrency – appreciates making other exports uncompetitive and imports cheaper. At the same time there is a gravitation towards the petroleum industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports.
For New Zealand it seems to be working in reverse. New Zealand’s biggest export earner is dairy and with prices dropping by 23% since last year and the outlook of continued monetary easing from the RBNZ the dollar has dropped from US$0.77 on 27th April to US$0.67 today – a level not seen since 2010.
However, going against what the resource curse suggests, the weaker exchange rate will provide extra revenue for exports like the tourism industry which has been enjoying high numbers especially from Asia. Furthermore, there have been suggestions that it could surpass the dairy industry as the biggest earner of export receipts. There are further benefits for domestic companies competing against imports as the weaker dollar makes competing overseas goods more expensive relative to those produced in New Zealand.
The Reserve Bank in its November Financial Stability Report noted four key risks that New Zealand’s financial system faces:
* high levels of indebtedness in the dairy sector
* the imbalances in the housing market,
* the potential effects of a slowdown in the Chinese economy,
* the banking systems reliance upon offshore funding.
Since the Financial Stability Report was published, risks in the dairy sector have increased due to the reduction in the current season’s forecast payout. International dairy prices are about a third less than they were a year ago, as a result forecast sector returns for the 2014/15 season are much less than the previous season. Fonterra’s latest Global Dairy Trade auction undertaken in early May reported a further 3.5 percent fall in international dairy prices on a trade weighted basis. The Reserve Bank warns that forced sales of farms could rise if dairy payouts remain low, though farmers would go to great lengths to keep paying their loans. Many highly indebted farmers are facing negative cash flow and lower milk prices will only accentuate the problem.
The graph below shows the actual milk price payouts for the largest New Zealand dairy companies for the last five seasons, along with the forecast payout figure for the current season.
Source: Monthly Economic Review May 2015 – NZ Parliamentary Review
Here is an image from the recent Westpac Economic Overview. As New Zealand is the world’s largest exporter of dairy products any disruption in the supply from New Zealand can impact on the global dairy prices. The last few droughts saw world dairy prices increase considerably as milk supply from the rest of the world was unable to adjust to market conditions. However supply capacity in the US and the EU has increased and with Russia’s import ban there is a much greater supply on the global market. Nevertheless, this doesn’t disprove the possibility that prices rise when supply falls short. The overall signs are that supply and demand are coming into line as Chinese buyers run down stocks. The drought in New Zealand will further boost prices from current low levels. Westpac expect the milk price to rise to $6.40/kg for the next season. Below is a useful video clip from Dominick Stephens – Chief Economist at Westpac – about the primary sector in New Zealand. It is very good on fundamentals – supply and demand.
Both Australia and New Zealand face the worrying prospect of the impact of lower commodity prices. For Australia it is iron ore whilst across the Tasman it is the dairy industry. So how will each economy be affected by this?
The whole milk price has fallen from:
US$4999/tonne on 18th February 2014 to US$2270/tonne on the 16th December – a 54.6% decrease.
This downturn in prices will have a significant impact on the rural economy of NZ. The lower prices will not only reduce dairy farmers’ incomes, but there will be a knock on effect in other parts of the local economies as farmers and contractors will be less inclined to spend or invest in anything but necessities.
Short-term credit facilities will be able to help farmers with their costs but permanent lower returns would cause a rethink regarding production capacity and economies of scale.
Aussie Iron Ore
For Australian the iron ore prices have fallen from US$136 a tonne December 2013 to US$68 a tonne December 2014. This will have a major effect on their economy for the following reasons:
Iron ore represents 25.5% of exports from Australia
Iron ore producers are significant tax payers to the Australian Government. The drop in prices = AUS$18 billion loss of revenue
Lower prices mean less investment in capital – this sector has been a major part of the Aussie economy over the last few years
Who will take the biggest hit?
It is expected that Aussie will take the biggest hit mainly because of the tax revenue lost through lower iron ore prices. In NZ dairy farmers are not big tax payers and the NZ government are not expecting a big fall in tax revenue. Furthermore overall economic activity is largely unaffected as milk production is likely to continue in the short-term. However the falling unemployment rate in NZ and a rising level in its Trans Tasman neighbours suggests NZ is in a much better state to weather the storm. Other indicators below favour NZ. These include GDP growth and consumer confidence as well as having the ammunition of being able to cut interest rates further, a situation that Australia might find difficult.
Source: NZ Herald December 20, 2014
Here is a cool graphic that I picked up from the Government Economics Network (GEN). It has been produced by Statistics NZ and shows New Zealand’s changing country-composition for dairy exports over the last 20 years. The size of circles is proportionate to dairy exports to that country as a percentage of total dairy exports; the white circle in 1992 and the black circle in 2012. It emphasizes the massive drop in relative importance of the UK, and increase of China. You can find other graphics from Statistics NZ by clicking the link below:
With the dairy industry accounting for approximately 25% of NZ’s export market, a reduction of dairy prices by 46% from last year will definitely slow growth over the next year. Lower prices will also mean a deterioration in the terms of trade and a bigger current account deficit.
The BNZ have identified 3 factors that have influenced the global dairy market:
1. Ongoing very strong growth in global milk supply – lagged response to previous high prices, favourable weather, and low grain prices. Low grain prices mean that feed for farmers is cheaper and relative to milk prices makes it worthwhile to produce even more milk;
2. Disruption caused by the Russian trade ban on dairy products from the EU, US among others;
3. Question marks around Chinese demand amid reports of high inventory levels.
The graph below suggests that there will be $5.5bn less revenue coming into the economy – 2.3% GDP.