There is an array of products to protect investors from monetary inflation. More certain is population inflation. With the global headcount set to top 9bn by 2050, about a third higher than it is now, one way to profit is to invest in agriculture companies such as Monsanto, the US fertiliser group, or Syngenta, its Swiss rival. The latter’s first-half results, though, showed no long-term optimism. Operating income fell by a 10th as large US inventories forced down prices. Startled investors took almost 6 per cent off its share price, which had already dropped 15 per cent for the year.
Over the next decade cereal prices will jump by up to 40 per cent, estimates the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This is due mainly to supply constraints – one reason hedge fund Armajaro last week took the biggest delivery of cocoa on the London Liffe exchange since 1996. Furthermore, farmland prices in the UK may rise by a third in the next four years, says Savills.
The slew of chemical and fertiliser deals this year have been driven, at least in part, by the global population outlook. Among them are Vale’s $3.8bn purchase of Bunge’s Brazilian assets and CF Industries’ $4.7bn acquisition of Terra. Although some economists argue better distribution of food should take precedence over simply growing more of it, farmers remain firmly focused on increasing crop yields through conventional fertilisers and, more controversially, genetics. Syngenta’s genetically engineered seed sales have grown almost fivefold in the past seven years.
A stock market pummelling has left it trading at about 13 times this year’s earnings; miles behind the 23 times of Monsanto. As US inventories wind down and normal service resumes, the short-term pressure on Syngenta’s pricing will loosen. Investors should take note.
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