Why Barclays and Co “can’t get no satisfaction” from food speculation.


For real contentment, basic needs need to be met. The obvious basic needs are food, water, shelter, warmth, and social contact with other human beings. There should be enough of all of this for every one of the seven billion people on this planet.

There are some who have this plentifully, yet who still are discontented. Indeed, such discontent exists within their psyche that they gamble, and gamble with other people’s lives. While some gamble with water, energy and house prices there are those who gamble with food.

This recipe is increasingly common for consumers in global food markets. Although unpalatable, it is gaining popularity with investment bankers and hedge fund managers.


1. Take a bunch of financial regulations, cut off the good parts and water them down.

2. Measure out several thousand tonnes of grain and other staple foods and add them to global markets.

3. Quickly pour in huge amounts of hot speculative capital from investment banks and hedge funds.

4. Watch as basic food prices rise.

5. Serve with fat profits and a large portion of widespread hunger, poverty and malnutrition for the world’s poorest people.

(World Development Movement)

Such a killing is to be made, they cannot help themselves. Their greed is such that though they have more than enough, they ask, “Can I have some more?”

These Dickensian words cannot help but remind us of the injustices of the Victorian days which those like Cameron and Osborne set out to recreate. (16)

The same banks, hedge funds and financiers whose speculation on the global money markets caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis are thought to be causing food prices to yo-yo and inflate. The charge against them is that by taking advantage of the deregulation of global commodity markets they are making billions from speculating on food and causing misery around the world. Guardian

With plenty in their bellies, yet still dissatisfied from their lot, the rich speculate, ( gamble) regarding food and grain as commodities to be bought and sold, hopefully delivering them a nice fat profit. What they propose to do with profits when they already have enough is a revealing question. They embark on more and more speculation, so sinister like some global computer game to see who can harness the greatest score. They may use the word “investment”(ThinkLeft article) but gambling is a much better description of their activities. Such is the basis of capitalism.

Banks, hedge funds and pension funds are betting on food prices in financial markets, causing drastic price swings in staple foods such as wheat, maize and soy.

(World Development Movement)

These markets were originally developed for the benefit of those involved in the production of food, yet over the last 10 years they have changed almost beyond recognition. Deregulation has enabled speculators to dominate, causing drastic spikes and crashes in prices.

Effects of rising food prices

Massive food price increases are catastrophic for people in poverty in the global south, who spend most of their income on food. This results in:

  • Increased hunger as food becomes unaffordable.
  • Malnutrition as smaller quantities of expensive foods such as fruit and vegetables are eaten in order to afford staple foods
  • Increased burden on women to earn more money by taking up risky employment such as sex work or domestic work.
  • Households using up savings, going into debt or selling assets to pay for food.
  • Families unable to afford healthcare and education as more of their income is needed to buy basic food.

This is no computer game. The facts are that their activities have led directly to dramatic increases in global food prices depriving so many from their basic needs. So cruel when there is plenty, so sad when the prospectors already have enough. This is madness. The madness of capitalism which brings happiness to no one and ultimately global disaster to us all.

Indeed, the world’s largest commodities trading company, Glencore is so delighted at the prospect of a food crisis Chris Mohoney boasts (11) about “ the current global food crisis and soaring world prices as a “good” business opportunity.” Such a slip of the tongue led to some German banks (4) to withdraw their association from these activities. Cameron’s recent hunger summit (15) coinciding with the Olympic Games amounted to no more than a pretence, political opportunism to give the impression that he is actively opposing such activities. The same companies making a killing out of the Games make their profits at the expense of the cold and hungry.

The banks which are profiteering most from food speculation are the US Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley alongside UK High Street Bank, Barclays. Indeed, it has been revealed that Barclays have made Five Hundred Million pounds from the world’s hungry. (1)

The World Development Movement report estimates that Barclays made as much as £529m from its “food speculative activities” in 2010 and 2011. Barclays made up to £340m from food speculation in 2010, as the prices of agricultural commodities such as corn, wheat and soya were rising. The following year, the bank made a smaller sum – of up to £189m – as prices fell, WDM said.

The revenues that Barclays and other banks make from trading in everything from wheat and corn to coffee and cocoa, are expected to increase this year, with prices once again on the rise. Corn prices have risen by 45 per cent since the start of June, with wheat jumping by 30 per cent.


Barclays makes most of its “food-speculation” revenues by setting up and managing commodity funds that invest money from pension funds, insurance companies and wealthy individuals in a variety of agricultural products in return for fees and commissions. The bank claims not to invest its own money in such commodities.

Since deregulation allowed the creation of such funds in 2000, institutions such as Barclays have collectively channelled an astonishing $200bn (£126bn) of investment cash into agricultural commodities, according to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Barclays’ dominance in commodities trading is thanks to its former chief executive Bob Diamond, who was Britain’s best-paid banking boss until he was forced to resign last month following a £290m fine for attempting to manipulate the Libor interest rate. As boss of Barclays Capital he boosted trading in agricultural products.

This is something which is affecting us all. We may feel uncomfortable thinking of the hungry in Africa and India, only for the guilt to be dismissed as we rush round Tesco’s or Waitrose. The UK is not immune. The cost of living is rising, it’s going to start hurting the comfortable middle-classes who supported Clegg and Cameron. The number of people directly affected by bank speculators will be the majority.

As Yvonne Roberts writes in the Guardian: (2)

.. we ordinary mortals are facing the most sustained and savage attack on our standard of living for decades, with the poorest inevitably faring the worst. But it’s not just the poor. For the first time, even the once comfortable are experiencing the anxiety of how to pay the mortgage, fill the car, meet the supermarket bill.

Last Wednesday, five million households learned that their fuel bills will increase up to £100 a year because SSE, the UK’s second-largest energy group, announced that its tariffs would rise in October. More will follow SSE. Ofgem, the regulator, reports that the profit margins of power companies are due to increase by almost 14%.

On the same day, Santander, Britain’s second-biggest mortgage lender, announced a rise in its mortgage rate so repayments will jump by £300 a year on average from October, £700 on a £200,000 loan. Many borrowers can’t go elsewhere because they have little equity. Add to that stagnating wages; rail fare and council tax increases; private rents at a peak; the ever-climbing price of essentials such as food and clothing; and the cuts to benefits that include less help with childcare costs and the assault on our standard of living is unremitting.

Since the speculation depends on being fed by the majority, surely it is unsustainable if the majority are to suffer? What will then be the consequence?

Consider what drives a person to such greed, to accumulate meaningless wealth at the expense of his own species? It does not provide happiness or contentment. I believe it is because of deprivation of other needs; we also need friendship, respect, morality and self-esteem. Mankind evolved because of interdependence. (14) Global capitalism is relatively recent in our timescale. Many of us remember the words of Margaret Thatcher, “There is no such thing as society.” Those words may well have been a prophesy for our future. It is no exaggeration to state that unless change is made, mankind is doomed. We need each other.

What can you do?


(World Development Movement)

The European Commission and the French and US governments have all said they want to bring food speculation into the open and regulate it to stabilise prices. We need to you to help pressure the UK government to ensure that it backs proposals for regulation and not to take sides with the banks to block reform.

Email George Osborne at the Treasury, asking him to support strong and effective regulation to stop banks from betting on hunger.

The Treasury is the government department which decides whether the UK will support international regulation to rein in excessive speculation on food prices.

There are several banks on the High Street. If a bank is speculating in commodities which is fuelling the rise in food prices, then banking elsewhere may force the banks to change their course of action. Whose money are they speculating with? Who makes the profits? Use your influence.

Think Left: Is Cameron’s Hunger Summit just a Good Photo Opportunity?

Think Left: Unregulated Markets do not make People “Happy”

Think Left: Why Investment not Cuts is Key.

A Recipe for Hunger: How the world is failing on Food : Download Document

1. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/barclays-makes-500m-betting-on-food-crisis-8100011.html

2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/well-make-a-killing-out-of-food-crisis-glencore-trading-boss-chris-mahoney-boasts-8073806.html

3. Rising mortgages and food and fuel bills are bringing home the reality of Mr Osborne’s failing strategy: Yvonne Roberts, Guardian

4. German Bank drops agriculture from fund on food fears

5. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/the-real-hunger-games-how-banks-gamble-on-food-prices–and-the-poor-lose-out-7606263.html

6. http://www.wdm.org.uk/food-speculation

7. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/jan/23/food-speculation-banks-hunger-poverty

8. http://www.barclayswealth.com/Images/US_Compass_February_2012.pdf

9. http://www.barclayswealth.com/Images/US_Compass_May_2012.pdf

10. http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/931513/a_guide_to_food_speculation_how_to_argue_with_a_banker.html


12. http://www.glencore.com/documents/Glencore-Fact_Sheet.pdf

13. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6d36d9ea-e16e-11e1-9c72-00144feab49a.html#axzz24vkk3L2O

14 http://www.librarything.com/work/11663936/descriptions/77288845 Origins of Morality: an Evolutionary Account, Dennis Krebs

15. World Development Movement: Cameron’s Hunger Summit, Meddling or Medalling?

16. Conservative nostalgia for the Victorian era is dangerous, Timothy Stanley Guardian

17 World Development Movement Recipe for Financialised Food

The £93m City Lobby Machine and how lobbying (probably) works.


Reblogged from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Revealed: The £93m City lobby machine July 9th, 2012 | by 

The British financial services industry spent more than £92m last year lobbying politicians and regulators in an ‘economic war of attrition’ that has secured a string of policy victories.

As the industry prepares to fight off renewed calls for root-and-branch reform in response to the Barclays rate-fixing scandal, an investigation by the Bureau has revealed the firepower of the City’s lobbying machine, prompting concern that its scale and influence puts the interests of the wider economy in the shade.

The Bureau’s four-month study also gained previously undisclosed documents that show how finance lobbyists won a host of important policy changes in Whitehall and Westminster. These include:

• The slashing of UK corporation tax and taxes on banks’ overseas branches, after a lobbying barrage by the City of London Corporation, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) and the Association of British Insurers. The reform will save the finance industry billions.

• The neutering of a national not-for-profit pension scheme launching in October that was supposed to benefit millions of low paid and temporary workers.

• The killing of government plans for a new corporate super-watchdog to police quoted companies.

I do worry that Britain’s financial sector, particularly the banks, is too dominant and is too easily assumed to represent the national interest.’
Vince Cable, business secretary

An extensive trawl of registries, consultations and hundreds of interviews has identified 129 organisations engaging in some form of lobbying for the finance sector, with over 800 people employed directly and at a cost of £92.8m. Lobbyists include in-house bank staff, public affairs consultancies, industry body representatives, law firms and management consultants.

‘Disproportionately influential’

The findings sparked a renewed attack on banks from business secretary Vince Cable.

‘The banking sector is disproportionately influential,’ he said, ‘In terms of its contribution to the economy, the financial services sector – widely defined – is comparable to manufacturing and a little bigger than the creative industries. It is important for rebalancing the economy that these sectors grow in relative importance,’ Cable said. ‘Yet I do worry that Britain’s financial sector, particularly the banks – as opposed to more successful and less problematic financial services like insurance –  are too dominant and is too easily assumed to represent the national interest. Its interests are often not the same as those of the real economy.’

He continued: ‘If Britain is going to grow on a sustainable basis we need smaller banks and more competitive banking focused on supplying credit to British business. Yet there has been strong resistance to bank reform.’

Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, weighed in yesterday by calling on the big five banks to sell 1,000 branches in order to encourage more competition. He said the banking industry had become ‘economically damaging and socially destructive’.

The Bureau’s investigation found that the City of London Corporation – the Square Mile’s local authority – is the lobby outfit with the deepest pockets. Bureau estimates, which have been reviewed by academics, suggest that the City of London Corporation spends over £10m on public affairs advocacy and secures remarkable access to Treasury ministers.

Freedom of Information documents obtained as part of the investigation show the recently departed leader of the Corporation, Stuart Fraser had contact with the chancellor, George Osborne, and other senior Treasury ministers and officials 22 times in the 14 months up to March this year.

Secret City of London documents also show that the millions lavished on banquets in honour of politicians and state leaders are designed ‘to increase the emphasis on complementing hospitality with business meetings consistent with the City Corporation’s role in supporting the City as a financial centre’.

Beyond the Corporation are at least 26 industry bodies lobbying government and regulators based in the UK with an advocacy war-chest of  at least £34m.

People have long understood the power the finance sector has over British politics. Here, for the first time, we can now see something of its scale and firepower.’
Tamasin Cave, Spinwatch

A total of 38 public affairs consultancies and public relations firms earn fees worth an estimated £15.8m from banks, insurers, hedge funds and private equity firms.

Some 124 Lords, equivalent to 16% of the House of Lords, have direct financial links with financial services firms. On Lords committees scrutinising last year’s Budget, peers who were paid by finance firms formed the majority.

Political donations by firms and individuals connected to the City contributed £6.11m in 2011 to the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

Tamasin Cave, director of Spinwatch and head of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, said: ‘People have long understood the power the finance sector has over British politics. Here, for the first time, we can now see something of its scale and firepower. To spend such enormous sums of money to influence our government, its decisions, and the way this country is run is shocking.’

Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation thinktank said: ‘This looks like full-scale mobilisation for an economic war of attrition in which the finance industry is on one side, and the rest of the society, business and industry on the other.’

We do NOT “lobby” for individual firms, deals or people. We are in contact with all political parties… and act rather like a trade body but across a broader range.’
City of London spokesman 

But Dame Angela Knight, the outgoing chief executive of the BBA, denied that her 200-strong bank trade body lobbied  the government.

‘We represent a range of banks in a variety of different fora. Of course where we are successful is in “operationalising” the policies made by others,’ she said.

A spokesman for the City of London Corporation disputed the figures and characterisation of its work as lobbying instead suggesting it ‘argues the case for London’. The spokesman that the City of London Corporation makes no apology for ‘promoting the competitiveness of (finance) as a whole so that this industry will thrive globally – and underpin jobs, prosperity and tax revenue’.

‘Crucially,’ the spokesman added, ‘we do NOT “lobby” for individual firms, deals or people. We are in contact with all political parties – both in and out of office and act rather like a trade body but across a broader range.’

Thierry Philipponnat, secretary general of Finance Watch, the Brussels-based advocacy group, said: ‘We all have different outlooks and the job of policymakers is to listen to all sides and find the right balance for society. The problems arise when policymakers hear only one side of the argument and special interests are allowed to dominate.’

Related article: How we calculated the size of the finance lobby

Related article: Get the data – The financial lobby

Related article: Streets paved with gold – The local authority working for the banks

Related story – Hedge funds, financiers and private equity make up 27% of Tory funding

Related article: BBA’s ‘secret’ meetings with ministers

Reblogged from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

How Lobbying (probably) works. July 12th, 2012 | by Financial Lobby Team

You’ve seen the data, you’ve read the methodology, and you’ve pored over the evidence the Bureau has amassed of the size and scale of the financial services lobbying machine. With a £93m lobbying warchest and cosy relationships with regulators and members of parliament this is a powerful force. But how does it play out in practice?

From our four-months of research the financial lobby team gained a rare insight into its inner workings. The video below shows the wheeling and dealing as it happens. Is it fair? Is it democratic? You decide.

How lobbying (probably) works from TBIJ on Vimeo.

Sign up for email alerts from the Bureau here.

Related links:

Hat-tip Richard Murphy

US Bank regulator explains how Barclays manipulated the Libor Rates


How Barclay Manipulated the Libor Rates

Reblogged from New Economic Perspective First published 03.07.12 before the ‘resignation’ of Bob Diamond CEO Barclays Bank.

Former US banking regulator, now lecturing at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, Professor Bill Black explains how Libor was manipulated, and the significance of that manipulation for the large banks and the global markets.  He concludes that the laxity of regulation in the UK threatens the crown jewels of the City of London.  In other words, the loss of trust in Libor.

Barclays and banker greed.



These accounts of our banking system were left on a Guardian comments thread in response to the revelations about Barclays, and other banks, ‘fixing’ the Libor interest rates for their own profit interests.  They deserve wider coverage.  To paraphrase a tweet from one-time-Cameron-favourite Philip Blond .. the banks’ actions evidence the mythology of a ‘free-market’.  The four excellent and informed pieces are all written by the same author, Payguy2 .. with my emphasis in bold.

We watched as the banks greed caused the deepest World recession since the 1930’s. We see a quarter of our youth on the unemployment scrap heap.

We watch as the banks receive a trillion pound public investment from us the tax payers.

We watch as the opportunity cost of this investment is played out as the deepest cuts to our public infra structure since WW2/the Great Depression. Millions will be made unemployed. Hundreds of thousands will lose their homes. University fees triple to £9,000 a year.

We watch as this artificially maintained recession drives down wage demands and keeps us, the public, subservient with declining living standards whilst the global elite make out like bandits.

We watch as the banksters trouser billions of pounds in bonuses and pay rises whilst we, the public, endure years of stagflationairy reductions in living standards.

We watch as banks trouser further billions from quantitative easing and use it to speculate on oil and food, driving up the prices we have to pay to live.

We watch as the banks have enough money left over from the taxpayers gifts, after their bonuses of course, to fund over half of the Tory parties election budget.

We watch as the Tories reward the banksters with changes to the tax laws that allow no tax to be paid on overseas profits. A policy that no other country in the world has except Switzerland. In addition the Tories remove the bankers bonus tax and reduce corporation tax,

We watch as the banks reward the global elite by maintaining a shadowy network of trusts, quasi banks and other tax avoidance vehicles based in Jersey, Sark, Guernsey, Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands etc.

The level of avoidance is gargantuan with for example the authoritative US periodical TaxAnalysts estimating that conservatively in 2007 that the Crown Dependencies hosted about US$1trillion of potentially tax evading assets. This equates to about $30billion a year in avoided income tax alone and only measures the scale of avoidance in three tax havens.

We watch as the banks rip us off by borrowing from each other using insane FRB techniques and the absurdly low Bank of England rate (0.5%) yet charge us, the public, interest at 10 times this level on our loans and mortgages. We watch as the banks and their shadow arms and hedge funds short all the crippled European sovereign bond markets precipitating huge interest rate costs to taxpayers and threatening another economic collapse.

We watch as the banks borrow at 0.5% and then force our governments to pay them 3-4% interest on the bonds needed to pay for the taxpayers bailout of the banks. This is in itself insane and costs the government £20-30billion a year. The banks bought 97% of the government debt issued over the last 6 months (£36 billion worth) and trousered a tidy 3.8% interest, you and I have to pay them for the privilege.

We the public should demand not just ring fencing but separate ownership of casino and retail banks.

We should demand a Robin Hood or Tobin financial transaction tax.

We should demand the return of the bonus tax.

We should demand an increase in contingent capital ratios to the levels seen in the 1970s and the level adopted now by Switzerland (e.g. 20%).

We should demand an end to Over-the-counter derivative trading and insist on these monstrous immoral bets be traded only in registered stock exchanges.

We should demand an end to tax avoidance by transfer pricing and the use of shadowy secrecy tax havens such as Jersey, the Cayman Island and Gibraltar. Places where the banks shelter the money of every gangster, terrorist, third world dictator and mafia boss on the planet.

It’s not likely though with the banks providing over 50% of Tory party funding and a third of Tory MPs having worked or are still working in the City. These people would rather lie and put the blame on previous government or public sector workers.

We are not all in this together. We are living in a kleptocracy. The bankers should pay for the mess they caused. They should be taxed, not ordinary citizens or public sector workers.

When will somebody do something about these people?

My morgage has cost thousands of pounds more than it should have because of this fraud. Will Barclays traders, management and shareholders (who are reposnbile for holding the company responsible) be prosecuted? Will I be able to sue Barclays for their fraud?

Banks are the real cause of the deficit, not public spending. The Government pays banks usurious interest on future borrowing for no readily apparent reason. Ban fractional serve banking and regulate the banks properly. The following is just one example of how our banking system causes recessions, inflation and public sector debt.
The Mint is the only bit of Government that can create money. The notes and coins it makes comprise only 3% of the “money” in circulation.

The other 97% is created by spivs/banksters who take money they’ve either robbed from the real economy with usurious interest charges (e.g. ten times the rate they borrow at due to the UK governments guarantee) or been given for free from a bailout/QE operation (again taxpayer money).

For example, say SirGreedy of Chinless-Shonky Bank gets his greedy mits on £1,000,000 from the real economy. He then borrows £30,000,000 from his friend Piers Bigend at RSWipe bank using the £1,000,000 as collateral.

He is able to borrow the £30,000,000 at a ridiculously low rate of interest as the money he is holding is 100% guaranteed by the UK Government. So he is likely to only to have to pay 1% or less interest on the loan (LIBOR or Euromarket rates).

SirGreedy takes the £30,000,000 and he might choose to gamble the money by speculating on food futures or shorting a European currency if he can persuade enough friends to join in on the pillaging. The UN recently pinned the blame for rising World food costs on bank speculation and it is undoubtedly the cause behind the food riots we are seeing in Africa and the Middle East.

But if SirGreedy is feeling cautious or has no friends a good safe bet is to buy a UK bond. It is 100% guaranteed by the UK Government and will pay him a return of 4%. He keeps this for a year and then sells it back to Bigend.

Sir Greedy repays his loan to Bigend (who makes £300,000K “profit”) for his bank RSWipe.

Sir Greedy takes home the 3% profit (£900K) he has made. He books it as a 90% profit on the £1,000,000 initial capital he had.

It’s now bonus time and both traders point to the hundreds of thousands pounds of profit they have made and its trebles all round and fat bonuses for both of them.

Notice there was no risk in any of these transactions as they are all underpinned by cast iron guarantees from the UK Government.

The UK taxpayer has lost £900K and gained nothing from the transactions.

In terms of inflation and effect on the real economy. £1,000,000 has disappeared from savers/house buyers somewhere and has reappeared as Government debt to the banks (£400K).

The £1,000,000 has turned into £1,400,000 causing inflation eventually.

In all likelihood it is very unlikely that exchanges would be this one sided. Much more likely that BigEnd will lend Sir Greedy £30M to play the game and Sir Greedy will in turn lend £30M to Bigend. This is why commentators refers to this as “interbank lending” or “Euromarket”.

Essentially its spivs both writing IOU’s for £30M on a napkin, swapping the napkins and magically creating profit for themselves by pillaging the UK taxpayer who as underwritten the whole deal.

Doesn’t look socially useful to me. Doesn’t look too intellectually demanding.

Why are we letting these people pay themselves salaries of 100s of time average wage for things that damage the well being of everyone else?”

And you still blame labour? Bear in mind that over 50% of Conservative party funding comes form banks

Here are some quotes from George Osborne:

August 2007 — FREEING BRITAIN TO COMPETE:  Submission to the Shadow Cabinet, Economic Competitiveness Policy Group (Conservative Party):

“The last ten years in particular have been good years for the world economy as a whole. They have been characterised by two massively favourable trends. The first is an era of easy money. The main central banks worldwide have opted for low interest rates, the ready creation of credit, and tolerance of innovatory means of financing public and private sector activity through big increases in debt. It has been the era of public/private partnerships, specialised credit-based funds and funds of funds, collateralized debt obligations, collateralized loan obligations, credit default swaps, special purpose vehicles and many other similar ways of raising borrowing throughout the financial system.”


A Conservative government would match Labour’s projected public spending totals for the next three years, shadow chancellor George Osborne has said. He pledged two years of 2% increases. The final year total would be reviewed […] Mr Osborne said government spending under the Conservatives would rise from £615bn next year to £674bn in 2010/11. He said, like Labour, the final year total would be reviewed in 2009. He said the move would create “headroom” for lower taxes because the economy is expected to grow faster than public spending.


“The scale of the crisis facing our economy should not be underestimated. In recent weeks the banks have all but stopped lending to each other and businesses and families are also suffering from the credit crunch. We made the key judgment over a week ago that it may be necessary to take significant steps to help save the banking industry. That’s why we back, in broad terms, what the Government has done. “We have taken a lead in defending the interests of taxpayers by demanding that taxpayers’ money must come with conditions. The banks that will be most reliant on that money are those that have taken the greatest risks and in some cases behaved irresponsibly. “That’s why I pressed the Prime Minister yesterday to guarantee that there will be no bonuses for senior executives of those banks this year. That is a justified requirement given the situation these banks find themselves in. There should be no rewards for failure.”