Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

March 15, 2014

Futures File: Ukraine careens toward rough breakup

TRAVERSE CITY — The crisis in Ukraine deepened this week as the Crimean region prepared for a referendum on Sunday about whether or not to break away from the rest of Ukraine. The vote could lead to a standoff between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Western leaders, who have declared the referendum illegal.

In expectation of potential trade wars, or even an armed conflict, commodities traders are stockpiling resources that could be cut off, like wheat; both Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of wheat to the rest of the world. Wheat prices gained nearly 50 cents per bushel, trading Friday at $6.91.

Meanwhile global investors took part in a “flight to quality” where they purchased assets that they perceived as safe, like gold. During the week, gold gained over $50 per ounce, reaching $1,388 on Friday, the highest price in six months.

Crude slips lower

Some traders had expected crude oil prices to rally this week, since Russia is one of the world’s largest oil drillers. Instead, prices dropped after the United States announced Wednesday that it would release 5 million barrels from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a government stockpile of nearly 750 million barrels that the US holds for emergency purposes. The release this week was heralded as a signal that the US stands ready to buffer the impact of the Crimean crisis. In the wake of the announcement, crude fell to a five-week low of $97.55 per barrel.

Some analysts point out that crude oil is another weapon that the U.S. wields against Russia, since that nation is dependent on oil income; if prices drop, Russia’s economy could suffer.

Hog rally goes viral

Pork prices reached another all-time high this week as reports of the deadly PED virus continued to spread, with outbreaks now reported in 27 states.

The disease is almost always fatal to piglets if they contract it, which is sharply reducing the number of market ready hogs that will be available in coming months. As scientists continue to study the extent of the disease and its impact on the US pork supply, prices keep rising, gaining more than 30 percent over the last two months, with April hogs trading near $1.20 per pound on Friday morning.

Opinions are solely the writer’s. Walt Breitinger is a commodity futures broker in Valparaiso, Ind. He can be reached at (800) 411-3888 or www.indianafutures.com. This is not a solicitation of any order to buy or sell any market.

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