High corn prices are creating misery for meat processing companies that are getting squeezed on profits and consumers who are getting squeezed in their wallets.
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Just about the only group to benefit from high corn prices will be agribusiness companies that make the equipment and supplies farmers will need to grow more corn.
Persistently high corn prices have put the pork, beef and poultry industries under tremendous pressure. Companies like Pilgrim's Pride Corp. (NYSE: PPC), Smithfield Foods Inc. (NYSE: SFD), Hormel Foods Corp. (NYSE: HOR) and Archer Daniels Midland Co. (NYSE: ADM) unable to pass on the full price increases to customers.
And with demand for corn growing at a pace faster than farmers can match, there's no relief in sight. Corn harvests fell short of demand by 5.8% for the year ending in August, and analysts don't expect much improvement next year.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects America's corn stockpiles to hit a 16-year low for the 2011-2012 marketing year.
"Last year, corn and soybean crop harvests were not adequate to fulfill the needs for ethanol, for feed and for export," Bill Roenigk, vice president of the National Chicken Council, told Gannett. "It's been difficult, if not impossible, to pass on those higher feed costs to the consumer."
And yet consumers have still struggled with food costs inflated by high corn prices. According to the USDA, beef prices were up 10.1% in September from a year earlier, pork prices up 7.5% and poultry up 3%. The price of eggs zoomed 6% in September alone.
Why Corn Prices Are HighSeveral factors are at work keeping corn prices high.
On the supply side of the equation, the corn crop in the United States - the world's leading corn grower - got slammed by floods and drought earlier this year. This resulted in the USDA lowering its forecast for the 2011 harvest three consecutive months to about 12.433 billion bushels, similar to last year's.
Meanwhile, demand for corn has never been greater. Production of fuel additive ethanol, for example, now consumes 40% of the U.S. corn crop.
And global demand for corn is rising rapidly in emerging nations, particularly China. Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) estimates that China will quadruple its imports of corn to 4 million tons this year, and further increase to 9.4 million tons by 2014.