Your favourite chocolate bar or your drink of hot chocolate could soon be much dearer. Since March, the price of cocoa has risen by 34% and much of this increase remains to be passed on to the consumer. The price of cocoa butter is up 70% since the beginning of the year.
On the demand side, sales of luxury cocoa-rich chocolate and hot chocolate have been rising and chocolate manufacturers, with relatively low forward purchases of cocoa, are likely to have to buy more in spot markets. What is more, there is growing speculative demand as traders anticipate higher prices to come.
On the supply side, dry weather in West Africa, where 70% of cocoa beans are produced, has led to a fall in output. Estimates suggest that cocoa production in the 12 months to end-September 2013 will be 2.7% down on the previous 12 months. Supply is expected to be 60,000 tonnes less than demand, resulting in a fall in stocks from 1,833,000 to 1,773,000.
The following articles look at the ‘crisis’ for chocoholics and at the market conditions that lie behind it.
Craving for a chocolate fix? Prepare to pay more Reuters, Lewa Pardomuan and Marcy Nicholson (15/9/13)
Hot chocolate demand sends cocoa prices soaring Financial Times, Emiko Terazono (15/10/13)
Price of chocolate ‘to triple’ The Telegraph (8/10/13)
Paying more for chocolate? You will be CNN Money, Alanna Petroff (14/10/13)
Chocolate Prices Soar in Dark Turn The Wall Street Journal, Leslie Josephs and Neena Rai (22/9/13)
Chocolate prices could increase as cocoa costs soar BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (21/10/13)
… and on a lighter note: Rising Prices Signal A ‘Devastating’ Global Chocolate Crisis: Should Government Act To Save Us? Forbes, Doug Bandow (14/10/13)
Cocoa beans: monthly price Index Mundi
ICCO daily prices of cocoa beans International Cocoa Organization (click on calendar to select month)
Production of cocoa beans International Cocoa Organization (click on Statistical Data links in right hand panel
Monthly review of the market International Cocoa Organization
- What happened to cocoa prices from January 2009 to March 2013? Explain this movement in prices.
- Why have cocoa prices risen so much since March 2013? Illustrate your analysis with a supply and demand diagram.
- If the demand for luxury chocolate fluctuates considerably with the state of the business cycle, what does this suggest about the income elasticity of demand for luxury chocolate?
- How would you establish whether or not cheap chocolate is an inferior good?
- If cocoa prices rise by 34%, what determines the percentage by which a bar of chocolate will rise?
- What determines the difference between cocoa futures and spot prices?
- How realistically could government intervention improve the lot of chocoholics?
Inflation is measured as the percentage increase in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) over the previous 12 months. The index is constructed from a basket of goods that is supposed to represent the buying habits of an average UK household. This basket is updated each year as tastes change and as technology moves forward. The basket contains approximately 700 items, with 180,000 individual prices collected each month.
As certain goods become more popular and trends change, the ONS have the responsibility of identifying these changes and updating the basket of goods. The CPI then looks at how the weighted average price of this basket of goods changes from one month to the next. As the CPI gives us the main measure of UK inflation, it is essential that the basket of goods used does represent current consumer demands. If the basket of goods used 20 years ago was still in place, we wouldn’t see thing like mobile phones and ipads being included. This is one sector that has seen significant growth in recent years and the basket of goods has been adapted in response. A new addition to the measure is e-books, which have seen a significant growth in popularity.
However, just as new products have been added to the CPI measure, other goods have been removed. In the most recent update, we’ve seen the removal of champagne and Freeview boxes from the basket of goods. With rapid changes in technological products, such as the ipad, kindle and e-books, products that were new additions only a few years ago are now old news, being replaced by the latest gadgets. Other changes to the basket of goods are less about reflecting consumer trends and more about making certain categories more representative, such as fruits and hot drinks.
So, can the changes in the basket of goods tell us anything about the impact of the recession on buying habits? One notable exclusion from the basket of goods is champagne sold in restaurants and bars. In an economic downturn, you’d expect luxury products to see a decline in consumption and the trend in champagne consumption certainly seems to support the theory. The trends suggest that consumers have instead switched to cheaper alternatives, with things like white rum bought from shops increasing.
Many people may look at the basket of goods and think that it doesn’t reflect what you buy in your average shop. But, the purpose of the CPI is to try to reflect the average consumer and the different items in the basket are given different weightings to give some indication of the amount spent on each good. The articles below look at the changes in the CPI basket of goods and what, if anything, we can take from it.
Inflation basket: E-books added by ONS BBC News (12/3/13)
Inflation basket – what does it say about you? Channel 4 News (12/3/13)
The fizz has fallen flat – champagne cut from inflation basket Independent, Martin Hickman (13/3/13)
E-books added to inflation basket, as champagne dropped The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (13/3/13)
UK inflation basket: e-books in, champagne out The Guardian, Marking King (13/3/13)
Champagne tipped out of inflation basket Financial Times, Hannah Kuchler (13/3/13)
Champagne out, ebooks in as inflation basket updated Reuters (13/3/13)
- What is inflation and why is it such an important variable?
- How is the CPI calculated? Is it different from the RPI?
- What impact has technological change had on the basket of goods used to calculate the CPI?
- Can you identify any other economic or business trends from the products that are in and out of the CPI basket of goods?
- Given the importance of technology and the speed of change, do you think the review of the basket of goods should become more or less frequent?
- Has the economic downturn had any effect on the basket of goods used to calculate the CPI?
With tight incomes, the first things that families tend to cut back on are the more luxury items. Extensions to houses are delayed, interior refurbishments are put off and the old car that was going to be traded in becomes something you can live with for another few years.
Car sales have been adversely affected during the recession, but data for May 2012 show a positive turn. Manufacturers have said that car sales are up by 7.9% compared with May last year. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMTT), much of the increased demand has come from private sales, where the increase has been over 14%.
This data may not be the answer to the economic troubles, but it is perhaps an indication that confidence is beginning to return. However, should things go from bad to worse in the eurozone, it isn’t hard to see data for the coming months showing the opposite trend. One other key piece of information to take from this data is the growth in the sales of lower-emissions vehicles. Sales of these were up 31.8% in May 2012 compared to the same time last year. Jonathan Visscher from SMMT said:
‘The green sector is growing fast…Every car manufacturer is going to have a hybrid model on its lists by the end of this year, even Ferrari.’
The continuing upward trend in car sales is by no means guaranteed to continue, especially with things like the expected rise in fuel duty later this year and the ongoing crisis in the eurozone, with Spanish banks potentially looking for help via a bail-out in the not too distant future. The following articles consider the acceleration in car sales.
UK sees biggest annual rise in car sales for nearly 2 years Reuters (8/6/12)
New car sales accelerate ahead Press Association (8/6/12)
UK new car sales accelerated in May, say manufacturers BBC News (8/6/12)
New car sales accelerate ahead Independent, Peter Woodman (8/6/12)
Car registrations accelerate in May Financial Times, John Reed (8/6/12)
- How would you define a luxury good? What is the relationship with income?
- How could an increase in car sales benefit the economy? How could the multiplier effect have an impact?
- Which factors have contributed towards the growth in low-emissions cars?
- Sales of low-emissions cars have significantly increased. However, why is this increase
- What are some of the key things that can help to bring a recession to an end? Into which general category would you place this increase in car sales?
- Fuel duty is expected to rise later this year. How might this affect the number of new car registrations? What does your answer tell you about the cross elasticity of demand?
With pressure on household incomes, many have had to forego spending on luxuries and travel is seen by many as just that – a luxury they can no longer afford. Add on to this some unexpected external shocks and it’s unsurprising to see a company such as Thomas Cook, the second largest holiday business in the world, in talks with banks. It provides some 19 million holidays per year, but has seen a relatively rapid deterioration in its finances.
Its debts total in September 2011 was some £900 million and the value of the company has declined significantly in recent times. However, the most notable decline has been since it emerged that Thomas Cook was in talks with its banks in preparation for tougher times to come. It is hoping to receive £100 million from a range of banks including HSBC and Lloyds, but on this news Thomas Cook share prices fell by some 75%. However, Thomas Cook has said that the company is simply requesting money as a cushion and that it is not in a desperate financial situation. As the Acting Chief Executive, Sam Weihagen said, ‘I think investors should have confidence in Thomas Cook’.
Many factors have contributed towards Thomas Cook’s current situation – volcanic ash clouds, political unrest and unkind weather, but also some internal strategic decisions, such as their continued focus on package holidays, despite the fact that data suggests 2 in 3 people that go to Spain (a popular package destination) are actually not on a typical package holiday. The key thing with travel is that it is very much based on confidence (as we have also seen with the banking sector). If confidence in a company declines, people stop booking holidays with them and so further financial issues are created. This issue is even more significant when a well known brand name, such as Thomas Cook is the company in trouble. Nothing else makes such great headlines as a well known brand in trouble. So, should holiday makers be concerned? The following articles consider the situation that Thomas Cook faces.
Thomas Cook makes it hard to see the funny side Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (22/11/11)
Thomas Cook dives on bank talks BBC News (22/11/11)
How Thomas Cook shares dive 75% on new of bank talks BBC News (22/11/11)
Thomas Cook reassures holiday makers after shares plunge Guardian, Simon Bowers and Patrick Collinson (22/11/11)
Thomas Cook risks customer exodus during bank talks after stock plunges Bloomberg, Armorel Kenna and David Altaner (23/11/11)
Fears for Thomas Cook after shares sink 75% Independent, James Thompson (23/11/11)
Thomas Cook shares crash after default warning Reuters, Matt Scuffham (22/11/11)
- Explain the reason why share prices have fallen for Thomas Cook. Use a diagram showing the demand and supply of shares to support your explanation.
- Distinguish between the internal and external factors that have contributed to Thomas Cook’s current position.
- Under which aspect of PEST and STEEPLE analysis would you place the above influences?
- In the Telegraph article, an industry source says: ‘In a business like this you need a very conservative capital structure because you don’t know what’s going to come and bite you.’ What is meant by ‘a very conservative capital structure’?
- What action can Thomas Cook take to try to improve its current financial position? Think about both costs and revenues.
- What type of good would you class a holiday as? Based on this, what sort of figure would you place on the income elasticity of demand for holidays?
- How likely do you think it is that other travel companies are also experiencing similar financial issues to Thomas Cook?