Nov 27 2009

Forget bonds, gold, stocks, or real estate; try investing in some Garlic!

Published by at 4:26 pm under China,Equilibrium,Price Theory,Supply/Demand

Swine flu fear leads to shortage of garlic in China – Telegraph.

My colleague this morning happened to ask if I had heard about the garlic bubble in China. A quick news search led me to the story:

Garlic prices have increased fifteen fold in China in under a year because Chinese investors are said to be attempting to create an artificial shortage and drive up prices.

Chefs and housewives in some cities are struggling to get hold of one of the nation’s favourite ingredients, which has passed gold and oil to become the China’s best-performing asset.

Several factors have led to the “garlic bubble” in China. Firstly, low prices of garlic last year:

Falling garlic prices last year have contributed to the shortage with many farmers discouraged from planting the crop again…

To compound the problem, supplies of garlic have been further reduced due to speculation. Yes, speculators are hoarding warehouses full of garlic to drive price up in the face of rising demand. Chinese believe that garlic has medicinal properties and is therefore a remedy for swine flu. This year’s unusually high level of demand is attributable to the flu epidemic and Chinese desire to consume more garlic to fend off the illness.

The result of all these combined factors is illustrated below. The low prices in 2008 led to farmers to cut back on production, reducing supply to S2009normal. What the farmers did not predict, however, is the rise in demand due to swine flu. The reduced supply is exacerbated by speculators buying up output and warehousing it, shifting supply further left to S2009w/speculation.

As can be seen, prices have risen, but shortages persist. It should be expected, therefore, that prices will continue to rise until the shortages are eliminated. On the other hand, the speculators may begin to release their hoarded supplies, shifting supply outward and restoring equilibrium closer to the current price.

A third possibility is that the swine flu epidemic will subside and demand will return to a normal level. This, of course, would spell doom for speculators who put millions of RMB into garlic who would then find themselves with “assets” that had lost their value. This would mean the proverbial “bursting of the bubble”. This final possibility seems unlikely anytime soon, for among the Chinese, traditional beliefs run deep, and with the lack of widespread access to a swine flu vaccine, garlic will likely remain the remedy of choice for the country’s masses.

ChinaGarlic


About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Forget bonds, gold, stocks, or real estate; try investing in some Garlic!”

  1. Roberton 16 Mar 2014 at 8:01 pm

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  2. Stefanoson 14 Jul 2014 at 4:00 pm

    One reason is a belief that it can keep you safe from swine flu. In north China, chewing garlic to ward off flu and other ailments is an old practice and it is suspected that traders have been encouraging people to believe that it is an effective way to survive the H1N1 epidemic.