A Palestinian man works in a wheat mill

A Palestinian man works in a wheat mill in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 21, 2022.

(Photo: Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid Global Hunger Crisis, Commodity Speculators Reap Record-Shattering Profits

Commodity trading firms made a killing last year "gambling on the basics of life," said one human rights campaigner.

As much of the world reeled from high energy and food prices that left millions struggling to heat their homes and feed their families, commodity trading firms that benefit from extreme market volatility brought in record-breaking profits in 2022, capitalizing on chaos spurred by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Citing new research from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman, the Financial Timesreported Sunday that the commodity trading industry "made record gross profits of more than $115 billion from trading activities last year."

That total is up 60% compared to 2021, with the independent trading houses Trafigura, Vitol, and Glencore among the biggest beneficiaries, the Financial Times noted.

"Financial players such as hedge funds also enjoyed big gains, earning an estimated $12 billion from trading activities in 2022 compared with less than $3 billion the year before," the newspaper added.

Ernst Frankl, a partner at Oliver Wyman and one of the report's authors, told the Financial Times that 2022 "was a bit of a perfect storm across all the commodities, from a trading opportunity perspective."

"Volatility is the lifeblood of what traders need in order to trade," Frankl said.

Nick Dearden, director of the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now, expressed disgust at traders' booming profits in the midst of worsening cost-of-living crises.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine wreaked havoc on global energy and food markets, disrupting the supply of wheat and other key crops for countries that rely heavily on Ukrainian exports.

Negotiators are currently working to extend a United Nations-backed agreement that has allowed Ukraine to export grain from key ports that Russia blockaded. The initiative is set to expire on March 18.

"To all the leaders in the world, we need to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative," World Food Program (WFP) executive director David Beasley said last month. "It must be renewed at all costs. Ukraine alone feeds 400 million people around the world."

The WFP projects that more than 345 million people will be "food insecure" this year, more than double the 2020 number.

Experts have argued that commodity speculators are not only benefiting from extreme market volatility—they're to some degree causing major price swings that have real-world consequences.

"We're in a market where speculators are driving prices up," Michael Greenberger, former head of the Division of Trading and Markets at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, toldMongabay last year.

In an October letter to the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wrote that "while American families are struggling with rising prices, Wall Street traders are raking in record profits trading these very commodities."

"This kind of speculation in the commodities markets," the lawmakers warned, "has a direct impact on everyday people."

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