Palm oil: Here's why prices might shoot up

INDONESIA - Indonesia will start restricting exports of palm oil this week, a move that could make the global food crisis worse and push up the prices of hundreds of consumer products. President Joko Widodo announced Friday that Indonesia would suspend exports of cooking oil, and the raw materials used to make it, "until further notice," in a bid to secure local supplies. The ban takes effect on Thursday. The Southeast Asian country is the world's biggest palm oil producer, and Friday's announcement sent prices of the commodity "berserk," said James Fry, chairman of consultancy LMC International. Crude palm oil futures in Malaysia, a global benchmark, jumped nearly 7%. Palm oil is a common ingredient found in many of the world's food, cosmetics and household items. WWF estimates that it's used in nearly 50% of all packaged products in supermarkets.

The commodity is also used for cooking in many countries, including India, the world's top importer. Fry said that the price of many pantry items, such as cooking oil, instant noodles, snacks, baked goods and margarine could rise when Indonesia's curbs take effect. "We've got the perfect storm," he added, noting that other factors, such as droughts in South America and Canada, had also constrained supplies of soybean oil and canola oil, respectively.

The Indonesian ban comes at a bad time for global consumers. World food prices jumped to their highest levels ever in March, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said earlier this month. According to its report, "war in the Black Sea region spread shocks through markets for staple grains and vegetable oils."

The most recent FAO Food Price Index — which measures the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities — was 33.6% higher than in March 2021. In their report Friday, JPMorgan analysts said that Indonesia's export ban was "adding fuel to the fire."

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