Among many edible crops that emerged at the dawn of modern human civilization and managed to spread across entire world, few managed to distinguish themselves by their ruggedness, storage quality and its nutritional value. Potato, indigenous flowering plants of the South America and the Andes mountains (modern-day southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia) managed to prove its usefulness to our ancestors, who cultivated it, nurtured it, and ensured its survival during the last 10,000 years of our history. Centuries after they were introduced to Europe and North America, potatoes represent one of the most important parts of world’s cuisine and the fourth-largest food crop in the entire world (following maize, rice and wheat). Today, extensive research and the centuries of selective breeding, we now have access to over thousand different types of potatoes that are grown all around the word.
The story of potato started around 350 million years ago, when they started to evolve from the poisonous ancestor of the plant nightshade (this family of plants eventually evolved not only into potatoes, but also into tobacco, chili peppers, bell peppers and tomatoes). Potato slowly evolved into its current form in the South American Andean highlands between Peru and Bolivia. Human settlers reached that part of our world around 15 thousand years ago, and managed to domesticate wild potato around 8 millennia BC. From that point on, potato slowly started its journey across the continent, but it received great attention in the 1500s when first Spanish conquistadors started exploring beyond the coasts of South America, especially after 1530s when they searched for gold in Peru. Among their numerous discoveries, potato received a very notable attention, and they brought that plant to Europe between the years of 1570 and 1593 (Canary Islands received it in 1562).
It's Time To Cozy Up With A Bowl Of Leek & Potato Soup! Ruff and Tumble: Police Dog Masters Slide at California Playground. Taco Bell’s decision to drop potatoes last year prompted outcry online. There was even a Change.org “petition for Taco Bell to NOT remove all potato items” that garnered more than 5,000.
European adoption of potato was slow but steady. In the beginning, Spanish government used potato as a reliable and easily transported food for their military and navy who while using them did not succumb to the scurvy. Potato arrived to Britain in 1585, Belgium and Germany in 1587, Austria in 1588, Ireland in 1589 and France in 1600. Sadly, local population of those countries looked at potato as absolutely unneeded, weird, poisonous (only roots of the plant were edible, which was totally unheard off in Europe), and in some cases as downright evil. For many years, potato was accused for causing leprosy, syphilis, early death, sterility, rampant sexuality, scrofula, narcosis and for destroying the soil where it grew. This sentiment receded from the Europe only after large scale efforts of France to find food that would sustain not only their military, but also population that was starved from continuous warfare. Long examination of the potato by the famous French botanist and chemist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier finally paid off when he persuaded King of France Louis XVI (1754–1793) to encourage mass cultivation of this plant my tricking the population. King gave Parmentier funds and land to grow 100 acres of potato, which were carefully guarded by military guards. Such large military and government attention on guarding these potatoes instantly sparked the attention of the people, who after that started adopting potato more and more until it became one of the most popular food sources in the Europe. The wife of the French king Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) also contributed by pining potato flowers in her curls, a move that was quickly emulated by noble ladies all across the Europe.
In early 1800s, potato became a commonplace crop that was used in entire Europe, but such popularity became severely tested between 1845 and 1849 when disease destroyed entire potato production of Ireland. During this “Great Starvation” around one million people died from starvation, and forced large amount of people to emigrate out of Ireland (500 thousand left for North America and Australia).
United States of America was the last major country who adopted potato in their cuisine. For many years they regarded this crop for horses and other animals. Only after the 1872 efforts of famous horticulturist Luther Burbank (1849-1926), American potato industry managed to gain some traction. This was enabled by Burbank’s discovery of disease resistant potato hybrid, and another hybrid that was used in Ireland to help combat blight epidemic.
In 20th century, potato became accepted across entire world as one of the most beloved and produced food sources, effectively becoming the most essential crop of Europe. Its high caloric value and wide variety of types enabled it to appear in every cuisine in the world. In 2010 world production of potatoes reached incredible 324 million tons (74.8 million tons in China, 36.6 in India, 21.1 in Ukraine, 18.3 in United States and 10.2 in Germany, etc.).© Reuters/KIM KYUNG-HOON FILE PHOTO: First trading day of stock market in Tokyo
By Marc Jones and Sujata Rao
LONDON (Reuters) - Dump the dollar! Buy emerging markets! Stay sustainable! These are among the consensus trades investment banks and asset managers reckon will dominate financial markets in 2021.
Vaccines will - hopefully - make 2021 the year of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended some sectors and reinforced the dominance of others.
Here are five trades the world's biggest investment houses seem to agree on:
1/ THE MIGHTY (DOLLAR) FALLING
COVID-19 ended a decade of dollar strength, and expectations are for 2021 to bring more greenback pitfalls.
BofA's December investor survey showed 'shorting' the dollar was the second most crowded trade. Another gauge - U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data - shows $30 billion in net dollar shorts, swinging from last December's $17 billion net long.
The reasoning, says Peter Fitzgerald, chief investment officer for multi-asset and macro at Aviva Investors, is that no central bank can 'out-dove the Fed'.
In other words, when the Federal Reserve cut interest rates near 0%, it kicked away the dollar's yield advantage over peers. And it still has room to ease policy.
President Donald Trump's imminent exit should also reduce trade and political tensions, which were dollar-supportive.
How much and for how long will the dollar fall? Analysts polled by Reuters predict weakness to endure until mid-2021, capped by COVID-19 uncertainty.
But asset manager PIMCO notes dollar declines are fastest after deep recessions, with five instances of 8%-10% annual depreciations recorded between 2003 and 2018.
Vaccines and rebounding economies will 'hasten the dollar's fall from grace', PIMCO predicted.
(Graphic: Unloved dollar - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xklpyjoekvg/Pasted%20image%201609349318840.png)
2/ RE-EMERGING MARKETS
With developing economies seen benefiting from recovering global trade, tourism and commodities, a weaker dollar and a more predictable White House, Morgan Stanley's message is: 'Gotta Buy EM All!'
It's recommending currencies from China, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Russia, alongside bonds from Ukraine and Mexican oil firm Pemex. Rival banks Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are also backing EM for 2021, with the BofA survey showing the sector the main favourite, or 'overweight'.
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Debt in emerging market currencies will net investors 6.2% next year, more than the S&P500, BofA expects.
The sentiment swing towards a sector that's languished for a decade is driven of course by hopes of a China-led growth recovery but also the lure of higher emerging market interest rates, given 0% or negative yields across richer countries.
EM currencies also have 25% of undervaluation to recoup, asset manager Pictet estimates.
(Graphic: Emerging markets ready to rise? - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/oakpejybwvr/Pasted%20image%201609343265541.png)
Institute of International Finance (IIF) data shows investors shovelling money into EM assets at the fastest rate in nearly a decade.
But some remain wary. Higher Treasury yields could spark a 2013-style 'taper tantrum', Citi suggested. Investment-grade credit ratings are at risk in some countries such as Romania or Mexico, while more debt defaults are likely in weaker nations.
(Graphic: Emerging hopes - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/jznpnqmyqvl/Pasted%20image%201609346306035.png)
3/ (CENTRAL) BANKING ON IT
Underpinning most bets is the view that the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of Japan, Bank of England and People's Bank of China will keep the cheap money flowing.
Central banks worldwide spent $1.3 billion an hour since March on asset purchases, BofA calculates. There were also 190 rate cuts in 2020 year - roughly four every five trading days.
But with global GDP seen expanding 5.4% next year - the most since 1973 - it might be hard to justify pushing the pedal further to the metal, especially if inflation creeps higher.
And not much policy room is left anyway. JPMorgan estimates that over 80% of sovereign bonds from richer nations pay negative yields after factoring in inflation. Many investors including BlackRock are now underweight the sector.
Still, the Big Five's asset purchases should total $3 trillion, Pictet strategist Steve Donze predicts, down from this year's $8 trillion but enough to keep bond yields extremely low.
A note of caution from JPMorgan - consensus forecasts in the past 10-15 years have correctly called the direction of Treasury yields only 40% of the time.
(Graphic: Central bank balance sheets swell - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/rlgvdarebpo/Pasted%20image%201607093853415.png)
4/ ESG - HERE FOR GOOD
The assets of investment funds adhering to environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles doubled this past year to over $1.3 trillion, and the IIF predicts the pace will accelerate in 2021, especially if U.S. President-elect Joe Biden pursues a greener agenda
Concerns about pollution, climate change and labour rights are the main drivers. But the IIF also points out 80% of 'sustainable' equity indices outperformed non-ESG peers during the pandemic-linked selloff, while renewable energy has been the runaway outperformer since then.
BlackRock describes ESG as 'the tectonic shift transforming investing', forecasting 'persistent flows into sustainable assets in the long transition to a less carbon-intensive world.'
Two-thirds of ESG fund assets are in equities, but sustainable debt has grown 20% in 2020 to more than $620 billion. Governments are stepping up green debt issuance while central banks are eyeing more sustainable bond-buying and reserve strategies
(Graphic: Electric (vehicle) dreams - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/yxmpjqjjjvr/Pasted%20image%201608312246439.png)
5/ BIDEN TIME ON TECH
Many of the above investment strategies are premised on a very different approach to trade and geopolitics under Biden.
He has vowed the United States will be 'ready to lead' again on the global stage, but BofA cautions that China, North Korea or Iran may look to test him early on with 'provocative actions'.
In some areas - big data, 5G, artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, robotics, and cybersecurity - Biden's policies might be just as combative as Trump's. That may speed up the move towards what's dubbed 'splinternet', with dual or multiple tech systems.
Tech and e-commerce companies account for almost a quarter of U.S. corporate profits, while tech comprises 40% of MSCI's emerging equity index. So watch this space.
(Graphic: Could a splinternet pop big tech's bubble? - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/ygdpzjebkpw/Pasted%20image%201609413326979.png)
(Reporting by Marc Jones and Sujata Rao; Editing by Jan Harvey)