Recessionary and Inflationary Local Spend Musings

What a fascinating weekend I had these past few days. Friday night, we attended a charity wine event that we've gone to for the past five years for the local Boys and Girls club. The event includes a dinner and silent/live auctions. This year, bidding was extremely restrained in both events and I'd say there were a third fewer attendees as last year. Clearly, the economy is taking its toll (I was able to pick up a few bottles of mid eighties Lynch-Bages and Cos d'Estournel at less than half of the market value).

The next morning, I woke up to a stiff cup of coffee -- which after all the wine the previous night was just what the doctor ordered -- and headed to our local farmer's market. At Chicago's Green City market, I've always found the prices quite high. But this year, the invisible hand is doing interesting things to the local food market. Turns out that local farm grown organic eggs are the same price ($4.00) as years past. But the price for the same eggs at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods -- two higher end local grocery stores -- are even higher.

What has happened is that some of the local farmers selling at the market have not raised prices in some areas to keep pace with rising prices in the broader agricultural markets. These farmers are not dependent on feed and supplies like larger purveyors because their herds feed on local pastured lands and their crops come from last year's seeds in many cases. I'm sure we'll see profit taking eventually as these farmers raise prices to market levels, but in the meantime, it's curious to see how market transparency takes time to work its way through the system.

Speaking of transparency, we had a colleague from Mexico stay with us for the weekend. At today's exchange rates, he still believes that Mexico should be 25% cheaper than the US for many metals products -- stampings, forgings, castings, etc. And given the rising China price, Mexico might even be a cheaper option these days in some categories. After our colleague from South of the Border left on Saturday night, on Sunday, we had a friend and his family over who was proud to show off his first $100 receipt for gasoline (in actuality, he had trotted it out earlier in the week). I suspect that by later this year, no one will be bragging about spending $100 to fill up their tank. We'll be hoping to spend that amount.

Jason Busch

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