Rampant theivery: Grains and copper

It's not just on the other side of the world where rising grain prices and shrinking supplies have touched off episodes of theft.   It's happening right here in North America.

A report from the Washington, D.C.,-based think-tank, the Urban
Institute, calculated losses from agricultural thefts in the United
States are now US$5-billion — though the real figure is perhaps 10
times higher, because uninsured farmers often don't report their
losses. Those producers with thousands of bushels stored might not even
notice their missing grain for months.

Canada's National Post documents cases from all over:  A farmer in Manitoba gets his truck stolen and then returned — minus the seed it was carrying.

"It's somebody that knew what they were doing," Mr. Penner says, adding
that he suspects the $10,000 load of seed, the price of which has
tripled in 12 months, "probably isn't too far from here."

The trouble is perhaps more widespread in the States, as spring wheat prices that have shot up four-fold from historical levels:

In January, Kansas police began investigating nearly a dozen reports of
thieves driving their trucks up to farm bins and siphoning out tens of
thousands of dollars worth of wheat.

And almond thieves have hit California, the nuts having tripled in price over recent years. 

The article is headlined, "Grain is the New Copper."  But don't let that give you the impression that copper thieves have moved on.  Far from it:

Real estate brokers and local authorities say once-proud
homes coast-to-coast are being stripped for copper, aluminum,
and brass by thieves. Much of it ends up with scrap metal
traders who say nearly all copper gets shipped overseas, much
of it to China and India.

In areas hit hardest by foreclosures, such as the Slavic
Village neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, copper and other
metals used in plumbing, heating systems and telephone lines
are now more valuable than some homes.

"We're in an incredibly unfortunate time where the
nonferrous metals commodities market for scrap is at an
all-time high. Houses are getting stripped pretty quickly once
they go through the foreclosure process," Cleveland city
councilor Tony Brancatelli said.

"We're seeing houses sold for $100 that are distressed
houses that should not be recycled," he said. Some boarded-up
homes in his Slavic Village community have "No copper, only
PVC" painted on the boards to stop would-be thieves.

It sounds a little implausible that copper pipes stripped from a house in foreclosure would end up getting shipped to Asia — it's a far cry from Bubbles on The Wire stealing scrap here in Baltimore to support his habit — but evidently it does get bundled up in large lots.

Warren Gelman, president of merchant broker Kataman Metals
Inc in St Louis, Missouri, said illegal trade is just a small
fraction of the scrap metals business.

He notes that the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries,
an industry body, sends frequent alerts to all scrap traders on
metal thefts in an attempt to stop illegal deals.

"If local law enforcement has a theft, they report it to us
and we then turn around and package it for our members in the
region," said the institute's spokesman, Bruce Savage.

"This problem has been gathering a certain amount of
momentum over the last year as you've seen commodity prices
spike up to record highs at the same time you've got an economy
that's teetering domestically," he said.

So whether it's grains or base metals… energy or precious metals… it seems just about everything that's tangible is also becoming more valuable.  Peak oil, peak gold, peak food, you name it.  Which is why the theme of this year's Agora Financial Investment Symposium is "View from the Peak: Seeking Profits in a Time of Risk and Scarcity."   As usual it's being held in late July in one of North America's most extraordinary cities, Vancouver.  But slots are filling up at a much faster rate than at any time in the Symposium's eight-year history.  Only 200 now remain…so learn more about the scheduled speakers and how to register right here.