Obama's Next 'Sweet' Bailout
"Clearly, the USDA has made up its mind that Big Sugar is going to trump the American consumer," is how industry exec perceives the news that the government is considerng buying 400,000 tons of sugar, as WSJ reports, to stave off a wave of defaults by sugar processors that borrowed $862 million under a government price-support program. Since these 'loans' were given nine-months ago, sugar prices have plunged 18% - and could leave the government's price-support program with an embarrassing $80 million loss given the additional sugar-to-ethanol purchase losses. Of course, rather than pass on lower prices to a struggling consumer, the government's decision is to avoid a loss for corporations such as American Crystal Sugar Co., Amalgamated Sugar Co. and U.S. Sugar Corp., and, as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen notes "unfairly leaving consumers and businesses on the hook to foot the bill and that is unacceptable." Moar Big Gulps...
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering buying 400,000 tons of sugar to stave off a wave of defaults by sugar processors that borrowed $862 million under a government price-support program.
The action aims to prop up tumbling U.S. sugar prices, which have fallen 18% since the USDA made the nine-month operations-financing loans beginning in October.
The move would benefit companies that turn sugar beets and sugar cane into granulated sweetener, a business plied by American Crystal Sugar Co., Amalgamated Sugar Co. and U.S. Sugar Corp. The USDA wouldn't say how many companies have received loans, or identify them. U.S. Sugar said it doesn't have any USDA loans outstanding. American Crystal and Amalgamated didn't respond to requests for comment.
Higher prices would hit food companies including candy giants Mars Inc., Hershey Co. and Nestlé SA, and could ultimately boost retail food prices, at a time when many consumers are financially stretched.
"Clearly, the USDA has made up its mind that Big Sugar is going to trump the American consumer," said Pierson Bob Clair, president and chief executive at Brown & Haley, a confectioner in Tacoma, Wash., that makes Roca butter-crunch candy.
The USDA makes loans to sugar processors annually as part of a program that is rooted in the 1934 Sugar Act. The loans are secured with some 4.1 billion pounds, or 2.05 million tons, of sugar that companies expect to produce from the current harvest. That comes to almost a quarter of total U.S. output that the USDA forecasts for this year.
The loan program was designed to operate at no cost to taxpayers. A June 2000 study by the Government Accountability Office, then called the General Accounting Office, estimated the program's cost to the U.S. economy at $700 million in 1996 and $900 million in 1998.
The National Confectioners Association, which represents about 350 candy companies, including Mars, Hershey and Nestlé, estimates that the U.S. Sugar Program has cost consumers about $14 billion since the Farm Bill's passage in 2008.
Any defaults on loans this year would be the first test of a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill that requires the USDA to sell forfeited sugar to ethanol producers. Most ethanol in the U.S. is distilled from corn.
To entice ethanol producers to buy sugar to mix in with corn, the USDA expects it will have to take a 10-cent loss on every pound of sugar it sells, bringing the total to $80 million if 400,000 tons are purchased, Ms. Fecso said.
"If the USDA has to intervene…we're going to be unfairly leaving consumers and businesses on the hook to foot the bill and that is unacceptable," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), co-sponsor of a bill that would give the USDA more flexibility in handling the sugar program.