As you're almost certainly aware, the political conflict in Ukraine and the recent military intervention of Russia in Crimea is raising concerns among investors. The full impact of the events there is still uncertain, but some hints can be seen in the wheat and corn markets.
How, you ask?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ukraine will be the fifth-largest wheat exporter and the third-largest corn export in the current marketing year. In fact, Ukraine is forecast to export 18.5 million tons of corn in the current marketing season -- 16% of global trade -- and 10 million tons of wheat.
Russia and Ukraine combined will produce 74 million tons of wheat in the 2013-2014 marketing season and export a total of 26.5 million tons of the grain (representing 17% of world grain trade). As you can see, these crops' exposure to this region is considerably high.
If problems escalate, these two countries have the potential to push prices for corn, wheat, and gas to new highs. Since most of Ukrainian grain is exported through the center of dispute, Crimea, there are chances that a military conflict could disrupt shipments. If the situation deteriorates and these exports are cut off, we'll see prices rising in the near term.
No shipments have been disrupted so far, but the problem is far from being resolved.
As predicted, corn and wheat futures have surged in the past week. Uncertainty over disruptions in supply has led traders to bid up the contracts.
Corn futures for May delivery reached a six-month high last week before retreating. Similarly, wheat futures stayed near three-month highs. It appears that the Russian presence in Crimea maintained a bid under the prices for these two crops.
Another way to analyze what is going on with prices is to take a look at crop-specific ETFs. The Teucrium Wheat Fund (NYSEMKT:WEAT), for example, is up 11.5% since the end of last month. Meanwhile, the Teucrium Corn Fund (NYSEMKT:CORN) is up 5.3% over the same period. The risks can already be seen in the prices.
There are two major U.S. grain-processors with operations in Ukraine: Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM) and Bunge (NYSE:BG).
Archer Daniels holds quite a number of assets in the country, including an inland grain-elevator system, ports, and an oilseed processing plant. Bunge also runs grain elevators, as well as a port in Nikolaev and a crushing plant in Dnipropetrovsk. These two companies have not yet experienced disruptions in shipments, but they are closely monitoring the situation.
The situation is still highly unpredictable, and the market is on edge, awaiting the outcome of the political and military crisis. However, if there is no actual military confrontation or disruption in shipments, the economic consequence on grain prices should be small, and volatility should be diminished.
There's also the risk that importers impose sanctions and stop buying products from these countries. Most of Ukraine's wheat has already been shipped this season, but in the case of corn, most of it is yet to be shipped. Keep an eye on this situation.
Better crop prices are normally beneficial for grain processors, so there could be a positive impact on these companies. However, if things get tougher in Ukraine, their assets could be at risk and raise costs. For now, the overall impact is hard to divine.
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