On Monday, the Iranian military concluded its latest round of military exercises in the Persian Gulf by test-firing what it called "long-range" missiles. While the actual range of the missiles has been debated by some experts, the message received by the crude market was clear: prospects for the peaceful, uninterrupted flow of crude oil out of the Gulf Region remain dim and could be growing dimmer. Crude oil prices spiked to 8-month highs on the news, breaking above $103.70 per barrel.
At its closest point, Iran is located a mere 140 miles from the U.S. fleet in Bahrain. The U.S. Fifth Fleet is said to have warned Iran against any attempts to disrupt the shipping of crude through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow ribbon of water through which 40 percent of world oil is shipped.
Crude prices have been drifting higher since early October, despite significant headwinds. Major concerns about the health of European financial system linger, while an abundant supply of North American crude oil threatens to pressure prices lower.
Although Iran has concluded this round of war games, further Middle Eastern flare-ups could cause additional price spikes and threaten the U.S. economy's tenuous economic recovery.
As of Friday morning, crude for February delivery was trading at $101.50 per barrel.
Corn Keeps Popping
As South America approaches the peak of its summer, much of the corn crop is in its crucial pollination stage, which requires humidity to ensure a large corn harvest. Currently, drought conditions are threatening yields in Argentina, the world's 5th-largest corn producer, putting as much as 20 percent of their crop at risk. Since mid-December, corn prices have popped 80 cents per bushel (+14 percent) to a two-month high near $6.65.
Florida Freeze Spikes Orange Juice Prices
A large portion of Florida suffered from a "hard freeze" on Tuesday night, putting the Sunshine State's lucrative orange crop at risk. Florida produces nearly 80 percent of the U.S. orange crop, most of which is used to make orange juice. Frozen orange juice concentrate for delivery in January was worth $1.83 per pound on Friday, rising 8 percent this week on fears that the frost damage could cut into this year's orange production.