Free trade hits food barrier

As countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America find they can’t import enough food to feed themselves, amid soaring prices and uncertain supply, free trade is losing favor. More than 30 countries that rely on food imports have had food riots recently, and the leaders of those countries are turning toward promoting self sufficiency. That could crimp the nearly $1 trillion a year in global food trade and lead to a resurgence in agricultural tariffs and subsidies. Leaders see that as preferable to rising malnutrition. “The idea of trade liberalization was that you could count on global markets, but they’re not proving reliable,” said David Orden at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. (Bloomberg)

Mixed market signs in Britain

HBOS, the UK’s largest mortgage lender, sketched a dire picture of Britain’s housing market, saying it expects the number of housing transactions to be down 45 percent this year and home prices to fall 9 percent. (MarketWatch) HBOS, which owns Bank of Scotland and mortgage lender Halifax, writes about 20 percent of British mortgages. The bank said its overall performance was in line with expectations, but its shares fell about 4 percent on the report. (AP in International Herald Tribune) Retail sales in the U.K. unexpectedly rose a record 3.5 percent in May, as Britons bought more seasonal food and clothes. “This is off the scale,” said Lombard Street Research economist Michael Taylor in London. (Bloomberg)

Boeing wins big round in Air Force tanker fight

Shares of European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. fell sharply in French trading early today after the U.S. Government Accountability Office urged the Air Force to reconsider handing EADS and Northrop Grumman an aerial refueling tanker contract worth at least $35 billion. (Reuters) The GAO yesterday sided with Boeing, finding that the Air Force had made “significant errors” in evaluating the merit and cost of Boeing’s competing bid for the contract. Awarding one of the Pentagon’s biggest-ever contracts to a foreign-led consortium had set off a political storm. (The New York Times) “This is very bad for EADS,” said Doug McVitie at French consultancy Arran Aerospace. “It’s back to square one now.” (Bloomberg)

Saving the country, inspired by reality TV

Americans save only about $7 of every after-tax $1,000 earned, according to the Commerce Department, and the First National Bank of Omaha wants to change that. The bank is sponsoring the Internet-based Pay Yourself First Challenge, modeled after reality TV shows like The Biggest Loser. Judges will pick five contestants from among video submissions uploaded to YouTube, and those five will be judged on how creatively they save money and how much they save over a six-month period. They’ll share their experiences online. “We hope this keeps the conversation going about the ways that Americans can save,” says personal finance columnist Liz Pulliam Weston. (MarketWatch)