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The Olive Oil Crisis Spreads as Prices Soar. What’s to Blame.

Illustration by Elias Stein

Referenced Symbols

Crude has fallen some 10% this year, but another, less crude variety of oil is rocketing higher. Prices of extra virgin olive oil are at a record high, according to statistics tracked by the International Monetary Fund going back to 1990. In April, olive oil was trading for $6,269.63 per metric ton, up 46% from last year’s level.

For those who buy their cooking and dipping oils in quantities of less than a ton, that comes out to about $6 a liter (33.8 fluid ounces) at wholesale, or roughly twice that or more, depending on brand and quality, at retail. Filippo Berio, a top U.S. olive oil brand based in New Jersey, calls the latest olive season “the most challenging on record, with the lowest crop yields in 30 years.”

Olive oil has gotten much pricier because of a severe drought since last year in Spain, where some 40% of it is produced. Last summer was Spain’s hottest on record, and among the driest. Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food projected in March that the crop will yield just 680,000 tons of olive oil in the current growing season, down from the five-year average of 1.37 million tons, according to Olive Oil Times. Spain has asked the European Union for emergency funds to help farmers. The Italian harvest also came in light.

Extreme temperatures and prices could be a sign of more volatility ahead—and more sticker shock for shoppers stocking up on the oil. Climate change is likely to make it harder to grow olives in some of the best regions for production, Spanish and Portuguese researchers found in one study. It’s a problem that “canola” be solved with some larger changes.

Write to Avi Salzman at avi.salzman@barrons.com

Last Week

The Nvidia Rally

Stocks opened mixed, fixated on the debt-ceiling talks. A selloff in China, triggered by growth fears and geopolitical tensions, erased gains for the year. U.K. inflation fell, but less than expected, and Germany went into recession. Stocks slid, then rallied on Nvidia’s blowout forecast, despite lingering default fears. On the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1%, to 33,093.34; the S&P 500 rose 0.32%, to 4205.45; and the Nasdaq Composite soared 2.5%, to 12,975.69.

Ceiling Crunch Time

Talks ground on at the White House on the debt ceiling. Companies piled into bonds in case of a default, as yields hit their highest point in a decade. Just before the holiday weekend, negotiators chased a deal to limit spending through 2025, but came up short. On Friday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen gave a new X-date for when the government would run out of money, June 5.

The Earnings Beat

Home builder Toll Brothers beat on earnings and revenue. Palo Alto Networks beat, Snowflake missed, and Nvidia’s artificial-intelligence-driven forecast thrashed analyst estimates by 50%. The stock rose 25% for the week and neared the $1 trillion club. Kohl’s surprisingly beat on profits.

Another Weapon

The U.S. said other countries could give Ukraine F-16s, and offered to train Ukrainian pilots. The nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia went off-line after Russian shelling, then reconnected. Russia claimed to have taken Bakhmut, even as Ukraine seized the high ground outside the leveled city, threatening encirclement. Anti-Putin Russian forces fighting for Ukraine staged a raid across the border near Belgorod.

The Corporate Front

The European Union hit Meta Platforms with a $1.2 billion fine over its handling of user information and told it to suspend user data transfers to the U.S.…Trade tensions flared after China banned U.S. memory chip giant Micron Technology from selling to key domestic companies. China claimed it failed a cybersecurity review...Japan said it would restrict 23 different types of chip-making equipment for export, raising alarms in China...Carl Icahn won one of three nominations to the Illumina board.

Annals of Deal Making

London-based “magic circle” law firm Allen & Overy said it was merging with New York’s Shearman & Sterling, creating one of the world’s largest law firms. Shearman had abandoned an effort to merge with Hogan Lovells earlier in the year...AIG will sell its reinsurance business to RenaissanceRe for $3 billion...M&A advisory boutique Greenhill & Co., which went public in 2004, said it was being bought by Japan’s Mizuho Financial Group for an enterprise value of $550 million...The Wall Street Journal reported that Choice Hotels was seeking to buy Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, though it was unclear if Wyndham was selling...Richard Branson’s bankrupt Virgin Orbit is selling its modified Boeing 747 (nicknamed Cosmic Girl) to Stratolaunch and its rocket factory to Rocket Labs after no buyer for the company materialized...Citigroup will spin off Mexican bank Banamex in an IPO, not sell it.

Write to Robert Teitelman at bob.teitelman@dowjones.com