6 things that could get pricier because of El Niño

  • A woman watches as large surf rolls to the beach past the Ocean Beach Pier in San Diego, California, in early January 2016. BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty Images

    Though El Niño means "little boy" in Spanish, there is nothing childlike about the impact of the climate phenomenon tied to warmer-than-usual temperatures in the Pacific. The pattern has brought droughts to parts of Asia and Africa and unusually wet weather to the Americas.

    Indeed, El Niño is leaving a path of anxiety and unease in its wake, from vegetable farms in California to sugar cane fields in Brazil -- and all points in between. Prices for some commodities have gone up, which may pressure the bottom lines of food companies and eventually lead to higher prices for consumers.

    The impact, though, isn't always felt right away and the news that El Niño brings to the economy isn't always bad.

    "While Australia, Chile, Indonesia, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa face a short-lived fall in economic activity in response to a typical El Niño shock, for other countries, an El Niño event has a growth-enhancing effect; some (for instance the United States) due to direct effects while others (for instance the European region) through positive spillovers from major trading partners," the authors of a recent International Monetary Fund paper wrote.

    Prices for some commodities are being squeezed by what analysts expect to be poor harvests.

    And El Niño has lead to higher-than-usual rain in the U.S. cotton belt, while India is dryer than usual. Both are bad news for farmers.

    The news, though, isn't all bad: Winemakers in South Africa and California argue that El Niño may yield better quality vintages. It also hinders the development of hurricanes in the Atlantic.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.