In traditional tortilla-making, corn or maize is cured in lime-infused water. The lime juice releases the skin of the corn from the kernel and also liberates the vitamin niacin and the amino acid tryptophan.The cured kernels are then ground and rolled or pressed into thin cakes and cooked at a high temperature. The resulting tortilla emerges as a low-fat, low-sodium food, packing calcium, potassium and fiber. Quietly, the corn tortilla has surpassed bagels and muffins to become the No. 2 packaged bread product here in America, second only to sliced bread. Tortillas and their byproduct tortilla chips and taco shells have quickly become a $6 billion per year industry here in the U.S. One of the little reported byproducts from the skyrocketing grain prices was the massive weight they inflicted on the Mexican and Central American economies. In case you didn't know, corn is the mainstay of the Mexican diet. Corn tortillas are the staple of the food chain in Mexico. Corn and maize are used in various forms of tortilla production. What bread is to the American consumer, corn is to Mexican and Central American consumers. With the recent dramatic drop in corn and soybean prices, the obvious winner here is the Mexican economy. At one point last year, I was trying to rally the TV honchos to do a story on the effects of skyrocketing corn prices on the Mexican and Latin American consumers. It would have been really interesting and informative.
The recent good news (lower corn prices) has come at a time when the Mexican economy south could really use some relief. Things were getting pretty dire at one point. I remember talking about the unrest in the streets of Mexico due to the closing of the "tortillarias." They were closing because the Mexican government allows only so much price appreciation in tortillas. Tortillarias were forced to close because their input cost of corn exceeded the maximum incremental price for tortillas. I noticed something recently that I think has a lot to do with the falling price of corn. The Mexican peso is becoming very strong. It is breaking out to the upside and trading at multiyear highs. I am looking at the CurrencyShares Mexican Peso Trust ETF ( FXM), which is long the peso. As the peso rises, so does FXM. I have been very actively trading currencies lately. I have been watching the FXM and waiting for the test of the highs and follow through. I feel this is going to continue, and I like the trade from the long side. As in most currency trading, tight stops are recommended as the environment changes rapidly. The FXM settled at $100.14 yesterday. Under $96 on a settlement basis, the stop-loss protection I put in liquidates the trade. An interesting company I have watched over the years is Gruma S.A.B ( GMK). Gruma is a leading tortilla producer. I am in the process of doing the due diligence, but know that I am on it and will report back soon. I am not buying Gruma yet, as I need more information. However, it is on my radar big time.