Title: The Dreamer in the Spring Boudoir
Chapter 380 – Competing to death (1)
Importing rice from Su Province? The unit cost of two and a half bushel of imported rice would be over nine silver coins. How could there be any profit left after that? Although the shopkeepers from the major stores fell into silence, the small-time rice merchants didn't have so many misgivings. For them, they were operating on a shoestring budget. Whether they could earn a larger profit or smaller one, it was fine as they long as they could earn money.
A leader stepped forward for the small-time rice merchants. He looked at Ji Man as he said, “Owner Ji, we collectively have agreements with several tens of farming families, but the terms of these agreements are only six months. Once this year passes, they'll have to be signed again. What do you think..."
"That's fine." Yan Buba, who had been standing behind Ji Man this entire time with an abacus, said, "For every transfer of the short-term contracts, we'll compensate you with two taels. If the contracts are renewed in the following years, we'll continue to pay two taels for every year."
These conditions could be considered very generous. Not only were they being compensated for the loss of the residual contracts, they were also willing to sell their existing rice supply at a low cost. As the small-time rice merchants happily went over to look at the contracts, the remaining shopkeepers from the major rice stores looked at each other in dismay.
Their contracts with the tenant farmers were how they got their supply of rice. If they handed their contracts to Ji Store, wouldn't Ji Store have absolute say over the price of rice in the future?
How could they possible go along with this?
But, right now, they had no rice. Their only other option was to close their stores until the imperial court stopped collecting rice. The collection order from the imperial court superseded the enforcement of their contracts. It would be impossible for the rice merchants to try to snatch rice from the imperial court.
The remaining people were in a dilemma. After considering the options, Shopkeeper Liu saluted with his hands and said, "This is a serious matter. Owner Ji, how about we come back on another day once we've discussed the matter amongst ourselves?
Shopkeeper Rong also saluted with his hands and chimed in, "Yeah, we need to go back and have a thorough discussion."
Ji Man didn't try to stop him. Smiling, she nodded. "This one will look forward to everyone's future visit."
The shopkeepers from the major rice stores were wiping their sweat and whispering amongst themselves as they departed.
"Why don't we all work together and buy Ji Store's entire supply of rice?" Shopkeeper Liu's expression was slightly ruthless. “How did we not notice that someone had been already been collecting rice? They probably knew about the imperial court's order in advance. Since the situation is already like this, we can't let ourselves be manipulated and ordered about by Ji Store."
"You want to buyout Ji Store's entire supply?" Shopkeeper Rong thought it over. "Can we really afford to buy 25,000 bushels of rice together?"
Shopkeeper Liu sneered. "Shopkeeper Rong, let's not be so modest. We're all major rice merchants. We can easily buy more than 25,000 bushels of rice."
Shopkeeper Rong said with embarrassment, "My spendthrift son went gambling, and I ended up owing a buttload of money. I really can't afford to take out that much money right now."
The shopkeeper next to him parroted, "I recently settled my debts, so my money is stuck there. I normally don't have much liquid assets to begin with. I can't afford 25,000 bushels for rice."
A rice merchant usually only had a fraction of this amount in their inventory. If they had too much stock, they would risk the stock becoming damaged before they could sell it all. Although Ji Store was able to import rice from Zhangjun, it definitely wouldn’t have that much rice in its inventory. If they were able to buy out its entire stock, they would be the ones to manipulate the food price and profit from the increase in price. It was definitely a better option than handing over their contracts.
Once Ji Store no longer had its rice, how could it compete with them?
After the shopkeepers discussed the idea amongst themselves, they agreed that it was feasible. To be on the safe side, they sent people to check on Ji Store's granaries. Outsiders only knew that Ji Store had 25,000 to 50,000 bushels of rice. Even if Ji Store was able to import more rice from Zhangjun later, they could always swallow that amount too.
Ji Man was smiling as she hanged up the sign for the price of the rice. In only one day, the price of two and half bushels of rice had gone up from ten silver coins to twelve silver coins.
Seeing the new price, Shopkeeper Rong couldn't resist angrily shouting, "Why don't you just go out and rob people? How can you increase the initial price by so much?"
Ji Man wasn't bothered by his attitude. Smiling, she said, "Ah, shopkeepers, you’re here again. Have you heard of the latest news yet?"
Shopkeeper Liu furrowed his brow as he asked, "What news?"
“A lot of places suffered from either drought or floods this year. There's a lot of major production places that barely have enough spring seedlings left," Ji Man said, "The rice will definitely become more expensive in the upcoming year. Shouldn't you all pay special attention to this matter and store up on rice?"
Ji Man wasn't trying scaremongering. It really was true that there were natural disasters happening throughout the country. When Marquis Moyu had come over to drink tea yesterday, he had told her this. His words were even more reliable than Zhu Yurun's.
Shopkeeper Liu felt apprehensive. How come they hadn't been able to get any news of this matter? This had to be wrong, right? They had inquired about this matter with various local officials. If there was such news, they would have already been told about it.
Looking at Ji Man's who seemed so sure of himself and didn't seem to be lying, the shopkeepers retreated. They wanted to ask about this news first.
However, when they headed over to several local officials' homes, the local officials all said that they hadn't heard this news. The shopkeepers sneered. Ji Store was probably making up an excuse to raise up their prices. They might as well just contact the rice merchant association in Su Province and buy rice from there!
With their minds set at ease, they returned home. A letter was written and sent to Su Province. However, when the letter was halfway there, the rice merchants heard news that Su Province as well as other places like Jiangbei and Jiangnan were suffering from natural disasters that occurred every ten years or so. The imperial court had been suppressing this news. It was only when the displaced refuges arrived at the capital that the people in the capital found out that many farmers had become destitute and homeless.
No wonder the imperial court had made such a big move in collecting the grain. Officials had even been sent to Zhangjun to collect rice from there as well. However, when they arrived, Zhangjun's granaries were empty. There wasn't anything the officials could do when Zhangjun Prince said his fiefdom didn't have any grain.
Translator Ramblings: I think Ji Man is sharing the news because she's deliberately trying to make the situation worse so that other people will start panicking sooner. Even though she's going to profit a bit by selling the rice merchants back their own grain at a marked up price, she's already said that her primary goal isn't to earn money.