Turning the page on a new year should be a time for hope and renewal. But all I got are worries. Here’s one worry: price direction. Do you remember the great September market collapse in grain prices? In hindsight, that was a warning shot across our bow that said “the bull market is over.”
Despite a modest October recovery, we ended the year in a price funk. I’m not ready to declare a great bear market, but we start 2012 with a market searching for direction. For much of 2011, the best grain-marketing strategy was to wait a few weeks and prices would get better. That was last year. You may be served better by a different strategy in 2012 – a strategy that looks to sell rallies.
Here’s another worry: European debt woes. Farmers love to tell me about the lack of corn piles and strong demand. The bigger picture is a shaky world economy that hangs overhead like a storm cloud. The search for market direction is really a search for resolution to some enormous and intractable economic problems.
Speaking of worries, there is one name in the headlines that has our collective underwear in a bunch: MF Global. My text-messaging kids are amused by the acronym but this is no LOL matter.
The top guy testifies before a Congressional committee that he does not know where $1.2 billion went. Huh? I’ve been known to lose $20 in the wash, but the best and the brightest found a way to lose $1.2 billion.
At the very least, it appears that the accounting standards at MF Global were lax, and lax standards are enough to shake the confidence of an entire industry. Too many farmers have turned cold to the idea of using futures and options. This is unfortunate, because now is a time when we need these powerful pricing tools.
There may be a bright spot in this worrisome mess. Since early November, you can bet that every other clearing firm has taken a fresh look at its own internal systems for managing segregated accounts.
And I can’t help but offer some late advice for MF Global management. As a clearing firm, your job is to separate and protect your customer’s money while filling orders. Your customer is perfectly capable of drawing down his own equity through his own lousy trading decisions.
Do you want even more worries? We can also talk about a strong La Niña, strong dollar and fierce competition for wheat and feed exports.
Enough with the worries – where is the opportunity? It’s right in front of your eyes. Thanks to a strong basis, I still see spot corn prices trading over $5.50/bu. and soybean prices close to $11/bu. And despite the pullback in prices that started in late summer, I still see 2012 new-crop pricing opportunities that are above production costs.
But you have grain in the bin and I can hear you screaming, “Last year I made the mistake of pricing too much grain too early! Last year I had the chance to sell some $7/bu. corn and $13/bu. soybeans! Last year I enjoyed much better margins!”
The opportunity for a good price is still here, but it does not have to remain. For important pricing decisions, remember that a stubborn approach is not necessarily a good approach, despite fond memories of last year.
2012 is here. Forget last year.