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Speculating and hedging

By Jon Scheve, Superior Feed Ingredients, LLC

Right now many analysts and advisors are suggesting corn and beans are too cheap and prices should rally. This makes sense because U.S. corn prices are the cheapest in the world, which means exports should increase. Elevator managers that I have spoken with indicate that farmers aren’t selling at these values. The counter side to prices having to rally is farmers are sitting on A LOT of stored corn, which could be keeping prices from increasing the next couple of months.

 

Corn

Many bulls are also saying corn is growing too fast and yields will be negatively impacted. Some are predicting a 178 or lower average national yield, at which prices should rally. The counterpoint to this is weather has been widely and consistently very good. Arguably it’s the best growing conditions ever for the largest portion of the Corn Belt at one time. Hot temperatures have been balanced with timely rains, and for every low-lying acre hit with too much rain there are probably many hillside acres benefiting. Estimates indicate only around 10% of the Corn Belt is suffering from prolonged drought conditions. Most of which are in the fringe growing areas. The market probably has a 180 yield plugged in today. If yields were higher because of very good growing condition then future prices will likely trade lower than current prices.

 

Beans

There’s been no change in tariff discussions, so no real change in prices. If trade issues were resolved, bean prices should rally significantly and likely pull corn prices higher. Without any tariff changes, I expect prices to remain the same until harvest. It’s very difficult to peg when this issue will be behind us.

 

Spec account vs. hedge account

I continue to see farmers speculating that the market has hit its low for the year. Some are buying back their hedges hoping to bank some profits and waiting for future rallies to sell their grain again.

While this may be the correct decision, it is definitely not a guarantee. Generally I discourage speculative trades in hedge accounts for several reasons.

  • Speculating complicates record keeping. I’m a big advocate for keeping detailed notes on the rationale for each trade I make. When farmers start adding in something they bought back and resold, it’s difficult to determine if the trade was speculative or a hedge. It’s difficult to remember if the profits or losses are included in the price that you get for the grain you sold.
  • It’s difficult to determine if you were a good or bad speculator with only one account. I usually recommend farmers speculate in a separate account from their hedge account. That way when the brokerage company sends their year-end statements outlining all profits and losses it is easy to determine how well one did speculating. By keeping it separate, it keeps farmers honest with themselves.
  • Banks usually can’t use spec accounts for asset management. I will start by saying that not all banks are the same but what I have found to be a common theme among most are that banks aren’t fans of speculative trades in hedge accounts because they aren’t fans of gambling. If grain is sold at in a hedge account and the asset (i.e. grain) is stored in a bin or still in the field, they can use the hedge account as an asset. Since speculating has no relationship to production or storage of grain, it could be a liability, not an asset. I’ve worked with banks to help them identify speculative trading verses hedge trades in farmer accounts. Once a farmer abuses a bank’s trust of a hedge account, it hurts not only their relationship with that bank, but it also hurts all of us that use our hedge accounts correctly. I need my banker to trust my hedging program and continue to work with me to keep it fully funded during times of margin call, so it’s important for me to never damage that relationship by gambling or speculating.
  • It’s not that hard to open a spec account. Plus, it allows farmers to only fund the amount of money they are willing to lose, without negatively affecting their farm operation’s main profit center.

It’s often easy for farmers to justify speculating. Some do it because they fear missing out on a rally. Others think they know what the market will do. Usually a farmer speculates that prices are going to rise. As a farmer I definitely understand the fear of missing out on a rally, but speculating is not the answer to those fears. Instead, I encourage farmers to consider an alternative perspective. I like to keep mind that I ALWAYS have next year’s crop to sell too. I suspect few farmers have any 2019 grain sold right now. Any upcoming rally will also increase next year’s prices, so farmers can always take advantage of future rallies, it just may require changing the crop year that gets sold first at higher values.

I don’t want to try and speculate on when the bottom is coming for either corn or beans. There are many compelling reasons why the market could go in either direction, because there are a lot of unknowns. Yields are a complete mystery and likely the biggest factor for prices. If I was certain the market was going down, I’d sell more, but I just don’t know. I didn’t expect prices to go below $3.80, yet here we are. If the yield is hurt by high temperatures then low yields would result in the market trading back above $4. I’m not entirely convinced the weather has been all that bad this summer. So I continue to wait and look for some kind of opportunity for the corn crop. I’m behind in sales from where I would like to be at this point in the marketing year. I don’t need to speculate further by buying the few sales I have in place back.

No one knows how long the unresolved tariff issues will last or how much of an impact it will have on prices in the short term or even long term. I have heard arguments for both sides and I come to the conclusion that nobody really knows. While the tariff issue certainly doesn’t help bean prices a huge supply this year would not help either. I have 100% of my beans sold and I’m going to continue to keep that position in place.

 

Jon grew up raising corn and soybeans on a farm near Beatrice, NE. Upon graduation from The University of Nebraska in Lincoln, he became a grain merchandiser and has been trading corn, soybeans and other grains for the last 18 years, building relationships with end-users in the process. After successfully marketing his father’s grain and getting his MBA, 10 years ago he started helping farmer clients market their grain based upon his principals of farmer education, reducing risk, understanding storage potential and using basis strategy to maximize individual farm operation profits. A big believer in farmer education of futures trading, Jon writes a weekly commentary to farmers interested in learning more and growing their farm operations.

Trading of futures, options, swaps and other derivatives is risky and is not suitable for all persons. All of these investment products are leveraged, and you can lose more than your initial deposit. Each investment product is offered only to and from jurisdictions where solicitation and sale are lawful, and in accordance with applicable laws and regulations in such jurisdiction. The information provided here should not be relied upon as a substitute for independent research before making your investment decisions. Superior Feed Ingredients, LLC is merely providing this information for your general information and the information does not take into account any particular individual’s investment objectives, financial situation, or needs. All investors should obtain advice based on their unique situation before making any investment decision. The contents of this communication and any attachments are for informational purposes only and under no circumstances should they be construed as an offer to buy or sell, or a solicitation to buy or sell any future, option, swap or other derivative. The sources for the information and any opinions in this communication are believed to be reliable, but Superior Feed Ingredients, LLC does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy of such information or opinions. Superior Feed Ingredients, LLC and its principals and employees may take positions different from any positions described in this communication. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. He can be contacted at jon@superiorfeed.com.

 

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