Monday, October 20, 2014

How come there's no Peking Duck Exchange, Moscow Mercantile Exchange, or Havana Cigar Exchange?

It will come as a surprise to most that a company so stiff and humorless as CME Group currently is, once used to run an aggressive and somewhat jingoistic ad campaign in the mid 1970s for the purpose of celebrating free markets.  As I recently obtained a second set of these somewhat rare prints from a retired former CME marketing employee, it's worth taking a deeper look into the story behind them.

I've always been fascinated by the ad campaign because my travels allowed me to see the stark difference firsthand between free markets and controlled economies.  Among the places I've visited are the mausoleums of Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-Sung (took a second trip to DPRK as Americans weren't allowed inside in 2005 but in 2008 we were), Ayatolla Khomeini, a couple days in Cuba which doesn't have a mausoleum planned to Fidel...yet, Zimbabwe in the midst of their collapse last decade and Turkmenistan months before Turkmenbashi died.  Although the citizens of each country showed a lot of warm hospitality to this American, I couldn't escape feeling pity towards how they were born into a system which didn't allow them to be masters of their own destiny.

Capturing a similar sentiment, the inspiration for the CME to create these prints came from a speech which Leo Melamed gave to a Senate committee hearing on legislation that created the CFTC as an independent agency in 1974.

"Mr. Chairman, there are no commodity exchanges in Moscow; there is no Peking Duck Exchange in China; there is no Havana Cigar Exchange.  The farmers of those countries have no need for a mechanism that offers risk transference, price projection, or price protection.  In those countries, the governments establish the prices at which farmers can sell their products.  Consequently, the farmers' primary risk is entirely removed.  Alas, by removing the risk, that system also removes the incentive.  The sorry history of such systems is that they have been abysmal failures.

In contrast, during the past 100 years, our nation with its agriculture has proved to be the only one in the world that could continue to produce more food products than we could consume---and of a higher quality and at a lower cost than any other nation.  Mr. Chairman, there are many reasons for this remarkable fact.  But the central and primary reason is that we have, for the most part, maintained a free enterprise system.  This is the pivotal difference between us and them.  This is the secret of our success and their failure."

CME advertising executive Martin Cohen was the creator of these ads and deserves credit for the tremendous detail of each.

click photo to enlarge

How come there's no Moscow Mercantile Exchange?

"Millions of tons of potatoes, cabbage and other commodities change hands in the U.S.S.R. every year, but not a ruble's worth is traded on any futures market.  In a regualted economy, the price of a head of cabbage is exactly what the government says it is---no more, no less. Does their system work?  Apparently.  Does it work as well as ours?  You've got to be kidding."

Starting from the back, a babuska chalkboard operator is marking quote board entitled (according to Google translate) Moscow Commodity Exchange with the y-axis listing the 12 months and the x-axis listing cabbage, vodka, caviar, potatoes, (unknown), goats, and soybeans (?).  To the right of the quote board is a portrait of Lenin under which a KGB agent stands, or perhaps this gentleman is just a typical market regulation official, lol.  I can't find the translation for the banner.  Within the pit is a crowd of traders in jackboots and wearing Red Army uniforms, a civilian holding his shoe a la Khrushchev, a Red Army babushka with a head of cabbage and a matryoshka doll in her bag, another babuska sweeping up, and various items including heads of cabbage, bottles of Stoli, a duck, a goat, bag of potatoes, trading cards and a newspaper which I can't identify

click photo to enlarge"

How come there's no Havana Cigar Exchange?

"It just wouldn't work.  A commodity futures market such as those that flourish in the United States and other free economies simply can't operate in a highly regulated economy.  Free markets---or controlled?  When you get right down to it, that's probably the single biggest difference between their way and ours.  Except, of course, for the standard of living."

Starting again with the quote board entitled Havana Cigar Exchange, the y-axis lists the 12 months and the x-axis is comprised of the following cigar brands:  Larranaga, H. Upmann, Monte Cristo, Partagas, Hoyo de Monterrey, Rey del Mundo, Romeo y Julieta, and again Rey del Mundo.  Both Cohiba and Trinidad weren't listed because at that time those brands were reserved as Cuban diplomatic gifts and not for sale. Directly in front of the chalkboard operator in the decrepit building is a rifle stack and beside the door is a posted sentry but tough to say if he'd prevent people from entering or traders from leaving before their out trades were settled, certainly a way for firms to avoid O'hare trades.  On the wall is graffiti stating "Viva Fidel" above one of the many spare tires in the set.  Within the pit are various traders wearing the standard fatigues of Cuban Revolutionaries along with 26 de Julio armbands.  One of the traders is wearing a beret, a la Che Guevara, along w/a bandolier and holstered pistol (open carry in the pit!).  Strewn about the pit are chickens, bits of hay, drying tobacco along with boxes of Partagas, H. Upmann and Hoyo de Monterey cigars.  On the right is a sad looking peasant and a sadder looking burro, perhaps he is a former pit trader who blew out and is left to be simply an observer. 

click photo to enlarge

How come there's no Peking Duck Exchange?

"Difference of opinion --- openly aired --- is as essential to a free economy as it is to a free society.  That's why great commodity exchange can flourish in this country and not in the People's Republic of China.  you can't have free markets in a regimented society.  And you can't have regimented markets in a free society."

The exchange hall is draped in red banners and lanterns with two portraits of Chairman Mao looking on approvingly.  Centered between the portraits is a painting of various Chicoms, one holding a firecracker and another holding a duck by it's neck.  In the midground on the left is a large abacus in front of which the child board operator is using the slow trading day to read through Mao's Little Red Book.  The quoteboard on the right midground is titled (according to an old Chinese lady who translated) Peking Duck Commodities with an incomplete listing of rice, duck, eggs and congee.  If you can translate further then email me.  Within the pit are various traders wearing the uniform of the Red Guards which look like they wouldn't be out of place on the rack at Shanghai Tang now.  Multiple traders are clinging to their Red Books and the trader at the center holds a smaller abacus.  Looking on is a young child but I don't know what the book he's holding translates to.  Also included in the picture are various ducks, some in cages and others out.  The only disappointing aspect is that Chinese number gestures weren't involved. 

click photo to enlarge

When the fall of the USSR occurred, CME reprinted these these ads in a single poster to crow about the triumph of free markets.

"That was then; this is now...Some fifteen years ago, back in the days of Chairman Mao and Brezhnev, back when Beijing was Peking and financial futures were in their infancy, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange launched an award-winning ad campaign contrasting the gridlock of controlled economies with our free markets.  Today, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is the world's leading financial futures exchange.  More important, free markets are sweeping away the old order.  The Moscow Mercantile Exchange?  Well, right idea, wrong name.  It's up and running --- only they've named it the Moscow Commodities Exchange.   And, we're told, the Chinese aren't far behind.  Now, about that Havana Cigar Exchange..."

I'm not sure what CME traders in the mid 1970s would've found more farfetched, the use of microwave networks to trade or that the CME's marquee marketing sponsorship would be in women's professional golf, probably the latter. 

As I mentioned, I've got a double set of these original three prints and would offer them up as tradebait in the unlikely scenario someone has other memorabilia to trade, the bar is high of course.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Small ball

It's been great to watch the Kansas City Royals get into the MLB playoffs and utilize the small ball strategy to win games via that methodical and incremental approach.  As I don't get back to KC more than once a year it seems, there remains a nostalgia whenever something good comes out of the region and of course it brings me back to my time at the KCBT where a small ball approach was used by many traders in those markets as well out of necessity. 

Being a smaller market, traders at the KCBT always had to develop good instincts because the opportunities weren't anywhere near as prevalent as the larger Chicago or New York exchanges.  As a result, KCBT traders had to adhere even more so to the poster which was taped on the end of a desk near the Value Line pit: RISK NOT THY WHOLE WAD.


Old timers at the KCBT used to say that the Value Line pit was rockin' until the crash of '87 caused a lot of desks such as Goldman to pack up shop.  I never believed them, as it was desolate when I got there in '98, but here is photo proof of that pit in 1983 that surely looks busy to me. 

The King of small ball trading actually overlapped a bit w/my time at the KCBT and I was shocked to learn how far he'd progressed from sitting around the quiet Value Line pit with a frustrated look on his face in a dark green O'Connor jacket.  I never spoke with him, but from observing it was clear that he always had the gears working in his mind about trading and wasn't the usual floor joker.  Dave Cummings went on to create early HFT prop shop Tradebot which according to Scott Patterson's excellent book Dark Pools, scaled quickly to trading over 10% of NASDAQ volume in 2002.  Furthermore, in the same book it notes he wrote GETCO's source code (!!!) and later went on to launch BATS which, besides being a Royals sponsor, handles over 10% of stock market volume in the US today.  In the late '90s, Timber Hill had a broker at the KCBT ("Meat") who held a computer box from which he'd quote Value Line markets and I wonder if that was a driving force behind what Cummings created.

Simultaneously, just down the hallway from the KCBT entrance was a equities propshop which a handful of former floor traders gravitated to.  Their Level 2 symbol was appropriately KCMO for those who traded back then and might recall it. 

Be it baseball or markets, KC is a place where small ball is a great path to success but the town certainly doesn't play small ball when it comes to bbq!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Social media

Now that there's the truest form of open outcry in my life w/a precious infant girl, it's going to be tough to knock out posts as I'd like going forward.  However, a few are in the queue so thanks for your patience. 

Regarding social media, I've had some friends ask about why there isn't a social media presence for the site and book.  Lots of reasons why I'm against it and opt for correspondence via email only, but there is a social media approach which I agree with and saw in Soho recently which was illustrated by a street artist:


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Board of Trade Daily Reporter 1861


click to enlarge

Early traders at the CBOT had an enormous amount of external factors to deal with and some of the difficulties were reflected in the above Board of Trade Daily Reporter from May 23rd, 1861 in my collection.  To begin it states, "Business is brought to a dead halt on account of the want of funds wherewith to operate."  Not exactly an indication of market confidence!  Liquidity events are a common occurrence in commodity markets but this end of day quote sheet indicates the severity of how the burgeoning American Civil War affected trading.  Just over a month prior was the Battle of Fort Sumter and as one would expect, it created tremendous upheaval in money markets. 

Many Illinois banks had their capital base backed with securities issued by what would eventually become Confederate states.  The value of such Confederate securities were in decline since the election of Abraham Lincoln but due to the first skirmish of the war, liquidity became severely impacted as different premiums differentiated into the method by which payment would be made.  The issues weren't limited to Illinois banks (of which over 80% eventually failed) as the quote sheet indicates that a couple larger banks "threw out eleven of the Union list, and holders refuse to sell for anything but gold or eastern exchange."  Drawing a check upon certain solvent banks could also demand a 10-12% premium which indicates the level of panic.  The CBOT decided to take drastic measures in maintaining benchmark pricing and passed the following resolution on this day:

"WHEREAS, The recent events in the monied affairs of Chicago have culminated in a return to a standard of Gold and Silver.  Therefore
Resolved, That in the opinion of the Board of Trade of Chicago, all sales of property, and daily quotations thereof should hereafter be made in funds equal to specie."

While this was a disaster for the nation and almost everyone, it's a goldbugs dream.  Let me veer off for a little editorial comment that modern day goldbugs envision a similar wish because they're some of the most miserable people imaginable.  The best summation of what I've generally observed w/goldbugs is that they've failed in how the world is so they wish for the destruction of it so they can finally come out on top as that's the only way for them to succeed. 

Back on topic, if you look at the transaction list on the quote sheet you can see it not only indicates price but also method of payment which includes preferred check, union currency, stump-tail check, sight exchange, and gold.  It's apparent that gold receives the largest premium followed by preferred check and then union currency.  For anyone with a further interest in grain trading during the Civil War and early CBOT history, I highly suggest William Ferris' excellent book The Grain Traders.

Just over a year after that day, the CBOT raised $15,000 and 180 volunteers to create the CBOT Battery which served as a horse artillery battery for the Union.  Following the war, the CBOT also established centralized clearing to ensure market efficiency and eliminate the problems which this quotation sheet described.  

Gnomes of South Wacker Drive

Starting with the launch of the IMM currency futures at CME in 1972, the Gnomes of Zurich had to match wits with the Gnomes of (first on West Jackson and then later on) South Wacker Drive when it came to trading Swiss Franc futures. A few pictures below show an active currency quadrant in the early 1990s, click to enlarge the photos. 

Above is the currency quadrant during the opening of the upper trading floor in 1993.  By the time I got to the Merc in 1999, the crowd was much thinner than in this photo as volumes were beginning to shift to electronic trading by that point. 


This is of the Swiss Franc pit during heavy trading and the gentleman in the center of the photo in the light blue jacket showing a 7 offer isn't trading but is a pit reporter who was relaying quotes to another pit reporter at the top of the pit who would then enter them into the electronic system. 


Also of the same Swiss pit, the photo shows how chaotic is could get in there.  To me it appears that the broker in top center is trying to get the attention and sell to the local who is 9 bid at the bottom even though another broker is 0 even bid behind him on the far right, LOL.

Opium futures

Taking a slight deviation from strictly 'trading pit' history, the origins of any futures trading I find interesting and recently obtained these telegraph orders regarding Indian opium futures from 1869 and 1870.  Now it might be a slight stretch to refer to these as 'futures contracts' because ultimately there was no clearinghouse but there was standardization in terms of delivery month, quality grade, delivery location and quantity.  Opium was traded in chests which weighed to a standard, historically estimated at 140 lbs and that came about to be what two men could carry at a time.  According to records of the British East India Company, there were distinctive grades of opium which had varying prices due to quality differences such as Turkish, Malwa, and Patna.

photosource: mit.edu

The two telegraphs below are on behalf of the Buchraj/Buchraz family who were prominent opium traders in the city of Indore, modern day Rajasthan but was then known as Malwa

click photo to enlarge

"Purchased (29000) July (25) annas (3 1/2) now (25 7/8)+"

I'm not going to dip into the history of the Indian exchange rates but 29000 sounds like an awful lot to have been purchased.  FYI, annas were an Indian currency unit and this trade was done in that denomination.  Appears to simply be a trade confirmation from Indore to Mandsaur, the city which served as the center of the Malwa opium trade.  


click photo to enlarge

"Fourth (1373) hearing new crop short buy 4 bales opium at (58) four annas less +"

The principles of supply and demand are no different for any crop and this telegram is using information from the growing area to purchase opium at the primary trading center of Calcutta.

For an excellent and illustrated background on the opium industry during the late 19th century in India, I highly suggest looking through this link from MIT (yes that MIT) Visualizing Cultures.

In addition while on the topic of opium, I can't recommend highly enough Nick Tosches' article "Confessions of an Opium-Seeker" which was first published in Vanity Fair and then expanded as a book The Last Opium Den.  Tosches is an amazing author and this piece remains one of my all time favorite pieces of writing. 

Best of

Home | History | About |
Blog
| Shop | Basics | Prices/Quantities | Months | Years | Functions | Participants
Debrouillard Group, tradingpithistory.com