Friday, December 12, 2014

Dancing in the pit



I'm a bit busy lately so will just put up this video of a guy dancing in one of the currency pits at the old Merc.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Singapore Exchange documentary



To celebrate 30 years as the premier Asian futures exchange, the Singapore Exchange recently released the above video, entitled Founding Futures.  The 19 minute documentary provides a great retrospective of SGX's origins which were initially developed upon the trading pits of SIMEX and is a mix of vintage trading pit footage in addition to commentary from those who built or traded at SGX. 

I really enjoyed watching the video and it brought back a lot of memories since the group of other locals I traded with used to be really active when it served as the overnight eurodollar market.   Days were very long for many on the SIMEX/SGX floor as the eurodollar market was open about 12 hours each day and for many, including the excellent broker we used (Amelia Phua, email me if you read this!), worked the entire session on the floor then stayed there to track how things rolled onto Globex after and subsequently the Chicago open. 

One funny memory I'll share really quick was how kiasu the pit was when it came to even small trades.  At the end of each day we'd get a breakdown of each trade and how it was carded up, for something like a 25 or 50 lot the pit broker would often card up a dozen people on the other side which always seemed like a nightmare to constantly keep a count straight. 

The SIMEX/SGX trading floor was opened from 1984 and twenty years later in 2004, the exchange began the transition to becoming a fully electronic marketplace.  For the Singaporean trading pits by mid 2006, it was finally game over, lah.


photo credit: http://p0kka81.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey futures

photo credit: Chicago Tribune archives

Back in the late 1940s, turkey futures contracts were traded at the CME as shown above in this clip from 1949 with delivery months in November and December of course.  As Billy Ray Valentine also came to learn, "it ain't cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Japanese open outcry seafood trading

image credit: http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp

Over the weekend I was in Tokyo and on Saturday went back to the Tsukiji Fish Market as I hadn't been there the last few visits after previously always making it a part of each Tokyo trip.  For those who haven't visited, it's the largest fish market in the world and a bit beyond description for the scale and activity, but I'm always left with the impression that the planet's oceans have been entirely fished out considering the immense amount of seafood there.  The interest of visiting it this trip was mainly because it will relocate in a couple years and modernity will remove a lot of it's current appeal. 

As it relates to this website, the seafood auctions of Japan still function using open outcry and hand signals so it was nice to be back amongst a chaotic 'trading floor.'  Now my enthusiasm didn't go as far as to act like the bee girl in the Blind Melon video, but it's probably the only place outside of the futures trading pits to have groups of guys wearing trading badges (on top of baseball caps) and using open outcry hand signals to transact, so I do find it pretty cool. 

The tuna auction is the main attraction at Tsukiji and from what I've witnessed, it moves from tuna to tuna laying on the floor, not as shown above using tiered platforms like a trading pit which (I believe) is only used for special auctions like the first fish of the year.  Trading badges are restricted in number to stallholders and various wholesalers much like seats were (and kinda still are in some respects) on financial exchanges.  Hand signals used at Tsukiji are described along with a very indepth explaination of the auction processes in Theodore Bestor's book Tsukiji.  Vegetables are also auctioned using the same process and you can see how it's done in some of the following video links.

Video links:

Standard Tsukiji Fish Market tuna auction

First tuna auction of the year at Tsukiji 2009

Tsukiji vegetable market

Trader in Kyoto explaining hand signals used at that market

Tsukiji sea urchin market

Kumamoto wholesale market

Kyoto vegetable market

Busan (South Korea) market

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Who's your daddy?

image credit: wikipedia

When it comes to financial futures, it is appropriate to ask who's your daddy, because two men are credited with paternity.  As a product of spending most of my time at the CME, I had always figured that Leo Melamed was widely regarded as the "father of financial futures" but upon reading Dr. Richard Sandor's book Good Derivatives, it's not as straightforward as I assumed. 

In the preface of Good Derivatives, Dr. Sandor writes of "universal recognition afforded to me as the 'father of financial futures" and footnotes that title as being declared by "Resolution by the City of Chicago, honoring Richard L. Sandor, August 12, 1992."  A google search of "father of financial futures" also corresponds to Dr. Sandor's recognition as he is credited in 18 of the first 20 search results. 

I'm not trying to direct credit either way or reduce credit to either men who were both essential in developing the expansive derivatives markets we have today, it was just something that struck me as notable.  Nor do I have any understanding of how competitively sought this title is between the two, if at all but it's my assumption that it is.  However, it struck me as interesting that in Melamed's 1996 book Escape to the Futures he makes a handful of respectful mentions of Sandor and none in his more recent book For Crying Out Loud, but in Good Derivatives, Melamed is only mentioned a few times only in reference to his "political skills" which is conspicuous because Sandor devotes more writing in his 600 page book to M.C. Hammer. 

Clearly this needs paternity issue needs to be resolved the Chicago way.....on the Jerry Springer Show!
imagecredit: theblaze.com

Unfortunately as of 2009, Springer no longer tapes at the NBC building in Chicago and that's too bad because I went to a couple tapings and it was something else. 



image credit: futurespastfilm.com

To shift gears a bit, I also just discovered that Melamed's son Jordan has created a film documenting their relationship and the decline of open outcry trading entitled Futures Past.  It appears that the film has been screened briefly at some film festivals a couple years ago but it hasn't been released beyond that.  An additional surprise about the film as well is that the Executive Producer is Vincent Viola, the head of HFT trading firm Virtu Financial

The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the film at the following link in 2012 and a brief snippet follows:
Futures Past: IDFA Review


"As the film begins this method is being phased out in favor of a much quieter, more sedate electronic alternative known as Globex, championed by the CME's septuagenarian chairman emeritus, Leo Melamed. Leo doesn't hide his long-burning disgruntlement at Jordan's mid-life volte-face: "my career didn't take off," admits Melamed junior, who, short of cash, returns to the pits for one last stint of trading before the final bell tolls for the old ways. Clearly in his element, Jordan Melamed proves an excellent guide to this disorientingly chaotic environment, eliciting salty testimony from the battle-hardened traders whose philosophy is "you kill or be killed."

"But it's in his conversations and confrontations with Leo that Jordan strikes documentary-film gold. Both of them articulate, conflict-hungry men with personal scores to settle, which they proceed to chew over on camera for our delectation. It's intrusive, perhaps even exploitative stuff, this very publuc display of one clan's dirty laundry. But the three credited editors ensures fairness to both sides and Melamed jr gamely includes several sequences in which his father effectively takes control of directing duties. And the process seems to prove as therapeutic for the Melamed men -- Leo's wife Betty is a serene presence, fleetingly glimpsed on the sidelines -- as it is entertaining and illuminating for the audience."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Comedy webseries of ex-NYMEX pit trader

I was debating on whether to put this up and figure to go for it because it's ultimately part of the trading pit culture for many.  As various pit traders left the trading pit and ultimately the trading industry, a new search for their identity begins yet they always have a hard time letting go of their old identity as traders who could generally speak without filter.  For most from what I've seen, the first stop on this journey is a period of idleness and while it's often pretty sad, a comedy webseries, entitled The Stay At Home Dad, was made by some ex-NYMEX guys about this transition period.  Here is the synyopis:

"He’s just lost his job at the Mercantile Exchange to a software program. Adios to fifteen years on the trading floor with other alpha males in a testosterone-fueled financial mosh pit. His wife’s become the sole breadwinner--which means no more nanny. Now Brandon will be responsible for the daily childcare for their 9 month-old and 3 year-old boys. The SAHD explores Brandon’s hilarious inability to censor himself in these new interpersonal situations as he navigates this maternally-dominated landscape. Brandon is delightfully offensive to everyone he meets, he can’t help it."

The webseries is very original and hilarious but be warned that each episode of a couple minutes can be lewd and NSFW.  Generally I don't like things which reinforce all the negative stereotypes of traders but the SAHD is an exception as they cast and scripted characters that aren't too removed from reality. 

A couple 2 minute episodes to give an example:

Ass from the Past


Eat My Meat


The full listing of episodes can be seen on the homepage of the project

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ginnie Mae futures launch and it's legacy


One of the rarest pieces in my collection is an original button celebrating the launch of GNMA "Ginne Mae" bond futures at the CBOT in 1975.  The Ginnie Mae contract was the first interest rate futures listing ever traded and established a lot of standards with which financial futures continue to use today.  For a complete history behind the efforts to create the Ginnie Mae contract, there is no better source than to read Dr. Richard Sandor's excellent book, Good Derivatives, as he shares his experience having been the primary developer of the contract and hence interest rate futures.

Here is a brief summation from Good Derivatives regarding the practical origin of certain aspects which continue to be used in financial futures:

- The tick size of $31.25 or 1/32nd was established as a happy medium because the end users of these bond futures needed a bigger tick size than the grains, yet this increment also was smaller than the spot and forward markets at the time.  One benefit of the increased tick size (relative to the $12.50 in grains) was that it was more attractive for market makers to trade which also increased liquidity.

- Quarterly contracts were established to maintain a similar synch w/company financial quarterly reports. The quarterly calendar differed from grain expirations which revolved around the growing cycle. 

- Trading hours were initially established to be 8:35am to 2pm in hopes that grain traders would be attracted to trade it before and after regular grain hours of 9:30am to 1:15pm.  Sandor noted that if the GNMA hours would've been the same as grains, then noone would've left their profitable trading in the grains to trade Ginnie Mae's so by adding a little extra time onto the grain hours, the Ginnie Mae would get additional liquidity on the open and close.

- Contract size of $100,000 was established because it was the rough equivalent to the volatility in a standard grain contract and could have the same margins.

- The cheapest-to-deliver concept was established with these Ginnie Mae futures.

Sandor also came up with the advertising campaign seen in the button and ad below from Time Magazine's October 27, 1975 issue.  He writes of the concept, "we should have ads with a pretty cartoon faced girl named Ginnie Mae --- the personification of GNMA --- winking and smiling with her name under her face.  The ad marketing campaign was controversial and at odds with the staid manner of the exchange....  Following the launch of the new contract, buttons were handed out to the members to pin on their trading jackets."

As far as I know, this is also the earliest contract launch button the exchanges handed out. 

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