FOOD & FUEL
When I was drawing a paycheck as a cocksure marketing advisor and newsletter writer nearly 30 years ago, my colleagues and I often explained our hedging mistakes by simply declaring our advice had been “ahead of the market.”
We were right, the line of malarkey went, but the slicksters in the futures markets were too stupid (lazy, ignorant, rich ) to realize it.
By the time those clowns came around, though, our clients got cracked for 15 or 20 cents a bushel that, in the early 1980s, oftentimes equaled half the price move for the year in corn, beans or wheat.
The sweetest part of this excuse is that anyone can say they are “ahead of the market” anytime and be right 100 percent of the time because, sooner or later, the market will turn and the now-ripened baloney, although costly, will be proven correct.
This can’t-miss advice came to mind recently when I read an on-line marketing guru urge farmers to “get ahead of this market” and begin selling some of their 2009, 2010 and 2011 corn because this year’s record rainfalls east of the Mississippi will “make a lotta’ grain.”
And it will, but only if the crop ever gets planted, if the eastern Corn Belt crops ever get some heat, if the Midwest doesn’t turn into the Sahara during the critical pollination period, if the fall’s first frost holds off until Halloween, if
The fact is that summertime is a pretty pedestrian time to sell corn. A quick scan of the monthly average prices farmers received since 1970 shows that June cash corn prices topped the year only five times in the last 38. (The last time, however, was last year, 2008.) July cash prices topped the year only four times.
The best months to sell corn? Since 1970, December prices made yearly highs eight times while January and April both led six times. All totalled, cash prices in those three months led 20 years out of 38. That’s an attention-grabbing .526 batting average.
Average monthly soybean prices show a distinctly different pattern. Since 1970, either May, June, July or August cash prices made the yearly high 22 of the 38 years. That’s an even better .578 batting average.
Like corn, however, December was the month that most often topped the yearly cash market; eight times December bean prices led the way.
If viewed from the half-empty side of the glass, the worst months to sell beans were February and March – not once in the last 38 years did either month’s price make the yearly high – closely followed by the harvest months of September, October and November, whose monthly prices each led just once since 1970.
Corn has its dead months, too. From 1970 through calendar 2008, February prices topped the year twice, September twice, October once (1974) and November never.
What’s all this mean for this so-far soggy year? Not a darned thing. No two years are comparable, because no two years are completely alike.
Sure, farmers east of the Mississippi say this year looks a whole lot like what farmers west of the Mississippi slogged through last year. But everything – a completely unknown supply, global economic conditions, credit availability, exports, ethanol usage, livestock numbers, even the number of soy-speculating cab drivers in Chicago – is different this year.
How different? When the corn and bean counters at the U.S. Department of Agriculture hit the fields to put together the critical August crop estimates, how accurate will the report be if the eastern Corn Belt, because of its late planting, has no kernels to count or pods to pop?
I could tell you, but I’m way, way ahead of the market.
Guebert is a syndicated columnist from Delavan, Ill. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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