20, 2008 -- The opening paragraph of this months Cadent Financial newsletter states; "The coming weeks of trade could be one of the most significant time frames in history for commodities, as a number of markets are sitting in historically high ground, but in some cases the supply demand situation doesn't seem to be settled, and that could result in unbelievable volatility. With the grain and energy markets perched in historically high ground and both those markets being presented with the unprecedented combination of structural demand changes, extremely critical weather influence and the threat of intervention, the direction of price volatility looks to be a wild card."
Yes, the commodity markets are hot and values pricey. They will be that way far longer than what was seen in the '70's, the last boom period for commodities and agricultural producers. Way back then, a little ditty by Jerry Reed, called, "When You're Hot, You're Hot" became a national hit and was the unofficial theme song for commodity speculators. Here are few of the catchy lines;
"When you're hot, you're hot
And when you're not, you're not
Put all the money in and let's roll'em again
When you're hot, you're hot."
In the '70's, Mother Nature was the wild card for commodity prices. Hot and dry growing conditions, flooding, a wet harvest or an early, crop killing frost seemed commonplace. Prior to this year, the highest price ever seen for soybeans was $12.90 a bushel set in 1973, a result of a historically wet harvest.
In the Fall of '72, amid harvest, it began to pour in the Midwest. Crops and tractors were stuck in the fields mired in mud. Not until early '73, when the ground froze hard could the tractors be removed and crops harvested. More soybeans were harvested in January of '73 than the previous three months combined. As a result, soybean prices rose to lofty levels that were not exceeded for 35 years.
This week, massive flooding in the Midwest sparked a record setting rally with grain prices as nearby corn and soybean futures fell short of $8 and $16 a bushel by just a few cents. But flooding along river bottoms, washing away crops is nothing new. In 1974, the late, great Johnny Cash released an album, "Songs of Our Soil" in which was a single song entitled, "Five Feet and Rising." The song was about the flooding along the Mississippi River. With his distinctive style and voice he sang:
"How high is the water, Momma?
"We can make it to the road in a homemade boat
That's the only thing we got left that'll float
It's already over all the wheat and the oats,
Five feet and rising."
The futures market is forecasting that the US ag market will remain from a historic perspective, pricey for years to come. This week, futures for April '09 live cattle kissed $118 and lean hog futures $97. Cattle and hog producers are staring at prices in the not to distant future that offer unprecedented profit potential. Grain producers are in the same boat with soybean, corn and wheat prices for the summer of '09, at $15.50, $6.80 and $9.24 a bushel, respectively.
Most all grain and livestock producers admit freely that prices are hot. But few believe the ag markets are pricey because input costs from feed to fuel to land costs will cut deeply into potential profits regardless of what the futures markets are forecasting. Hot prices does not necessarily mean pricey. Pricey, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
What is pricey is the $200 hamburger the fast food chain Burger King recently added to their menu at selected outlets. The burger is Japanese style Wagyu premium beef, flame grilled, garnished with aged balsamic vinegar, Italian truffles, cured ham from Spain, Champaign onions and placed on a saffron and truffle dusted bun. The cost of the ingredients according to Burger King is $80.
Imagine a family of four driving their Hummer across town for a Wagyu burger with the tab coming to $800 not including the price of gasoline. But those springing for an elaborate, decadent, over the top hamburger at $200 a pop are not worried over the cost of gasoline because they don't view a Wagyu burger as pricey. And why don't they? Because pricey, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
(The information in this article is the opinion of Commodity Insight's Jerry Welch and subject to change without notice.)