By Jon Scheve, Superior Feed Ingredients, LLC
Wheat values dropped 40 cents last week, the biggest weekly decrease in 2 years. Wheat had been pulling up corn prices some, so this probably contributed some to corn prices being down another 20 cents this week. While this is disappointing, both of these crops still have upside potential after the new year due to dry weather outside of the US. Global buyers may need to come shopping for US grain down the road.
Historically corn prices drop during the last week of August. This is because many end users set Aug 30 as the final day to price any deferred-priced (DP) grain in storage and farmers with these type of positions tend to wait until the last possible moment for a rally.
With no resolution to the trade war this week and an expected record soybean crop, soybean futures also lost some ground. Add to that, soybean basis bids (cash bids) are at the lowest levels in many years, I actually think futures are holding well. Futures may eventually drop even further trying to eclipse the value of the Chinese tariffs and be on par with Brazilian bean prices. Without a change in basis levels or the trade dispute there seems to be little hope for a sustained futures rally.
September trade results: How did I do?
I try to maintain a flexible marketing strategy that maximizes profit potential and minimizes risk. This means that some of my trades are most profitable if the market stays sideways, especially if there is a lot of rationale for minimal price movement in the short or long-term. Like all farmers, I’m most profitable if the market rallies above breakeven price points, and I always want that to happen. Unfortunately, there can be long periods of time where the market doesn’t rally above breakeven points (i.e. 2017). That’s why being open to alternative trade opportunities can be beneficial. I have several trades below that when combined together show profit potential from a market move in any direction. Still, while I’m open to alternative solutions, for each trade I must fully understand any potential outcome and be willing to accept any result.
Six trades and the final results summary
These trades were put on at varying times between March and July. Each trade was put on when different market factors were in place. The thought process I used in late spring was much different from that of late July.
The trades detailed below allowed for me to stay flexible with multiple market price points pending where the market was in late August. Ultimately, these six trades when combined allowed me to sell 50% of my ’17 production for $3.68, That turns out to be about 20 cents higher than where the market closed on Friday.
I believe in being fully transparent with my trade outcomes, which I think provides a better foundation for understanding and considering alternative opportunities. Still, the amount of detail can be overwhelming for those just wanting an overview. For those wanting a more summarized approach, just read the sections titled “My Trade Thoughts” and “Final Results.”
Trade 1: Sold call
On 6/18/18 when Sep corn was near $3.65 I sold the following call:
- Sold an Sep $3.95 call for 9 cents that expires Aug 24 on 5% of my ’17 production
- If corn was trading below the strike price when this option expires I keep the 9-cent premium and add it to another trade later.
- If corn is trading above the strike price when this option expires I have to sell corn for the strike price PLUS I keep the premium. This means a price of $4.04 on Sep futures.
My trade thoughts and rationale on 6/18/18
Since I still need to sell some of my remaining ’17 corn, but I don’t want to sell $3.65 Sep futures, this trade allows me to get values close to $4 if there is a rally. If the market stays sideways, I keep the 9-cent premiums. There isn’t a downside protection with these trades, but that isn’t the goal for this trade.
Corn closed below $3.95, so I kept the 9-cent premium to add to my “pot of premium” I’ve been collecting all year.
Trade 2: Sold call
On 7/19/18 when Sep corn was near $3.51 I sold the following call:
- Sold an Sep $3.50 call for 10 cents that expired Aug 24 on 10% of my ’17 production
- If corn was trading below the strike price when this option expires I keep the 10-cent premium and add it to another trade later.
- If corn is trading above the strike price when this option expired I have to sell corn for the strike price PLUS I keep the premium. This means a price of $3.60 on Sep futures.
My trade thoughts and rationale from 7/19/18
Since I still needed to sell some of my remaining ’17 corn, but I don’t want to sell $3.50 Sep futures, this trade allows me to get a slightly higher value. If the market stays sideways, I keep the 10-cent premiums. There isn’t a downside protection with these trades, but that isn’t the goal for this trade.
Corn was below $3.50 at expiration so I kept the 10-cent premium.
Trade 3: Sold straddle
On 7/18/18 when Sep corn was around $3.48, I sold an Sep $3.45 straddle (selling both a put and call) and bought a $3.30 Sep put, collecting 15 cents total on 10% of my 2017 production.
What does this mean?
- If Sep corn is $3.45 on 8/24/18 I keep all of the 15 cents
- For every penny corn is below $3.45 I get less premium until $3.30. With the $3.30 put I won’t lose anything on the trade, but I don’t have any additional grain protected to the downside or sold.
- For every penny higher than $3.45 I get less premium until $3.60
- At $3.60 or higher I have to make a corn sale at $3.45 against Sep futures, but I still get to keep the 15 cents, so it’s like selling $3.60.
My trade thoughts and rationale from 7/18/18
This trade is most profitable in a sideways market. With the current good weather forecasts, I’d be happy collecting the premium to add to another opportunity later. However, if the market drops significantly I’m also protected from losing money or having to buy corn back with this trade. With what I know today, I would prefer that the market would rally and I’ll be very happy with a $3.60 sold price because I have a lot of different trades already working that need prices to be above $3.60. I’m comfortable with any market outcome with this trade.
Corn was trading $3.49 one hour before expiration, so I bought back the $3.45 call for 5 cents (including commissions). The rest of the trade expired worthless. Final result: I received 10-cent premium to add to my “pot of “premium” for the year.
Trade 4: Sold straddle
On 4/17/18 with Sep corn around $4, I sold a Sep $4 straddle (selling both a put and call) and bought a $3.60 Sep put, collecting 41 cents total on 10% of my 2017 production.
What does this mean?
- If Sep corn is at $4 at expiration on 8/24/18 I keep all of the 41 cents
- For every penny corn is below $4 I get less premium until $3.60. With the $3.60 put I will lose nothing on this trade, but I don’t have any additional grain protected to the downside or sold.
- For every penny higher than $4 I get less premium until $4.41
- At $4.41 or higher I have to make a corn sale at $4 against Sep futures, but I still get to keep the 41 cents so it’s like selling $4.41.
My trade thoughts and rationale from 4/17/18
This trade is most profitable in a sideways market, but I’m also protected from losing money, or buying corn back, if the market drops significantly. I’ll be happy with a $4.41 sold price, if the market rallies. But, if the market stays sideways, I’ll be just as happy collecting the premium and adding it to a later opportunity.
This trade was about a wash, I made and lost nothing. In reviewing my rationale for the trade, it’s clear in mid-April I didn’t expect prices to fall so much. I was more worried about upside limits than downside risk. While I didn’t lose anything on this trade, with hindsight I should have just sold corn on 4/17/18, instead of trying to get more.
Trade 5: Sold straddle
On 3/20/18 when Sep corn was around $3.90 I bought a Sep $3.80 straddle (sold both the $3.80 put and $3.80 call) and bought a $3.60 put. I collected 34 cents of premium and I placed about 10% of my ’17 production in this trade. The trade expires at the end of August.
- If Sep futures close at $3.80 on 8/24/18, I keep all of the 34-cent premium.
- For every penny lower than $3.80 I get a penny less of my premium until $3.60.
- At $3.60 or lower I don’t sell anything, but I’m guaranteed at least 14 cents of premium, that I can apply to my pot of premium I have been collecting this year for the ’17 crop.
- For every penny higher than $3.80 I get a penny less of my premium until $4.14
- At $4.14 or higher I have to make a corn sale at $3.80 against Sep futures, but I still get to keep the 34 cents so it’s like selling $4.14
My trade thoughts and rationale from 4/17/18
This trade is most advantageous if the market remains steady or higher. Even if the market drops, I’m guaranteed to not lose any money from the options.
The market peaked in May and finished under $3.60. I collected 14 cents to add to my “pot of premium” for the year.
Trade 6: Sold call and bought puts
On 7/31/18 when Sep corn futures were $3.70, I did the following two trades at the same time:
- I bought Sep $3.60 puts to cover 50% of my 2017 production for 4 cents
- I sold a March $3.90 call for 24.5 cents on 10% of my 2018 production.
- Basically, I bought five Sep puts for every one March call I sold.
After commissions, I was able to net just over a 1-cent premium between the 2 trades.
What does this mean?
These trades, along with all of my other positions already in place provide me with good protection for any outcome of the August USDA report.
- With a bullish report I only have to sell 10% of my production for slightly below $4 pending where prices are in late February.
- Under a bearish report I’m protected at only 10 cents below what the market was trading for the day I made the trade until Aug. 24 two weeks after the report.
- In a sideways report all of my other trades that I have already working likely would put additional money in my “pot of premium” to add to my sales prices later.
- There is a chance that both trades could actually get hit. Prices could tumble in the next two weeks and I could have the puts make money or get exercised and then after harvest the market could rally high enough that my March calls also get exercised. Before the report and now after, I would be happy with that outcome knowing what I know today.
Sep corn futures were below $3.60, so I let these options get exercised on 50% of my ’17 production. Also, the March option could still get exercised if corn rallies in late winter. With the March futures 15 cents below that strike price, I don’t want to spend the 12 cents it would have cost me on Friday to buy the call back right now. That cost would lower my results from this trade by more than 2 cents on all of the bushels I just sold. I’m hopeful corn will rally and I have to sell another 10% of my production at higher values.
Combined results and overview
Here is a quick review of the trades above:
- Trade 1 = +9 cents on 5%
- Trade 2 = +10 cents on 10%
- Trade 3 = +10 cents on 10%
- Trade 4 = +1 cent on 10%
- Trade 5 = +14 cents on 10%
- Trade 6 = 50% of production sold at $3.60
- Total profit from trades 1-5 was about 40 cents on 10% of production or about 8 cents on 50% of production. This is how I arrived at having sold 50% of my production at around $3.68 last Friday.
Knowing what I know today, I wish I would have sold more before Memorial Day. But, as I look through my notes, weather forecasts were largely negative. Most called for hot and dry weather with little rain. Few expected a record crop and even with a record crop it still did not suggest that prices had to be this low. At the time there seemed to be more risk the market would go up than down. Still, I’m glad I placed the trades I did above, to protect myself if prices fell. I’m still ahead 20 cents versus doing nothing.
On a positive note, I did manage to sell over 25% of ’18 corn during last May’s rally above $4.20, which allowed me to get a good start on marketing sales for this upcoming harvest.
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.
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