More from the 2018 Ag Commodity Futures Conf, Overland Park, KS, April 5-6 – Experts Overstate Crop Insurance Competition with CME

The 2018 Agricultural Commodity Futures Conference was held in Overland Park, Kansas on April 5-6, 2018.  This meeting was sponsored by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Center for Risk Management Education and Research in the Kansas State University Department of Agricultural Economics.

The agenda for this conference and a number presentations are available at the following web location:

http://www.k-state.edu/riskmanagement/conference.html

Following is the second of two articles by KSU Agricultural Economics Art Barnaby and Daniel O’Brien discussing the findings of the conference – with a focus on the relationship between crop insurance and grain futures.  This article is also available at the following web address on the KSU AgManager.info website:

http://www.agmanager.info/crop-insurance/risk-management-strategies/experts-overstate-crop-insurance-competition-cme

 

Experts Overstate Crop Insurance Competition with CME

Prepared by

G. A. (Art) Barnaby, Jr. (barnaby@ksu.edu) , Professor, Dept. of Agricultural Economics

Daniel O’Brien (dobrien@ksu.edu), Extension Agricultural Economist

K-State Research and Extension, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506

April 18, 2018.

Summary

Kansas State University and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) recently held a joint conference on the lack of convergence in grain futures.  In addition to hedges, convergence is required for crop insurance claims to work properly.  Many in the grain industry still think revenue-based crop insurance tools compete with their grain futures contracts.  Making this argument even more confusing is a new report from Harvard and other Law Schools[i].

[i] Art Barnaby’s Disclaimer.  Harvard Law did contact me and asked me to put together a group of people to discuss these Farm Bill and risk management issues.  I don’t want to speak for the group, but as for myself, I agree very little in this report.  We gave them the other side of the crop insurance, commodity titles, and hedging story, but those comments were not included in their report.

Issue #1: Crop Insurance

As a group, there are still a large number of traders who think government-backed crop insurance competes with them for the farmer’s risk management dollar.  Many of these misunderstandings originated from academic researchers, and more recently by a group of Law Schools. 

The FBLE group (see list of Farm Bill Law Enterprise (FBLE) member institutions in AgManager article) argue the existing Harvest Price Option (HPO) subsidies encourage over-exposure to the futures markets and farmers should not forward price more than a third of their expected crop. 

However, Smith, et al., argue that price coverage is available via private futures market exchanges, therefore revenue insurance is unnecessary.  See Smith, Vincent H., Joseph W. Glauber, and Barry K. Goodwin, “Time to Reform the US Federal Agricultural Insurance Program”, American Enterprise Institute, 2017.    As a result, one academic expert suggests farmers should use futures, and another academician says no, farmers are over-exposed to the futures.

However, both are wrong.  Once farmers plant their crop or hold unpriced inventory they are 100% exposed to the real cash market of potentially falling prices.  Following the one-third argument, farmers would still have two-thirds of their crop exposed to downside price risk.

Issue #2: Limited Put Competition

The USDA-backed revenue insurance provides limited competition to Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) traded puts, but not calls.  About 79% of Revenue Protection (RP) insured corn acres are insured at 80% or less.  An 80% RP insured farmer currently has an effective “put” strike at $3.17 (80% X $3.96 for 2018) on new crop corn.  Farmers insured with 80% RP coverage and an average crop will need an October average closing December 2018 corn futures price below $3.17 to trigger payments. 

However, this insurance “put” is way out of the money with current new-crop corn futures trading over $4, so the competition with CME is “small”.   If yields are above average, then the effective RP “put” strike is even lower.  Farmers can always produce their way out of a RP indemnity claim.

Note that the $3.96 corn strike price and October settlement price applies to crop insurance in Kansas, Northern Great Plains states, and Corn Belt states for the 2018 crop insurance contract.  The crop insurance strike price is set earlier and the settlement price is determined earlier in Southern states. 

Issue #3: Call Options

Revenue Protection is mis-named because when prices increase above the base price, RP is no longer a revenue contract.  RP turns in to a yield-protection contract only.  At that point, the only difference between RP and Yield Protection (YP), is that YP indemnifies guaranteed bushels at a below-market price, while RP indemnifies the same lost bushel at the current market price. 

This is only complicated because the critics make it complicated in order create confusion among decision-makers, when it is actually simple.  Should farmers be paid for their crop losses at a below-market price, or at the current market price?

Issue #4: Put Option Competition with Commodity Programs

The Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Price Loss Coverage (PLC) provides a free “put” on old crop held in “inventory”.  While the crop has been harvested, the PLC payment rate is applied to 85% of the farmer’s base acres times the historical program yield and subject to sequestration cuts.  This payment procedure removes any yield risk, unlike the new-crop out-of-the money “put” in RP.  The PLC “put” corn strike of $3.70 is based on the after-harvest 12-month national Marketing Year Average (MYA) price.  USDA’s MYA price is normally about 15 to cents lower than futures and PLC payments are made about a year after harvest, if any. 

Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) also provides some old crop “put” protection, but it is more complicated than PLC because the payment is tied to the county yield and the strike price is a 5-year Olympic average of the USDA-determined price.  The current Olympic average USDA price is $3.95 X 86% setting the effective corn “put” strike at $3.40 with an average county yield.  Both PLC and ARC have a price stop-loss at the loan rate.  There can be a little slippage because the ARC-PLC trigger payments are based on NASS prices and loan payments are triggered by the FSA-determined county price (explained below). 

For those who are “concerned” about small farmers, their crop yields are less likely to be highly correlated with the county yield.  If a farmer were to farm the entire county, then there is no difference between their enterprise unit yield and the county yield.  Nearly all farmers can cite cases where they received no ARC payments, but the county across the road did receive an ARC payment.  So as a replacement for put option price protection, ARC is a bit iffy, especially on small farms.  Again, any ARC payments are made only on 85% of the base acres, about a year after harvest, and subject to sequestration cuts, if any ARC payment is due.

Issue #4: Marketing Loans

At very low price levels, the FSA loan rate is effectively a free “put” on all farmer-produced bushels with no effective payment limit.  The current national loan rate for corn is $1.95 and $5.00 for soybeans, therefore the loan provides a “put” that has been way out-of-the-money for years.  Effectively, the loan rate on corn and soybeans provides a “put” with a near zero value.  However, the wheat national loan rate of $2.94 did trigger in Kansas and many other counties after the 2016 wheat harvest, and created an in-the-money “put”.  Note that the loan rate price is set by county.  Rather than requesting an FSA loan at the loan rate, farmers can elect to take Loan Deficiency Payments (LDP).  An LDP payment is the difference between the loan rate and the FSA-determined Posted County Price (PCP).  The PCP is a daily USDA price and is not the same as the NASS MYA price. 

Most farmers just claim the LDP, but farmers can take a loan on all harvested bushels at the county loan rate price.  Unlike a put where farmers pay premium for a CME put, farmers can take the loan and receive cash.  They will receive the loan in cash and at the end of 9 months they can pay off the loan at the lesser of the PCP or PCP plus interest, keep the difference, and avoid the payment limit.  Farmers have the option to pay the loan off early.  This is a non-recourse loan, therefore at the end of 9 months, farmers can forfeit the grain to the government and keep the loan proceeds.  Most farmers don’t forfeit grain because they gain more by repaying the loan at a PCP price that is normally lower than the loan rate.  The loan gain, similar in concept to loan right down, will approximately equal to the LDP.

The loan puts a price floor in the market for farmers, but not the market.  Because farmers can pay the loan off at the PCP, the farmer’s minimum price is the loan rate, but the cash market can still go lower and did on 2016 wheat.  There were days when the Kansas LDP wheat payment was over 40 cents a bushel.  During this period the loan rate was providing a deep in-the-money free “put” and was in direct competition with CME traded puts.

In most years, the LDP payments are not a factor.  The corn and soybean loan rates are so far out-of-the-money and provide almost no competition with CME traded puts.  The only recent exception was 2016 wheat when the LDP did trigger on wheat in many counties.  When prices are near the loan rate, there is no reason farmers would purchase puts when they are effectively receiving “free” puts from FSA.

Issue #5: Whole Farm Crop Insurance (WRCI)

WFCI contracts are whole-farm insurance with RMA premium discounts and guarantees based the farm’s prior 5 years of tax return incomes.  The WFCI should not be used by farmers that use CME traded futures and options, because the gains are not counted in the historical 5 years of income that set the guarantee.  However, hedging losses in one’s brokerage account are not included in a claim settlement, resulting in a lower indemnity payment.  WFCI insured farmers who want to manager some of their price risk will need to use derivatives offered by elevators such as forward contracts. 

One should not rule out the possibility that a WFCI insured farmer could set up a separate LLC organization to hold one’s futures trades and remove those trades from the farm tax return.  This would require professional help from an attorney and tax accountant to keep futures gains-losses separate from farm income.  This is another example of government policy generating unintended consequences.

The CME could argue the WFCI provides direct competition for their farmer customer who uses private tools to manage price risk.  However, at this point, WFCI has been sold mostly to farmers growing crops that are not traded on the CME or in locations where the price basis is unpredictable, providing another example of why it is important that convergence occurs and gives some predictability to the cash basis.

Conclusions

FSA’s PLC and Marketing Loans provide direct competition with CME-traded puts WHEN markets are extremely low.  However, currently the “strike” for these program are low enough that the “put” protection is way out-of-the-money for corn and soybeans, but these USDA programs have provided recent “put” protection on wheat.     

Revenue insurance and ARC provide limited competition with CME traded puts, but currently these “put” derivatives are out-of-the-money on corn and soybeans.  If policy makers want to eliminate any “small overlap” with traded puts or the commodity programs, they would remove the “put” (revenue) from RP and retain the HPO.

The HPO is NOT competition with calls.  HPO turns the revenue insurance product into a yield guarantee only.  When HPO triggers, the RP is the same guarantee as YP, but YP indemnifies the lost bushel at a below-market price while RP indemnifies the lost bushel at the current market price.  As a result, RP is a complement to futures because it maintains the hedge on forward-priced bushels.  Both YP and RP contracts require a yield loss greater than the yield guarantee to trigger any payments.

 

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Observations from the 2018 Ag Commodity Futures Conf, Overland Park, KS, April 5-6 – No Consensus on Fixing Arbitrage to Cause Grain Price Convergence

The 2018 Agricultural Commodity Futures Conference was held in Overland Park, Kansas on April 5-6, 2018.  This meeting was sponsored by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Center for Risk Management Education and Research in the Kansas State University Department of Agricultural Economics.

The agenda for this conference and an number presentations are available at the following web location:

http://www.k-state.edu/riskmanagement/conference.html

Following is the first of two articles by KSU Agricultural Economics Art Barnaby and Daniel O’Brien discussing the findings of the conference – with a particular focus on the functions, efficiency, and performance of grain cash and futures markets.  This article is also available at the following web address on the KSU AgManager.info website:

http://www.agmanager.info/fixing-arbitrage-cause-convergence-no-consensus

Fixing Arbitrage to Cause Convergence; No Consensus

Prepared by

G. A. (Art) Barnaby, Jr. (barnaby@ksu.edu) , Professor, Dept. of Agricultural Economics

Daniel O’Brien (dobrien@ksu.edu), Extension Agricultural Economist

K-State Research and Extension, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506

April 16, 2018.

Summary

Kansas State University and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) recently held a joint conference on the lack of convergence in grain futures and many other futures trading issues.  Convergence is required for COOPs, grain elevator hedges, farmer hedges and crop insurance claims to work properly.  Without convergence, there is no connection between futures and cash markets, and grain future markets are not likely to survive in the long run without a reliable basis relationship with local cash prices.  Futures are not trading grain; they are trading the value of a shipping certificate that is received by the long when delivery occurs.  Non-convergence occurs when there is no credible threat of delivery.  Shipping certificate receivers have the right to store the grain and pay the storage indefinitely, currently 5 cents/month for corn and soybeans.  They also have the right to pick the date to load the grain out on a train/barge. 

Most grain industry traders don’t favor the Variable Storage Rate (VSR) mechanism now used on Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Wheat futures contracts, and it appears there is little chance that VSR will be applied to corn and soybeans.  Other options for defining storage obligations in the CME wheat futures contracts included: 1) returning to a fixed storage rate; 2) fixed storage at a higher rate; 3) a seasonally adjusted storage rate; 4) a computer model estimated implied market “value of storage” with a committee adjusting the storage rate; 5) expanding the number of entities who can make delivery; and 6) a change to a no-storage futures contract.  Most participants at this conference were opposed to cash settlement and required load out of grain futures. 

Indexed funds, computerized trading, “Spoofing”, livestock contracts, etc. were also covered at this conference, but not included in this summary.  Papers and power point slides from the conference are located at:

http://www.k-state.edu/riskmanagement/conference.html

Issue #1: CME Algorithm

CME has eliminated pit trading in favor of computerized matching of buy-sell orders.  Surprising, it is not the oldest futures contract bid that is filled first.  To the surprise of many participants, CME has an algorithm that determines which contracts are filled first.  There was one very upset participant that stated his order was not filled, even though his bid was higher than CME’s posted close.  His question was how was that possible?  Answer, that is how the algorithm works[ii].  Some participants questioned the “equity” and “fairness” of a CME algorithm determined queue order for filling contracts.  (See note at end of article on how the CME Algorithm functions)

Issue #2: Variable Storage Rate (VSR) Mechanism for CME Wheat & KS HRW Wheat Futures

As expected the Variable Storage Rate (VSR) generated a lot of discussion. There were a number of grain traders who made it very clear they don’t like VSR.  The argument is VSR leaves the long guessing what the storage cost will be, resulting in reduced liquidity in the deferred contracts. 

Dr. Scott Irwin, University of Illinois, made the case that non-convergence was caused by the futures stated storage rate being set below the market value for storage.  Multi-national grain elevators with delivery rights don’t deliver grain, they deliver a shipping certificate that only they can create.  In addition to delivery, these certificates are sold in a secondary market, but they will sell at a price that is higher or equal to the non-convergence.  If one could buy shipping certificates and gain by arbitraging the futures, then the arbitrage profit would be bid to zero almost immediately.

Dr. Irwin, as the acknowledged primary developer of the VSR, surprised many participants when he didn’t strongly defend it.  He spent most of his presentation talking about non-convergence in the corn market, rather than the wheat market.  He appeared to be more supportive of using the results from a mathematical model’s estimated “market” value of storage, and then a designating committee to determine whether to make any adjustments to the storage rate. If the CME wants to use a different model to adjust the storage rate and the math is made public, then one would expect that to work too.  However, if there is a committee that makes the final decision, then it adds another level of uncertainty; will they act or just go with the status quo?  This committee would likely add a whole new round of controversies about trading futures.

He also suggested that a seasonal storage rate might work for corn.  If one remembers after the first round of non-convergence in KC wheat in the early 2000’s, the exchange added a protein requirement for the first time and a seasonal storage rate.   However, those changes didn’t prevent the most recent round of non-convergence in HRW wheat.  Apparently indicating the higher seasonal rates applied at that time were not sufficient to bring about convergence in the HRW wheat futures contract.

Issue #3: No Storage Grain Futures Contracts

One participant argued for no-storage futures contracts.  Without a storage requirement, it would allow more entities to make delivery and arbitrage futures contract.  Alternatively, CME argues there is only one new crop supply provided each year (two, if you count Brazil) therefore, futures must include storage so that a market mechanism exists to reflect grain prices and grain storage costs.  Those supporting a “no-storage futures contract” counter that clearly someone will store grain, regardless of the futures contract.  They state that there are plenty of farmers who are willing to store grain and most of that grain is unpriced.  They indicate that markets will need to provide a return to storage, even with a no-storage futures contract, but that may require higher deferred prices.

Issue #4: Including Farmer Storage In Delivery of Grain Futures Contracts

Another participant suggested CME should allow farmers to store the grain at the futures storage rate, when delivery elevators don’t want to store grain.  The storage would need to be certified by USDA, utilizing local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices would likely be certification of choice.  There would also be questions in the case of farm bankruptcies, whether the long still owns the grain the buyer has paid for plus the storage?  For this delivery alternative to be workable, there would need to be rules and procedures developed on how the grain would be moved from farm storage to load out on a train/barge. 

One of the grain merchandizers attending suggested that farmers should have their futures orders filled first.  As explained above, CME’s algorithm determines order that contracts are filled, and that the mechanism used by the CME within that algorithm is not transparent to the public in general or to farmers with futures positions in particular.

Conclusions

There was still no agreement on what the true cash price is for wheat, but at least everyone agreed there was non-convergence in wheat markets.  One participant wanted the protein requirement in the futures contract raised from 10.5% to 11%.  Currently, the Kansas HRW wheat futures contract does require 11% protein, but will accept 10.5% protein with a $0.10 per bushel discount.  It was surprising that many conference participants essentially considered the Kansas HRW wheat futures contract protein requirement to be the discounted 10.5% protein level rather than the 11% par value as stated in the contract.

One key takeaway from this conference was that nearly all of agriculture agrees that convergence is necessary for short hedges and crop insurance to work.  Proposed fixes include VSR, a model determined storage rate with a committee to make the final decision on storage rate changes, fixed storage at a higher rate, a seasonal adjusted fixed storage rate, and no-storage futures contracts.  However, there was no consensus on what if any changes to make to futures to cause convergence.  Among these participants, there was little support for strictly requiring “forced” load-out or cash settlement of grain contracts. They did agree that if there is no connection between futures and cash, then the grain futures are unlikely to survive. 

Lack of convergence also effects crop insurance as tool to cover a farmer’s short hedge.  Crop insurance coverage combined with CME hedging tools will be covered in the next AgManager update.

An Additional Note on How the CME Matching Algorithm Works

A grain trader provided us with the following response on how the CME order matching algorithm works.

“Almost all of the CME ag contracts are matched using tag 1142 (Match Algorithm Value) = “K” (“Algorithm K”). CME generically defines Algorithm K as a “split FIFO/pro-rata algorithm.” However, there are multiple rounds of allocation under Algorithm K:

  • Round 1: Top-Order Allocation: A top order allocation is given to the first incoming order that betters the market and is filled at a 100% between a minimum of 1 lot and a maximum of 100 lots (note the maximum for KC wheat contracts is 50 lots).
  • Round 2: Lead Market Maker Allocation: CME makes various vague statements about there being the possibility of a “lead market maker allocation” after the top order allocation. None of the CME’s published materials confirm whether there is a lead market maker allocation for the ag contracts and, if so, how big is that allocation?
  • Round 3: FIFO Allocation: 40% of the volume after the top-order and LMM allocations is allocated via FIFO.
  • Round 4: Pro-Rata Allocation: 60% of the volume after the top-order and LMM allocations is allocated via pro-rata, with order size and time being the variables for allocation.
  • Round 5: Top-Leveling Allocation: Any participant that did not receive an allocation via pro-rata allocation receives a 1-lot allocation, if volume remains.
  • Round 6: FIFO Allocation: Any volume remaining after top-leveling allocation is allocated via FIFO.”

 

“Start Up” Status of the Variable Storage Rate (VSR) for Kansas City HRW Wheat Futures

Variable Storage Rate or “VSR” calculations for the CME Kansas City Hard Red Winter Wheat futures contract have begun.  The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) provides an ongoing daily record of how VSR calculations are progressing for the MARCH 2018 to MAY 2018 futures contract spread in comparison to what the CME calculates to be “Financial Full Carry” for wheat in storage.

Following is a statement from the CME regarding the Variable Storage Rate mechanism and its application:

“The Exchange will implement the VSR mechanism with an initial observation period beginning on December 19, 2017 and ending on February 23, 2018, evaluating the 2018 March – May KC HRW Wheat calendar spread relative to financial full carry with any changes to the storage rate effective on March 18, 2018. The storage rate will remain at 19.7/100s of one cent per bushel per day until the VSR mechanism triggers a change to the storage rate, at which point the storage rate will become either 16.5/100s of one cent per bushel per day if the storage rate is triggered down or 26.5/100s of one cent per bushel per day if the storage rate is triggered up. The seasonal storage rate currently in place for the Contracts will be suspended in lieu of the VSR mechanism, meaning the rate of 19.7/100s of one cent per bushel per day will remain in place until triggered up or down by the VSR mechanism.”

These VSR Calculations for both Kansas City HRW Wheat futures and Chicago Wheat futures are available a the following web address:

http://www.cmegroup.com/trading/agricultural/grain-and-oilseed/variable-storage-rate.html

These preliminary VSR calculations with the MARCH-MAY 2018 KC HRW Wheat futures spread running at an average of 90.40% of Financial Full Carry for the December 19, 2017 through January 4, 2018 period would indicate that the CME will be increasing its storage rate used in the VSR calculation. Of course, the long term average through February 23, 2018 will provide the final determination of whether such changes are made.

This potential storage rate increase would be from the starting value of $0.00197 /bu/day ($0.0591 /bu/30 days) up to $0.00265 /bu/day ($0.0795 /bu/30 days) for the March-May 2018 period on wheat delivered against the MARCH 2018 CME KC HRW Wheat futures contract.

Note that the CME Chicago Wheat futures carrying charge is currently at $0.00365 /bu/day ($0.1095 /bu/30 days), and that the running average percent of full carry for Chicago wheat is only 51.42% for the same period.

Following are the KC HRW Wheat futures VSR calculations for through Thursday, January 4, 2018 with added formatting from Kansas State University Extension Agricultural Economics:

 

KSU Ag Econ “Wheat Market Outlook for 2018” Presentation

Following is a presentation on “Wheat Market Outlook for 2018”.  This information was given as part of a larger “Grain Market Outlook for 2018” presentation given by Kansas State University Extension Agricultural Economist Daniel O’Brien at a Farming for the Future meeting in Pratt, Kansas on December 14, 2017.

Additional Farming for the Future conferences in Kansas are planned for December 19th in Salina, January 10th in Scott City, and January 11th in Emporia.  Registration information can be found at the following web address:

http://www.agmanager.info/events/farming-future

****

The full “Grain Market Outlook for 2018” presentation is available online at the KSU AgManager website at the following web address:

http://www.agmanager.info/sites/default/files/pdf/AGEC520_GrainOutlook_10-19-17.pdf

Information on Corn, Grain Sorghum, Soybean & Cotton supply-demand and market outlook is be provided in companion posts.

Following is information on “Wheat Market Outlook for 2018”:

Wheat Market Outlook for 2017-2018 @ the 2017 KSU Risk and Profit Conference, August 18, 2017

The following information on the “Wheat Sorghum Market Outlook for 2017-2018” was presented at the 2017 K-State Risk and Profit Conference in Manhattan, Kansas on Friday, August 18, 2017.

The full version of this presentation – with additional information not presented to the conference because of time constraints – is available online at the following web address:

http://www.agmanager.info/events/risk-and-profit-conference/previous-conference-proceedings/2017-risk-and-profit-conference

Following is the full “Wheat Market Outlook for 2017-2018” available at the 2017 K-State Risk and Profit Conference on Friday, August 18, 2017.

 

 

KSU Article on “What Caused Wheat Basis to Widen by a Dollar?” on AgManager.info

What Caused the HRW Wheat Basis to Widen by a Dollar?

Kansas State University Extension Agricultural Economist Daniel O’Brien, Elizabeth Yeager, and Art Barnaby met with several Kansas grain industry participants including farm cooperative grain elevators, independent stock-held grain elevators, flour millers, a House of Representative staffer, a commodity broker, representatives of U.S. Wheat Associates and the Kansas Wheat Growers Association, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) at various locations around the state during April 10-12, 2017 to discuss current Hard Red Winter (HRW) wheat marketing issues.  Our meeting tour included both non-delivery and delivery elevators, and our primary question was why non-convergence was occurring between CME Kansas HRW wheat futures and local cash wheat prices.  However, many other topics were covered by this group of professionals with different interests in the wheat market.  At the link below is a summary of the information provided by these various industry professionals.  Thanks to each of them for sharing their time.

Read more at: http://www.agmanager.info/crop-insurance/risk-management-strategies/what-caused-hrw-wheat-basis-widen-dollar

Following are key points from the  complete article.

What Caused the HRW Wheat Basis to Widen by a Dollar?

Point #1) Grain Storage Rates as a function of Supply-Demand

Straight from “Econ 101:” – when something is in short supply (storage), the price increases and rations the available supply.  The storage rate in the HRW futures contract is fixed and is below its real market value at this time. Therefore, the only adjustment to be made in this situation is a widening basis in the futures contract to compensate.  It was argued that allowing the storage rate to increase to reflect the true market value of storage would then allow the basis to adjust, and subsequently cause futures and cash prices to converge.

Point #2) Raising Fixed Storage Rates on Delivered Wheat vs VSR Adoption

The CME considered two primary options that would allow the storage rate in the CME Kansas HRW wheat futures contract to reach market value: a)  an increased fixed storage rate, and b)  a Variable Storage Rate (VSR)

Point #3) VSR Adoption by the CME & Associated Concerns

On April 24, 2017, the CME announced that the Variable Rate Storage (VSR) would be applied to the HRW wheat futures contracts, effective Sunday, March18, 2018. The CME-announced change occurred after our return, but it was clear during our tour that the VSR would be a controversial change.  It was the perception of some participants in these discussions that adoption of a VSR mechanism would add uncertainty to long-term hedgers of Kansas HRW wheat futures.

They were concerned that the VSR mechanism had the potential for increasing the hedging uncertainty for bakers and others who use wheat futures to hedge food production process input price risk.  Under the VSR, these long hedgers have a new risk of a storage rate change without a limit on the increase.  They preferred a fixed rate that provided certainty in the storage cost.  They argued that under an “increased fixed storage rate” scenario, the carry in the futures market would allow an increase in the storage rate to reflect the market value of storage during periods of large inventories.  An increased fixed storage rate would allow for faster storage adjustments than the VSR.

Point #4) Separation of VSR and Storage Rates at Local Elevators

Any adjustments made to the storage rate in the HRW wheat futures contract are unlikely to affect the farmer-paid storage rates at their local country elevator.  Increasing country elevator storage rates will increase the incentive for farmers to build their own on-farm storage.  One could even argue that these country and terminal elevators have kept the storage rate artificially low for both long-term economic and customer relation reasons, causing farmers and competing elevators to under invest in storage.  The idea is that once farmers build their own on-farm storage, they are not likely to return to their local country elevator to store grain, but rather use their own facilities. Many of those elevators would then be left with open storage space earning no return in the future when crops are more normal in size.

Point #5) Determining the Cash Price where Cash-Futures Convergence Occurs

One non-delivery elevator manager challenged the argument there was convergence for 11% protein wheat in KC on a rail car.  He stated that if that were a real cash offer, he would ship them a train load of wheat by the end of the week.  We are not sure if the argument matters, because delivery would take place with the greatest market advantage for the delivery elevator and most of the delivered wheat was in Salina.  From the viewpoint of this manager, he had limited access to the KC rail grain market.  With limited access, there would be no way for arbitrage and/or market participation to occur.  Some even question if KC should even be a delivery point because wheat no longer flows through KC, as most HRW wheat goes from terminal elevators to the Gulf or to millers predominantly located in central Kansas.  Why would one expect wheat shipped from Hutchinson, KS or Enid, OK to go to KC before going to the Gulf?

Point #6) Wheat Protein Issues

The issue of how high-protein wheat was handled in the Kansas grain elevator system was discussed, and the degree to which higher proteins were paid for in the Kansas wheat handling and marketing system. What these elevators really pay on is the average protein for the crop, so if one is harvesting wheat in an area with higher protein, then the bid is higher.  However, in the Kansas wheat market with its predominantly bulk blending practices, farmers are paid based on the average protein for the crop.  Therefore, the farmer with 13% protein gets the same price as a farmer with 10% protein, unless they store wheat on-farm in a segregated manner for later sale and capture the protein premium.  We were also told that because of intense harvest pressures, Kansas grain elevators don’t have the time to separate the wheat crop by protein during harvest.

Point #7) Wheat Genetics Impact on Protein & Regional Market Differences

One manager was of the opinion that the KSU wheat breeding program focused too much on yield and not enough on wheat milling quality and higher protein levels.  However, in the current Kansas grain handling system, there are only limited price signals sent through to farmers for high quality wheat under the current marketing system.  This is because farmers are paid predominantly on crop size or “bushels” only.  Price premiums are “implicit” in the price paid.  Higher wheat prices are paid for regions of the state where protein is higher and lower prices for poorer protein regions within any one year.  However, if there are any protein premiums being factored into local wheat prices they are not generally visible to the farmer.

Point #8) Tie-in Between Onfarm Storage & Marketing High Protein HRW Wheat

The general conclusion of these discussions was that farmers who can consistently produce high-quality, high-protein wheat in the Southern Plains region would need to have their own storage facilities to capture any premiums, given the current bulk handling system that exists.  The question is whether they can consistently produce such high protein wheat in order to gain the price premiums. In addition, farmers who want to capture basis improvement will need to own the physical wheat, either in their own storage or in commercial storage.  However, under current conditions, many experts are expecting it will likely require a couple of years before HRW wheat futures and cash converge.  It is unlikely many farmers can afford to carry grain inventory for two years.  In addition, most Kansas wheat producers would need to make greater use of post-harvest storage hedges and/or forward contracts, to regularly capture market carry.

Point #9) Rail Cost Differences by Type of Grain

Perhaps the most revealing finding of these meetings was the amount of the differential in freight rates for different types of grain.  For example, the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railway (BNSF) charges a higher rate for wheat than grain sorghum for a unit train going from the same location and with the same total freight weight to the Gulf.  The bottom line, the railroad charges what the market will bear.  Wheat has to go to the Gulf, while grain sorghum can be consumed as a feed grain within trucking distance.  Those higher freight rates are then passed back to the wheat farmer in the form of lower cash wheat prices.  Any legislation or regulations that favor truck traffic for longer hauls of grain would provide more competition to railroads in grain markets.  However, longer hauls of grain are likely to continue to favor rail transportation, given the scale of the economies involved.

Point #10) Non-convergence Impact on Crop Revenue Insurance Coverage

It is true that when there is no convergence in futures and cash, the crop revenue insurance contract pays less for a claim when prices fall.  Some farmers have argued that crop insurance claims should be paid based on cash prices.  The problem is: what cash price to use in the calculations?  The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program settles claims based on USDA’s national average cash price, but that means farmers must wait a year or more for payments.  More importantly, when there is a crop failure and prices increase, then farmers are paid for indemnity bushels only after the deductible measured in bushels is applied.  Farmers will have those indemnity bushels replaced at the futures price.

However if claims were based on cash prices, western Kansas wheat farmers would have their indemnity compensated at a price that would be 40 to 50 cents lower than the current method.  When there is a short crop and the wheat prices increase, most farmers would need to lose at least 25% of their expected bushels before collecting any payments, so it is not a good time to have one’s indemnity payments cut by a change in the price calculation.

Point #11) Other Topics Discussed

There was also extensive discussion of other issues such as:

  1. whether the use of shipping certificates would be advantageous for the Kansas wheat contract;
  2. if some form of rail or track delivery on either an individual rail car or a 110 car train basis were feasible;
  3. the tradeoffs between carrying charges and basis levels in Kansas wheat price determination;
  4. the pattern of grain storage utilization in Kansas and the U.S. grain system, and how growth in inventories has contributed to the current “wide basis” situation in wheat;
  5. whether inclusion of a cooperative elevator among designated delivery facilities would impact price convergence; and
  6. the important role of Gulf wheat export prices in cash wheat price determination in Kansas after transportation adjustments.

In addition, the pattern of increasing rail rates to the Gulf over time and its impact on Kansas wheat basis levels was also examined.

Point #12) Inability of Farmers to Deliver Against CME KS HRW Wheat Futures

It was clear from our discussion that farmers have no right to deliver wheat (any grain) on a futures contract.  Therefore, farmers should not enter the delivery period holding a short future’s position thinking they have delivery rights.  In addition, it was argued that the change to VSR would be of the greatest benefit to farmers who already have their own on-farm storage.  However, at least one person suggested that farmers may over-invest in storage and eliminate farm storage returns in the future.

Final Thoughts: The Need For “Balance” in Grain Futures Deliver Mechanisms

These discussions were of great benefit to those of us from Kansas State University, and provided us a practical, industry level perspective, a viewpoint that is often missing from more “esoteric” academic theory-oriented viewpoints about how markets function.

If a market delivery system is “unbalanced” between the “short” sellers who at times may seek to make delivery of grain, and the “long” buyers who may be forced to take those same deliveries, it hurts the longterm viability and usefulness of the futures contract. In this case the disadvantaged side of these transactions will likely act to limit their risk exposure – possibly by just not participating in trading the futures contract at all.  Consequently, for the sake of market liquidity (i.e., maintaining a healthy pool of both sellers and buyers) and effective futures contract function, such grain futures market delivery mechanisms need to be “fair” to both sides of the transaction.

If the settlement and/or delivery mechanism for an agricultural futures contract such as CME Kansas HRW Wheat futures is not thought to be “fair” by one side of the transaction or the other, then either “shorts” or “longs” may choose not to use the contract at all.  Then if trading volume of the futures contract decreases as traders take their business elsewhere, the effectiveness and usefulness of the CME Kansas HRW Wheat futures contract as a price discovery and risk management tool would drastically decline.

 

 

 

Key Supply-Demand Factors “Driving” Grain Markets (KSU Extension Ag Economics)

The following presentation on “Key Supply-Demand Factors ‘Driving” Grain Markets” was given on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 to the AgEcon 605 class on “Price Analysis and Forecasting” as a guest lecture.  The class is regularly taught by Dr. Richard Llewelyn of the Kansas State University Department of Agricultural Economics.

This presentation focuses on the key factors that have been “driving” or influencing grain markets over the last 15-25 years.   The full presentation will be available on the KSU Agricultural Economics website at the following web location:

http://www.agmanager.info/sites/default/files/pdf/OBrien_GrainMarketDrivers_03-15-17.pdf