By Javier Blas

Anthony Ward may have craved chocolate as a child but there was little in the early career of this mild-mannered commodities trader that marked him out as a future “Chocfinger” as he has been dubbed this week after his devilishly brilliant trades in the cocoa market.

His coup sounds extraordinarily glamorous. Prices of the basic ingredient of chocolate rose to their highest level in 33 years after his hedge fund amassed a large chunk of the world’s stocks of cocoa beans. Some have seen him as the 21st-century equivalent of Nelson and William Hunt, the brothers who cornered the silver market in 1979-1980 by taking control of most of the world’s inventories of the metal. Since then, many have seen raw materials’ markets, from crude oil to cocoa, as a playground for greedy traders and an easy platform for artificially inflating prices at the expense of the consumer. By linking the 50-year-old Mr Ward to the James Bond super-villain, Goldfinger some have insinuated that he is the ultimate ruthless speculator.

But the reality is more prosaic – as so often with exotic commodities sagas. His chocolate triumph is not the result of a snap buccaneering move, but follows decades of immersing himself in the cocoa business.

Born into a military family at the heart of the British establishment, he attended Marlborough College, one of the UK’s elite private boarding schools. On leaving school he went straight to work in London as a trainee at Sime Darby, the Malaysian-owned plantation company in 1979 where his first job was sampling tea. But a year later, when he joined London-based brokerage firm E.F. Hutton, he turned by chance to cocoa. He has retained his fascination with chocolate’s primary ingredient and Africa, the heart of cocoa production, ever since.

At E.F. Hutton he was an apprentice who had to battle for clients against competition from more than 100 other cocoa traders and brokers in Europe and the US. Those were the long gone days of old-fashioned commodities trading: the era of telex rooms and exotic travel to civil-war torn African countries. It was a world of doing business over dinners in which Mr Ward, with his appreciation of good food and fine wine, was at ease. He rapidly progressed, ending up at Phibro, the legendary commodities arm of Salomon Smith Barney, where he rose to head cocoa and coffee trading.

Three decades after his induction into the world of cocoa, his competitors and acquaintances describe him as the most influential trader in the market. Even rivals say that rather than being a speculator he is in fact the ultimate analyst, one who believes in thorough research. His perfectionism led Armajaro, the trading house and hedge fund manager he co-founded in 1998, to deploy staff every year to Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, to count cocoa pods to gain an edge over rivals in forecasting the size of the crop. To the same end, he set up a network of weather stations.

Notwithstanding his attention to detail, his chocolate career has had ups and downs. In 1996, he amassed a huge position in cocoa in London, taking delivery of 300,000 tonnes of beans – at that time equal to 10 per cent of the crop – betting that Ivory Coast’s crop would under-perform. The harvest surged, and he suffered large losses as prices declined.

But by 2002, it was clear Ivory Coast was in deep trouble, as Mr Ward had predicted. After half a century of almost uninterrupted expansion, the Ivorian cocoa machine, which accounts for nearly 40 per cent of global supplies, was faltering. Trees were getting old and sick and the country was immersed in a civil war. Mr Ward decided to bet big and took delivery of 148,000 tonnes of cocoa, profiting as prices surged. Cocoa, which in January 2002, traded at £1,000 a tonne peaked at £1,600 a tonne by October. The surge, he told the Financial Times then, was not a bubble – nor, he insisted, was he a speculator.

“It is fundamentally based,” he explained at Armajaro’s offices in Mayfair, London’s most exclusive neighbourhood, where he also lives with his wife and two children. “You cannot simply take delivery of cocoa and make the price double. It is simply not possible,” he added.

It is no different this time, allies say he argues. Cocoa fundamentals have been pointing to higher prices for the last four years and Mr Ward made clear months ago that Armajaro’s flagship hedge fund CC+, which he manages, was bullish. After a string of bad crops in west Africa, global cocoa demand, propelled by the rich countries’ love for chocolate, has outpaced supply for the last four years in a row, the largest shortage since the late 1960s. The multi-national food companies that depend on a reliable, cheap supply of the commodity are worried. The publicity-shy cocoa industry has started talking about a “chocolate crisis”.

Against the background of buoyant prices the bullish Mr Ward put his money where his mouth was. A rival trader says: “Anthony is the best cocoa trader and most people do not have his appetite for risk.”

Traders believe that last October he started buying cocoa futures contracts for delivery in July 2010, slowly building a huge position. Probably, rivals say, he paid on average about £2,100-£2,200 a tonne. When contracts expire, a trader can choose to take physical delivery rather than a cash settlement. By the time this contract expired this month, prices had surged to a 33-year high of £2,732. Armajaro shocked many in the market by taking physical delivery of 240,100 tonnes, the biggest delivery in 14 years, equal to 7 per cent of the world’s crop. A group of small cocoa processors protested bitterly, blaming speculation for the price surge.

He is said to argue now as he did in 2002, that all he has done is go to the futures market “to buy cocoa in the most efficient and low-risk way possible”. The trade is likely to bring a stream of profits to Armajaro, particularly if the new Ivorian crop, due in October, disappoints.

Even if prices decline, Mr Ward is unlikely to suffer. A competitor who knows him well has no doubt he will have hedged his position. One admiring executive says: “No one knows the cocoa market better than Anthony.”

So maybe not Chocfinger – but the “king of cocoa” or even of chocolate seem just about right.

英国巧克力炒家
作者:英国《金融时报》 哈维尔•布拉斯
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孩提时的安东尼•沃德(Anthony Ward)或许很馋巧克力,但在这位性格温和的大宗商品交易员的职业生涯早期,却没什么迹象预示他有朝一日会成为“巧克力手指”(Chocfinger)。他在可可市场上的非凡交易,上周为他赢得了这一绰号。

他的高招听上去非常有魅力。在他的对冲基金囤积起全球可可豆储量中的一大部分后,这种巧克力基础原料的价格飙升到33年来的最高位。有人把他视为21世纪的亨特兄弟。1979-1980年,纳尔逊•亨特(Nelson Hunt)和威廉•亨特(William Hunt)通过控制全球大部分白银库存,垄断了白银市场。此后,许多人把原材料市场(从原油到可可)视作贪婪交易商的一个竞技场,一个人为哄抬价格损害消费者利益的轻松平台。有人把年届50的沃德比作詹姆士•邦德(James Bond)中的大恶棍“金手指”(Goldfinger),意在影射他是个终极的无情投机客。

但现实要平凡得多——那些离奇怪诞的大宗商品传奇往往如此。他这场“巧克力胜仗”不是一次海盗式的快速掠夺,而是浸淫可可交易几十载的结果。

沃德出生在英国一个显赫的军人家庭,就读于马尔伯勒学校(Marlborough College)——英国顶尖的私立寄宿学校之一。1979年毕业后即在伦敦工作。头一份工作是在马来西亚人的种植公司森达美(Sime Darby)当实习生,负责抽检茶叶。一年后,当他加入伦敦的经纪公司E.F. Hutton时,偶然转到了可可行当。从此之后,他就迷恋上了这种巧克力的主原料和可可的主产地——非洲。

他在E.F. Hutton当学徒时,欧洲和美国有100多家可可交易商和经纪商,他必须与同行们争夺客户。那些老式大宗商品交易的日子早已远去:那是电报室和异域风情旅行(前往饱受内战蹂躏的非洲国家)的时代;那是一个在餐桌上谈生意的年代,热爱美酒佳肴的沃德在其中可谓如鱼得水。他平步青云,后来在所罗门美邦(Salomon Smith Barney)旗下富有传奇色彩的大宗商品机构——Phibro执掌可可和咖啡交易部门。

在投身可可世界三十年后,竞争对手和熟人都形容他是可可市场上最有影响力的交易员。就连对手也说,他实际上不是投机者,而是信奉周密调研的“终极分析师”。受他完美主义的影响,他1998年与人共同创办的交易机构和对冲基金管理公司——Armajaro,每年都会派员工到世界最大的可可产地象牙海岸,去数可可豆荚的数量,因此在预测可可收成上比竞争对手拥有优势。出于同样的目的,他还兴建了许多气象站。

虽说沃德注重细节,但他的巧克力事业也是有起有落的。1996年,他在伦敦积攒了大量的可可头寸,收进了30万吨可可豆——相当于当时可可产量的10%。他预测象牙海岸可可会歉收。不料却出现了大丰收——随着价格下跌,沃德损失惨重。

但到2002年,正如沃德所预测的,象牙海岸遇到了严重问题。经过半个世纪几乎无间断的扩张,占全球供应量近40%的象牙海岸可可机器开始运转不灵了:可可树老化生病,国家陷入内战。沃德决定豪赌,收进了14.8万吨可可。随着价格飙升,他大赚了一笔。2002年1月,可可价格为每吨1000英镑;到10月份涨到了每吨1600英镑的峰值。他当时告诉英国《金融时报》,这轮大涨不是泡沫,他也不是投机商。

“这是根据基本面进行的交易。”他在Armajaro位于梅菲尔(Mayfair)的办公室这么解释道。Mayfair是伦敦最高档的小区,他和妻子及两个孩子也住在这里。“你没法通过交割让可可价格翻上一番。这绝对不可能。”

他的助手们表示,沃德认为这次也一样。过去4年里,基本面一直预示可可价格会走高,而且沃德几个月前就明确表示,由他掌管的Armajaro旗舰对冲基金CC+持看涨态度。西非连年歉收,而受富裕国家钟爱巧克力的推动,全球可可市场已连续4年供不应求,为上世纪60年代以来短缺最严重的一次。依赖可靠和低价可可供应的跨国食品公司感到了担忧。低调的可可行业谈论起了“巧克力危机”。

在价格上浮的背景下,持看涨态度的沃德在投资上做到了言行一致。一位有竞争关系的交易员表示:“安东尼是最棒的可可交易员,大多数人都没有他那种风险胃口。”

交易界认为,沃德从去年10月起就开始买进2010年7月交割的可可期货合约,慢慢建立起了庞大的头寸。竞争对手们推测,他买进的均价大概是每吨2100-2200英镑。当期货合约到期时,交易员可以选择进行实物交割,而不用现金结算。当这批合约在本月到期时,Armajaro的做法让许多市场人士大跌眼镜:该机构进行了实物交割,接收了24.01万吨可可——这是14年来最大手笔的交割,相当于全球产量的7%。一批小型可可加工商对此强烈抗议,指责投机导致了价格飞涨。

据说沃德目前的说法与2002年一样:他所做的只是进入期货市场,“以尽可能有效和低风险的方式买进可可”。这笔交易可能为Armajaro带来滚滚利润,尤其是如果象牙海岸本季收成(10月份)不如人意的话。

即便价格下滑,沃德也未必会遭受损失。一位非常了解他的竞争对手断定沃德应该已经进行了对冲。一位满心佩服的高管表示:“没有人比安东尼更了解可可市场。”

所以说,“巧克力手指”这个名号或许不够适当,“可可王”、甚至“巧克力王”才名副其实。

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