Real-life Willy Wonka drives up cost of cocoa
Commodities trader stockpiles crops and bets on high futures.
Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 01:39 PM
A modern, real-life Willy Wonka of sorts may be driving up the price of your weekly Scharffen Berger fix. According to an article in the NY Times, hedge fund manager Anthony Ward has “cornered the market in cocoa,” buying up and hoarding enough of it to make “more than 5 billion chocolate bars.”
Chocolate, which is already at a 30-year high, might currently be expensive because of Ward’s activities, but the Times predicts that the cost could soar even higher. According to the article, his company controls 7 percent of the worldwide cocoa market and has placed “an audacious $1 billion bet in the London market” that the brown stuff will sell at an even higher price. Summing up some economists, the Times says Ward is creating his own supply shortage to drive up the price.
Ward takes his cocoa seriously, monitoring his crops through his own weather stations and “squeezing” candy makers just as they are spending on ingredients for the holiday season. The international chocolate market is up in arms about the situation, according to the story, with the German Cocoa Trade Association demanding action against Ward’s company and a public witch hunt on Facebook.
The article characterizes Ward as being much like the fictional Wonka, emphasizing his low public profile, eccentric hobbies like rally racing, and his decadent mansion touting marble floors and other extravagances. The author mentions that while Ward’s commodity practices have been found to show “no evidence of abusive behavior,” he was behind a similar play in 2002 and has been instrumental in increasing the cost of cocoa nearly 150 percent since 2008.