At no other time in my career as a commodity risk manager have I been reminded of this as often as I was in January 2008. Commodity prices exploded during the second half of 2007, and many within the industry assumed 2008 would be no different. I was reassured continuously by various colleagues that I was a healthy, young 30-something possessing a wealth of experience and knowledge. However, even then I knew such well-meaning affirmations were nothing more than their way of telling me my tenure as a risk manager was likely headed the way of the dinosaurs.
By the end of June, this unfortunate reality was setting in. Corn was challenging $8 a bushel and crude oil was preparing for a push above $140 a barrel. I started to pencil out my own obituary: “Marcus Ludtke— beloved husband, father and Michael Jackson impersonator.” It was at this time I also learned the phrase, “Well, at least you’ve got your health,” was often used loosely requiring few, if any, parallels to Leonardo da Vinci’s ideal of human proportion, the Vitruvian Man, beyond that of a pulse and definitive heartbeat.
September and October weren’t much better. Sure, both grain and energy prices had come off their highs. But Wall Street was in ruins. The investment banking community was in the process of writing its final chapter, with a number of willing candidates vying for the distinguished honor of being named America’s Biggest Loser. The Dow Jones Industrial was headed for its lowest level since 2003, and Fannie and Freddie had become household names, no longer referring solely to the aunt and uncle that nobody wanted to claim at the extended family reunion.
As winter approached and America ushered in a new President-elect, those commodity risk managers who were able to escape extinction were busy confronting the realization that the industry would likely never be same. Even more paralyzing was the uncertainty of what the markets might do for an encore in 2009.
However, it was also during this time, as I was driving home from work one night in early November, that I ran across a picture of my wife and two boys wedged in the visor of my car. I was reminded once again that not only did I still have my health, but more importantly the love of those who would never measure my success as a person by trading gains or losses.
Looking back now, just maybe 2008 was better than I gave it credit for. And as for 2009, bring it on.
Marcus Ludtke graduated from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn., in 2001 and started working for POET Risk Management in May of that year. His primary responsibilities include managing POET’s corn position and market research.