The market is an auction. The purpose of an auction is twofold: to provide an environment where buyers and sellers can come together; and to provide price discovery. If a farmer retires and you go to the estate auction, there is one seller—and the more people who show up, the more potential buyers you have. Every buyer has a number and the ability to bid what they are willing to pay. The auctioneer facilitates the discovery of price for each good. The auctioneer is operating as an agent on behalf of the seller—they are trying to get as much out of each item as possible. Good auctioneers get lots of people to show up and they also get people bidding.
This is an important analogy to be able to apply to the world of commodity and equity trading. If you’ve ever been the person at the auction to pay way too much for something, you know that emotions can get the best of you in the moment. But the fact is that over time, an auction is the most effective and most efficient way to discover the value of something. That being said, in the short-term auctions can be overrun with emotion. You may see something selling way too cheap—which indicates there is a lack of buyers or more likely too many sellers. The flip side is when you see someone paying more for an item on auction than they would have paid to buy a new one at retail! Auctions are the best price discovery over time, but emotion will get them out of whack in the short-term.
Just like an auction, the market is made up of the emotion of its participants
- Regret: Quite paralyzing. The price of the commodity gets to a level that isn’t quite what we were hoping for and then it suddenly falls. At that moment we now know what we COULD have had for our commodity if we had acted…but we didn’t. Now suddenly our brain shifts into what we think the product should be worth or what we would be willing to accept. But in reality, the commodity is worth what it is trading for today. The best antidote is drafting a script for our future actions: “What will I do when price starts falling?”
- Greed: This usually plays out in the market as a case of “Perpetual Price Dissatisfaction.” If corn is $3.60, it’s wanting $3.80. When corn gets to $3.80, I now will only accept $4.00. It’s a failure pattern of saying to ourselves that UNTIL I get a higher price, I won’t be happy. The failure of this is that it’s never a high enough price for us to be satisfied. We end up kicking the can down the road until we’ve run out of time on the calendar and we now have to act. How can we counteract greed? One way is to make smaller decisions, more frequently instead. The other tool can be using targets. If I have a good handle on either my projected profitability or, after harvest, my actual profitability—I can reduce my greed factor by using price targets and placing orders at the elevator or in my commodity account. It takes out the risk of wanting to wait until tomorrow to see how price acts and get just a little bit more.
- Fear: Can be a significant motivator for people. There’s a concept that has grown with social media and contributed to a lot of people’s anxiety—“FOMO” or Fear Of Missing Out. In marketing, fear manifests itself in many different ways: Fear that price is going to collapse further, so I end up selling out on the lows. Fear that I’m not going to grow a crop so I don’t sell ahead. Fear that if I sell, the price will rally later so I freeze. Fear that price can never rally so I sell everything on the first 10-cent rally I get. The key to managing fear is first and foremost to know yourself. Fear is a good thing and it’s a survival mechanism, but taken too far it can keep us from really being able to thrive.
- Envy: We stop at the coffee shop and someone’s talking about how they sold the high in the market. We hear our neighbor talk about how high one of their fields yielded. Here’s the problem with all of these scenarios: none of them shares all the information you need. The guy in the coffee shop sold one percent of his crop on the high and at the end of the year, ended up getting a worse price on his crop than you. The neighbor with the big yield isn’t talking about his break-even levels or the profitability per bushel. We feel envious of the actions or lives of others, but much of what is presented to the world is far from the whole story. So what can we do? Tend to your own garden first. The farmers who focus on the basics (doing everything you can to lower your cost per bushel) are best equipped to compete in the long run. This gets the focus on a scorecard that fits the game. If I go to the gym and see the guy bench pressing 400 pounds, I’m not envious—we’re playing a different game. Focus on good financials and a fanatical approach to building your own ability to improve your cost per bushel. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn from these others—you can ask the guy at the coffee shop what led him to price it; maybe there is some insight there. The neighbor with the big yield, maybe he has a production practice that you can learn from. But stopping at envy will always be a roadblock to progress.
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