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Research Reports

 

Report 2003-04: Advisory Service Marketing Profiles for Soybeans Over 1995-2000

April, 2003                                                                                                               

Joao Martines-Filho , Scott H. Irwin, Darrel L. Good, Silvina M. Cabrini, Brian G. Stark,  Wei Shi, Ricky L. Webber, Lewis A. Hagedorn, and Steven L. Williams[a]

Copyright 2003 by Joao Martines-Filho, Scott H. Irwin, Darrel L. Good, Silvina M. Cabrini, Brian G. Stark, Wei Shi, Ricky L. Webber, Lewis A. Hagedorn and Steven L. Williams. All rights reserved. Readers may make verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial purposes by any means, provided that this copyright notice appears on all such copies.


DISCLAIMER

The advisory service marketing recommendations used in this research represent the best efforts of the AgMAS Project staff to accurately and fairly interpret the information made available by each advisory service.  In cases where a recommendation is vague or unclear, some judgment is exercised as to whether or not to include that particular recommendation or how to implement the recommendation.  Given that some recommendations are subject to interpretation, the possibility is acknowledged that the AgMAS track record of recommendations for a given program may differ from that stated by the advisory service, or from that recorded by another subscriber.  In addition, the net advisory prices presented in this report may differ substantially from those computed by an advisory service or another subscriber due to differences in simulation assumptions, particularly with respect to the geographic location of production, cash and forward contract prices, expected and actual yields, storage charges and government programs.

This material is based upon work supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Project Nos. 98-EXCA-3-0606 and 00-52101-9626.  Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Additional funding for the AgMAS Project has been provided by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research. 


Introduction

Marketing decisions are an important part of farm business management.  Farmers are interested in the possibility of enhancing farm income and reducing income variability when marketing crops.  There are many tools to assist farmers in such marketing decisions.  Several surveys, including Patrick, Musser and Eckman (1998) and Schroeder et al. (1998), report that farmers specifically viewed one of these tools, professional market advisory services, as an important source of marketing information and advice.  It is often thought that advisory services can process market information more rapidly and efficiently than farmers to determine the most appropriate marketing decisions, but limited research has been conducted in the area.

In 1994, the Agricultural Market Advisory Service (AgMAS) Project was initiated at the University of Illinois with the goal of providing unbiased and rigorous evaluation of advisory services for producers.  Since its inception, the AgMAS Project has collected real-time marketing recommendations for about 25 market advisory services and analyzed the performance of these services.  In a recent publication, Irwin, Martines-Filho and Good (2002) evaluate corn and soybean advisory services over 1995-2000 and their results show that, when both average price and risk are considered, only a small fraction of services for corn and a moderate fraction for soybeans outperform market benchmarks.  On the other hand, a majority of the services outperform a farmer benchmark for both crops.

AgMAS comparisons of net price received among advisory services are an important source of information for farmers in selecting an advisory service.  However, pricing performance is not the only relevant aspect in the evaluation of advisory services.  Pennings, Irwin and Good (2003) show that the nature of the recommendations made by advisory services also is an important factor in the way farmers evaluate services.  They suggest that the nature of the recommendations can be thought of as the “marketing philosophy” or “marketing style” of an advisory service.[1]  Marketing style is defined by the tools that a service recommends and the complexity of the recommended marketing strategies.  For example, recommendations may differ as to whether or not futures and options contracts are used, frequency of transactions and average amount per transaction.  Farmers and other market observers are familiar with the idea that advisory services have different marketing styles.  Williams (2001) identifies the marketing styles of five prominent advisors, labeled somewhat colorfully, as the Banker, Race Car Driver, Astronaut, Sprinter and Insurance Agent.

It is reasonable, then, to assert that farmers will prefer to follow a service with a style that matches their personal approach to marketing.  However, objective information about advisory service marketing style is quite difficult for farmers to obtain.  Only one research study has been conducted on this topic.[2]  Bertoli et al. (1999) examine corn and soybean marketing style from two perspectives for the services evaluated by the AgMAS Project in 1995.  The first is the construction of a detailed “menu” of the tools and strategies used by each of the advisory services.  The menu describes the type of pricing tool, frequency of transactions and magnitude of transactions.  The second is the development of a daily index of the net amount sold by each market advisory service.  To construct such an index, the various futures, options and cash positions recommended for a service on a given day are weighted by the respective position "delta."  When the daily values of the index are plotted for the entire crop year, the marketing "profile" for a service is generated.

The purpose of this report is to present marketing profiles and loan deficiency payment/marketing loan gain profiles for the advisory services followed by the AgMAS Project for the 1995 through 2000 soybean crops.  As noted above, marketing profiles are constructed by plotting the cumulative net amount priced under each service’s set of recommendations throughout a crop year.  Loan deficiency payment/marketing loan gain (LDP/MLG) profiles are constructed by plotting the cumulative percentage of the crop on which the LDP/MLG was claimed during the crop year.  The soybean marketing profiles for 1995 are slightly revised versions of those presented in Bertoli et al. (1999).  Finally, note that this report is not intended to be a complete analysis of advisory service marketing style in soybeans.  Further analysis is required to categorize services by the types of tools and strategies used, as well as their typical marketing profile.  Ultimately, the goal is to determine style categories for advisory services based on objective, quantitative factors.  Previous studies of mutual fund and hedge fund style provide useful models for this effort (e.g., Sharpe, 1992; Brown and Goetzmann, 1997; Brown and Goetzmann, 2001).

The remainder of this report is organized as follows.  First, the data collection procedures and assumptions employed by the AgMAS Project to evaluate advisory services’ recommendations are presented.  Second, the construction of marketing and LDP/MLG profiles is explained.  Finally, the individual crop year profiles for the advisory services in soybeans are presented, along with average, maximum and minimum profiles across 1995-2000.

 


Data Collection

The marketing profiles presented in this report are based on data generated by the AgMAS Project.  This section describes briefly the AgMAS data collection procedure.  For a more complete explanation, refer to Irwin, Martines-Filho and Good (2002). 

The market advisory services evaluated by the AgMAS Project do not comprise the population or a random sample of market advisory services available to farmers.  Neither approach is feasible because no public agency or trade group assembles a list of advisory services that could be considered the "population."  To assemble the sample of services for the AgMAS Project, five criteria were developed to define an agricultural market advisory service and a list of services was assembled.

The first criterion is that marketing recommendations from an advisory service must be received electronically in real-time, in the form of satellite-delivered pages, Internet web pages or e-mail messages.  Services delivered electronically generally ensure that recommendations are made available to the AgMAS Project at the same time as farm subscribers.  

The second criterion used to identify services is that a service has to provide marketing recommendations to farmers rather than (or in addition to) speculators or traders.  Some of the services tracked by the AgMAS Project do provide speculative trading advice, but that advice must be clearly differentiated from marketing advice to farmers for the service to be included. 

The third criterion is that marketing recommendations from an advisory service must be in a form suitable for application to a representative farmer.  That is, the recommendations have to specify the percentage of the crop involved in each transaction and the price or date at which each transaction is to be implemented.  

The fourth criterion is that advisory services must provide “one-size fits all” marketing recommendations so there is no uncertainty about implementation.  While different programs for basic types of subscribers may be tracked for an advisory service (e.g., a cash only program versus a futures and options hedging and cash program), it is not feasible to track services that provide “customized” recommendations for individual clients. 

The fifth criterion addresses the issue of whether a candidate service is a viable, commercial business.  This issue has arisen due to the extremely low cost and ease of distributing information over the Internet, either via e-mail or a website.  It is possible for an individual with little actual experience and no paying subscribers to start a “market advisory service” by using the Internet.  The specific criterion used is that a candidate advisory service must have provided recommendations to paying subscribers for a minimum of two marketing years before the service can be included in the AgMAS study.

Having assembled a sample of advisory services, the process of collecting recommendations begins with the purchase of subscriptions to each of the services.  The information is received electronically, via satellite, websites or e-mail.  Staff members of the AgMAS Project record the information provided by each advisory service on a daily basis.  For the services that provide multiple daily updates, information is recorded as it is provided through the day. 

Some advisory services offer two or more distinct marketing programs.  This typically takes the form of one set of advice for marketers who are willing to use futures and options, and a separate set of advice for farmers who only wish to make cash sales.[3]  In this situation, recommendations under each program are recorded and treated individually as distinct strategies to be evaluated. 

At the end of the marketing period, all of the (filled) recommendations are aligned in chronological order.  The advice for a given crop year is considered complete for each advisory program when cumulative cash sales of the commodity reach 100%, all futures positions covering the crop are offset, all option positions covering the crop are either offset or expire, and the advisory program discontinues giving advice for that crop year. 

The final set of recommendations attributed to each advisory program represents the best efforts of the AgMAS Project staff to accurately and fairly interpret the information made available by each advisory program.  In cases where a recommendation is considered vague or unclear, some judgment is exercised as to whether or not to include that particular recommendation or how to implement the recommendation.  Given that some recommendations are subject to interpretation, the possibility is acknowledged that the AgMAS track record of recommendations for a given program may differ from that stated by the advisory program, or from that recorded by another subscriber.


Marketing Assumption

In order to evaluate the advisory services’ recommendations certain explicit assumptions need to be made.  The assumptions are intended to accurately depict “real-world” marketing conditions facing a representative central Illinois corn and soybean farmer.  Key assumptions are explained in this section.  Complete details on all assumptions can be found in Irwin, Martines-Filho and Good (2002).

First, a two-year marketing window, from September 1st of the year previous to harvest through August 31st of the year after the harvest, is used in the analysis.  Note that throughout the remainder of this report, the term "crop year" is used to represent the two-year marketing window.

Second, since most of the advisory program recommendations are given in terms of the proportion of total production (e.g., “sell 5% of 2000 crop today”), some assumption must be made about the amount of production to be marketed.  When making transactions prior to harvest, the actual yield is unknown, and the expected yield is employed to compute the bushel amount for each transaction.  The expected yield for each year is based upon a log-linear trend regression model of actual yields.  It is assumed that after harvest begins farmers have a reasonable idea of actual realized yield.  The assumed actual yield corresponds to the Central Illinois Crop Reporting District yield.

Since harvest occurs at different dates each year, estimates of harvest progress as reported for central Illinois are used.  Harvest progress estimates typically are not made available soon enough to identify precisely the beginning of harvest, so an estimate is made based upon available data.  Specifically, the date on which 50% of the crop is harvested is defined as the mid-point of harvest.  The entire harvest period then is defined as a five-week window, beginning two and one-half weeks before the harvest mid-point, and ending two and one-half weeks after the harvest mid-point.  To compute the bushel amount for each transaction, the percentage recommended is multiplied by the expected yield, if the position if opened before the first day of harvest, or by the actual yield, if the position is opened after the first day of harvest.  This procedure implicitly assumes that the “lumpiness” of futures and/or options contracts is not an issue.  Lumpiness is caused by the fact that futures contracts are for specific amounts, such as 5,000 bushels per CBOT soybean futures contract.  For large-scale farmers, it is unlikely that this assumption adversely affects the accuracy of the results.  This may not be the case for small- to intermediate-scale farmers, who are less able to sell in 5,000-bushel increments.

In some cases the AgMAS Project stopped following a program, either because the program went out of business or it stopped making recommendations for farmers.  In such cases, it is assumed that cash bushels after the date of discontinuation are sold in equal amounts over the remaining days of the marketing window.  Any futures or options positions that remain open on the date of discontinuation are closed on that date using settlement futures prices or options premiums.


Construction of Marketing Profiles

The marketing profile of an advisory program for a given crop year is constructed by plotting the cumulative net amount priced during the marketing season.  The amount priced depends on the various positions recommended by the program.  It is necessary to weight the different recommended transactions in some way to compute a daily index of the amount priced.

The computation of the percentage of the crop priced from cash, forward contract or futures positions is straightforward.  Specifically, the percentage of the crop sold under cash, forward contracts or short futures can be added to compute total percentage priced.  Likewise, the percentage of grain owned under long futures positions is subtracted.[4]  For example, on a given pre-harvest day, assume that since the beginning of the crop year a service has recommended selling futures for 30% of expected production, cash forward contracting another 20% and, later, buying futures for 10% of the expected production.  The value of the index on that day would be 40% (30% + 20% - 10%).

On the other hand, put and call options represent a more complicated situation since they are not straightforward purchases or sales of grain.  To compute the percentage of the crop priced from positions in options markets, a measure of option risk, called “delta,” is employed.  The option delta indicates how much the option price will change per unit change in the price of the underlying asset, in this case, the futures price.  The next section explains how deltas for calls and puts are computed and used in the computation of the daily index of the amount priced.

Option Deltas

Option deltas are computed using Black’s model (Black, 1976), which is a valuation model for futures options.  Black’s model computes the premium for calls and puts on futures as a function of the risk-free interest rate, time to expiration, and the relationship between the option strike price and the price of the underlying futures contract:

(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)

where c is the theoretical value of a call, p is the theoretical value of a put, F0 is the price of the underlying futures contract, X is the option’s exercise price, T is the time to expiration as a proportion of a year, σ  is the annualized volatility of underlying futures contract, r is the annual continuously compounded risk-free interest rate, e is the exponential function, ln is the natural logarithm function and N(di) is the cumulative normal density function.

Based on Black’s valuation model, it is possible to compute how much the option price (c or p) will change when the futures price (F0) changes.  This measure is called option delta (∆) [5] The formulas to compute the options delta are as follows:

(5)
(6)

In this study, a two-step procedure is used to estimate options deltas.  First, equation (1) or (2) is employed to compute the “implied” volatility of the underlying futures prices.  Option premiums and futures prices are obtained from the Chicago Board of Trade for each day that an option position is opened.  The risk-free interest rate employed is the three-month Treasury bill rate, obtained from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.  Implied volatility is computed by solving equations (1) or (2) for the volatility that equates the observed market premium with the model value.  Since it is not possible to invert equations (1) and (2) to express volatility as a function of the rest of the parameters, an iterative search is applied to find the implied volatility values.[6]  Then, the estimated volatilities are used in formulas (5) and (6) to obtain the delta values for the recommended option positions.

The delta for option contracts changes every daily, since the futures price will likely change from one day to the next.  Time-to-expiration will, of course, decrease as time passes and even volatility may change with time.  Therefore, deltas employed in the construction of the marketing profiles are updated on a daily basis.

Long calls have positive delta values, since they represent the right to buy the underlying asset in the future at the pre-agreed price, and therefore, become more valuable as the futures price increases.  The deltas for call options must take values between 0 and 1.  Calls that are deep-in-the-money have deltas close to one, and those which are deep out-of-the money have deltas close to zero.  Near-the-money calls have deltas close to 0.5.  Long puts have negative deltas values, since they represent the right to sell the underlying asset at the strike price, and hence, the position becomes more valuable as the futures price decreases.  Deltas for put options must fall between -1 and 0.  Deep-in-the-money puts have deltas near -1 and deep-out-of-money puts have deltas of 0.  Near-the-money puts have deltas close to -0.5.  The deltas for short calls and puts are just the negative of the delta values for the corresponding long positions.

As mentioned earlier, delta indicates approximately how much the option price will change per unit of change in the price of the underlying asset.  For example, if the delta for a November soybean futures call is 0.8, a $0.10/bushel increase in the November soybean futures price will increase the option value by $0.08/bushel.  Options deltas can also be interpreted as the equivalent position in the underlying asset in terms of price action sensitivity.  For example, if an individual holds a long call on a soybean futures contract for 5,000 bushels, a call delta of 0.5 indicates that the call position is equivalent, in terms of price action sensitivity, to a long position in the futures contract for 2,500 bushels of soybeans.  If the price of November soybean futures increases by $0.10/bushel, both the value of the call contract and the position in long futures increase by $250, indicating that they are equivalent in terms of price risk.  This notion of delta is used to compute the cumulative net amount priced from positions in options markets.  The equivalent long futures position is obtained by multiplying the size of the option position by its delta and the negative of this amount corresponds to the amount priced from that specific option.  The next section presents the details of the computation of the index of the cumulative amount priced, where deltas are employed to convert an option position into the equivalent amount priced by futures positions.

 

Computation of the Cumulative Net Amount Priced

 

Option deltas allow all positions in cash, forward and futures and options markets recommended by a program to be combined into an index of the cumulative percentage of a crop priced for each day in the marketing window.  The index value for an advisory program on day t is based on the transactions recommended by that program since the beginning of the crop year up to day t.  For the pre-harvest period, the index reflects the amount priced as a percentage of the expected yield.  Equation (7) presents the index computation for the pre-harvest period (for t between the first day of the marketing window and the day before the first day of harvest):

 
(7)

where It represents the cumulative percentage of grain priced as of day t for a specific program, FCtpre is the percentage of expected production sold under forward contracts since the beginning of the crop year as of date t, SFtpre is the percentage of expected production sold under open short futures contracts as of day t, LFtpre is the percentage of expected production bought under open long futures contracts as of day t, Oitpre is the percentage of expected production sold or bought under each open option contract i and ∆it is the delta for each option contract i on day t.  Note that the negative sign on the last term in equation (7) reflects the fact that deltas for long puts and short calls (grain sales) are negative and deltas for long calls and short puts (grain purchases) are positive.

It is assumed that farmers learn the actual yield on the first day on harvest.  At this time, the total production is known and so, the percentage of grain priced before harvest is adjusted.  For example, suppose that the expected yield for a certain crop year is 100 bushel/acre and the pre-harvest percentage priced based on this yield is 50%.  Suppose that harvest arrives and the actual yield turns out to be 125 bushel/acre.  The amount priced on the first day of harvest becomes 40% (50%*100/125).  Hence, for the period after harvest, the index considers positions opened before harvest as based on actual yield.  Equation (8) shows the computation of the index in the post-harvest period (for t between the first day of harvest and the last day in the marketing window):

(8) 

where the superscript pre, as before, indicates the percentage of a crop priced from positions opened before harvest (based on expected yield), the term (ŷ/y) converts percentages of expected yield to percentages of actual yield and the superscript post in the last five terms indicates that the terms refer to percentage of grain priced from positions initiated post-harvest (based on actual yield).  The term Ct appears only with post superscript, since it represents the cumulative amount of grain sold in the cash market as of day t, and cash sales can only be made when the crop is available to the farmer after harvest.

The treatment of three other types of contracts should be mentioned as special cases.  First, percentages of the crop sold through basis contracts are recorded on the date the cash price is determined (by setting the futures price).  This results in basis contracts being treated the same as forward contracts, except that the percentages are not recorded when the basis contract is first entered, but when the final cash price is established.  Second, percentages of the crop sold through hedge-to-arrive contracts (HTA) are recorded on the date the futures price is set.  Thus, HTA contracts being treated the same as selling futures contracts on the same date.  Third, percentages of the crop sold through delayed pricing contracts are recorded on the date the cash price is established, which typically occurs after delivery.

Cross-Hedges

Cross-hedging is a marketing tool that can be recommended by an advisory program, and occurs when a program includes within the set of recommendations for one commodity a transaction in another commodity market.  For example, on February 27th, 1997 one service recommended cross-hedging soybean production in March 1997 corn futures contracts.  This type of positions is based on the fact that prices for different commodities are correlated, that is, they move together.  Advisory programs made only a few cross-hedge recommendations during the years considered in this study.  In the cases where a cross-hedge is recommended, the percentage priced from such a position in futures or options markets is computed as:

(9)
(10)
(11)

where subscript k indicates that the position is opened in commodity k market for a certain percentage of commodity j and  is the change in commodity k futures price per unit change in commodity j futures price at time t.  The term  is estimated by ordinary least square regression of the natural logarithm of k’s futures price against the natural logarithm of j’s futures price.  The data employed for the regression starts the first day the futures contract is traded and continues until the day before date t.  Because the double-log functional form is used, the estimated slope coefficient  can be interpreted as the estimated percent change in commodity k’s futures price for a one-percent change in commodity j’s futures price.  In the case of cross-hedging with options, a long position in the futures market for the commodity for which the recommendation was implemented is computed by multiplying the size of the option position (Okt) times the  coefficient and the option’s delta (∆kt).

 

Example of Marketing Profile Construction

 

A simple example of the construction of marketing profiles is considered in this section to facilitate understanding of the procedures used to develop actual marketing profiles for advisory services. The example is based on the following hypothetical set of soybean recommendations for the 1999 crop year:

 

Date

Recommendation

5/3/99

Sell November soybean futures for 30% of expected production.

7/15/99

Buy November soybean put options with a strike price of $4.00/bushel for 50% of expected production.

8/4/99 

Close futures position opened on May 3rd by buying November soybean futures.

8/26/99

Close options position opened on July 1st by selling November soybean $4.00/bushel put options.

8/26/99

Sell 50% of expected production using a forward contract.

3/20/00

Sell all the unsold production in the cash market (51.2%).

 

Figure 1 presents the marketing profile for this set of recommendations.  Since the first transaction was made on May 3rd, the net amount priced from the beginning of the crop year to this date equals 0%.  On May 3rd the profile line in Figure 1 makes the first step, and the quantity priced becomes 30%, since short soybean futures have been recommended for 30% of expected production.  The index computation according to equation (7) for May 3rd is:

The index value is the same until July 15st when long puts are recommended for 50% of the expected production.  Note in Figure 1 that on July 15st the profile line has the second step, and on the dates following, the line takes values lower than 80% (30% + 50%).  This happens because the absolute value of the put delta is always lower than one.  For example, on the date that the put position is opened, the November soybean futures price is $4.27/bushel, which is higher than the strike price of $4.00/bushel, and therefore, the option is out-of-the-money.  The option delta on July 15st is -0.27, indicating the position is equivalent to a 13.5% (0.27*50%= 13.5%) short position for expected production.  For July 15st the value of the index is computed as:

For the period of time when the put option position is open, the line becomes irregular, reflecting the fact that option delta changes every day.

The cumulative percentage changes substantially on August 4th, when there is a step down in the marketing profile line.  On this date, the futures position is closed by buying futures, and hence, the amount priced decreased by 30%. From this date to August 26th the line represents the amount priced only from the long put option position on 50% of the expected production.  The value of the index on August 4th is computed as:

On August 26th the put position is closed and 50% of the expected production is sold under forward contracts , so the amount priced becomes 50%:

For the 1999 soybean crop, September 23th is the first day of harvest, and therefore, on this date the percentage priced is adjusted to reflect actual yield.  The expected yield for 1999 is 47.8 bushel/acre and the actual yield is 49 bushel/acre.  Since the actual yield is higher than expected, the proportion priced decreases on the first day of harvest to reflect this adjustment.  Note in Figure 1 that there is a small step down on the first day of harvest, and the value of the index, according to Equation (8), becomes 48.8%:

The last recommendation in this example occurs on March 20, 2000, when remaining production (51.2 %) is sold in the cash market and the amount priced becomes 100%:

 

Further Issues

There are three additional issues associated with interpretation of the marketing profiles that should be noted.  The first is related to the use of option deltas to compute the net amount priced for option positions.  Technically, delta is valid only for “infinitesimal” price changes, which means that delta may be an imprecise measure when large price changes are considered.  For example, if an option position for 50% of the crop with a delta of 0.6 is recommended, it will be equivalent, in terms of price sensitivity, to a long position in the underlying futures contract for 30% (50%*0.6) of the crop.  This equivalence, though, strictly holds only for small futures price changes.  There is no hard and fast rule for what constitutes “small” versus “large” futures price changes. The key point is that the approximation becomes systematically less reliable the larger the price change considered.  Please note that the approximation is not likely to be a significant concern since option delta estimates are updated daily and soybean futures price changes usually are constrained by daily price limits.

The second interpretation issue is associated with basis risk, which is uncertainty associated with the difference between the local cash price and the futures price.  In constructing marketing profiles, the amount priced under futures contracts is treated the same as a forward contracts, even though pricing under futures contracts is subject to basis variability whereas this is not the case for pricing under forward contracts. This does not create a problem in constructing marketing profiles because the profiles are based on quantity priced, not on price levels, and hence, basis risk is not a consideration.  However, when interpreting marketing profiles, it is important to recognize that different forms of pricing may be reflected in the same marketing profile at different points in time.  

The third interpretation issue is associated with spread risk, defined as uncertainty about the price difference between futures contracts with different expiration dates.  Spread risk is a consideration when a hedging strategy involves two transactions: first selling futures with a nearby expiration date and later rolling-over the position to another contract with expiration closer to the delivery date of the grain.  When constructing marketing profiles, the futures positions are treated separately as one-transaction hedges.  This does not create a problem in constructing marketing profiles because the profiles are based on quantity priced, not on price levels, and hence, spread risk is not a consideration.  Once again, when interpreting marketing profiles, it is important to recognize that different forms of pricing may be reflected in the same marketing profile at different points in time. 


Construction of LDP/MLG Profiles

The 1996 “Freedom-to-Farm” Act established a loan deficiency payment program for several agricultural commodities, including corn and soybeans.  Under this program, if market prices are below a Commodity Credit Corporation loan rate, farmers can receive payments from the US government for the difference between the loan rate and the market price.  Since there is considerable flexibility in the way the loan payment can be claimed by the farmer, there is the opportunity for advisory programs to give recommendations for the implementation of this program.  In those years when the market price is lower than the loan rate, the use of the loan program is an important part of marketing strategies, since loan programs recommendations can have a big effect on the net price received.  Furthermore, most of the advisory programs evaluated in the AgMAS Project make recommendations about loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gain (LDP/MLG) when market prices drop below the loan rates.  To provide information about the ways that advisory services recommend claiming the deficiency payments, LDP/MLG profiles are developed for 1998-2000.  Only in these crop years are soybean prices below loan rates during part of the marketing window.  The “LDP/MLG profile” for each advisory service is constructed by plotting the cumulative percentage of the crop on which the LDP/MLG is reclaimed along the marketing window.  The construction of these profiles is simpler than the construction of marketing profiles described in the previous section, but some explanation is needed about the computations.

Specific decision rules are needed regarding pre-harvest forward contracts because it is possible for an advisory program to recommend taking the LDP on those sales before the grain is actually harvested and available for delivery in central Illinois.  To begin, it is assumed that amounts sold for harvest delivery with pre-harvest forward contracts are delivered first during harvest.  Since LDPs must be taken when title to the grain changes hands, LDPs are assigned as these “forward contract” quantities are harvested and delivered.  This requires assumptions regarding the timing and speed of harvest.  Earlier it was noted that a five-week harvest window is used to define harvest.  This window is centered on the day nearest to the mid-point of harvest progress in central Illinois as reported by NASS.  Various assumptions could be implemented regarding harvest progress during this window.  Lacking more precise data, a reasonable assumption is that harvest progress for an individual representative farm is a linear function of time.  Then, it is assumed that, starting on the first day of harvest, grain becomes available for delivery in equal amounts per day along the five-week harvest period. When forward cash sales have been made, the grain that becomes available is assumed to be delivered to cover these contracts and LDP/MLGs are assumed to be claimed at the delivery time.  Other assumptions regarding the claim of LDP/MLGs for grain priced under futures and option contracts can be found in Irwin, Martines-Filho and Good (2002).


Summary of Marketing and LDP/MLG Profiles for Soybeans, 1995 - 2000 Crop Years

The figures in this report present marketing and LDP/MLG profiles from each advisory program followed by the AgMAS Project in soybeans between 1995 and 2000.  In certain cases the profiles are presented for some, but not all six crop years, because either the program was dropped from the sample during this period of time or did not begin to be tracked until after the 1995 crop year.  Table 1 presents a list of the services whose marketing and LDP/MLG profiles are presented in this study (LDP/MLG for only 1998-2000).  The reasons why some programs are not included in all six years are listed in the “comments” column of this table.

Figures 2.1 through 36.6 present the marketing and LDP/MLG profiles for individual programs in alphabetical order.  The first three figures for each program correspond to the 1995 trough 1997 crop years.  For the 1998 through 2000 crop years, both marketing and LDP/MLG profiles are presented.  For the programs that were tracked for more than two years, the average, maximum and minimum amount priced is computed and presented as the last chart after the individual crop year figures.

The scale for the vertical axis of the figures generally runs from a negative 25% to a positive 125%, since, for the majority of the programs, the net amount priced varies between these two levels.  However, a few programs have more extreme values of the percentage priced.  For instance, one program in 1999 had a net amount priced larger than 200%, and another had a net amount priced lower than -75%.  Note that the amount priced is a measure of within-crop year price risk, as the higher the proportion of a crop priced, the lower the sensitivity of the value of the farmer’s position to crop price changes.  When 100% of the crop is priced there is no price sensitivity, which means that changes in price do not affect the value of the farmer’s position.  At the other extreme, when the amount priced is 0%, the value of the farmer’s position will vary in the same proportion as the change in price, that is, if soybean price increases by 5%, the value of the farmer’s position will also increase by 5%.  A proportion of grain sold higher than 100% is called over-hedging, and is actually an overall short position in the soybean market.  In this case, price changes have the opposite effect on the farmer’s position value.  If soybean price increases, the value of the farmer’s position decreases and vice versa.  For some programs it is possible to find a negative amount priced, indicating a net long position greater than total production.  This can be interpreted as the farmer owning even more grain than expected or actual production.  In this case, price sensitivity is even greater than with 0% of grain priced.  For example, if the proportion of grain sold is -50%, when soybean prices decrease by 10%, the value of the farmer’s position decreases 15%.

The marketing profiles also provide other useful information.  The number of steps in the profile lines and the location of these steps along the marketing season provide information about timing, frequency and size of recommended transactions.  It is also possible to determine from the figures how intensely a program uses options markets, since, because deltas change daily, the profile line is irregular when options positions are open.  In the same way, LDP/MLG profiles provide information about the size and timing of LDP/MLG claims.

Figures 37.1 through 37.9 contain the averages, maximums and minimums for marketing and LDP/MLG profiles across all advisory programs tracked in each crop year.  Figure 37.10 contains the marketing profile grand average, maximum and minimum across all services over the 1995–2000 crop years.  Figure 37.11 compares the grand average, to 24- and 20-month market benchmark profiles.  Market benchmarks are those employed by the AgMAS project in the advisory services performance evaluation, and they measure the average price offered by the market to farmers during the marketing window.  Under the 24-month market benchmark, the crop is sold in approximately equal amounts each day along the two-year marketing window beginning on September 1st of the year before harvest and ending on August 31st of the year after harvest.  Under the 20-month benchmark the crop is sold in approximately equal amounts every day during the period that begins on January 1st of the year of harvest and ends on August 31st of the year after harvest.  Figure 37.12 contains the LDP/MLG profile grand average, maximum and minimum across all services over the 1998 – 2000 crop years.  Finally, figure 37.13 compares the LDP/MLG grand average, to the 24 and 20-months market benchmark LDP/MLG profiles.


References

Bertoli, R., C. Zulauf, S. H. Irwin, T. E. Jackson and D. L. Good. “The Marketing Style of Advisory Services for Corn and Soybeans in 1995.” AgMAS Project Research Report 1999-02, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, August 1999. (http://www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/agmas/reports/9902/text.html)

Brown, S.J. and W.N. Goetzmann. “Mutual Fund Styles.” Journal of Financial Economics, 43(1997):373-399.

Brown, S.J. and W.N. Goetzmann. “Hedge Funds With Style.” Working Paper No. 00-29, Yale International Center for Finance, Yale University, February 2001.

Black F. “The Pricing of Commodity Contracts.” Journal of Financial Economics, 3(1976): 167-179.

Irwin, S.H., J. Martines-Filho and D.L. Good. “The Pricing Performance of Market Advisory Services In Corn and Soybeans Over 1995-2000.” AgMAS Project Research Report 2002-01,  Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, April 2002. (http://www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/agmas/reports/0201/text.html)

McNew, K. and W.N. Musser. “Farmer Forward Pricing Behavior: Evidence from Marketing Clubs.” Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, 31(2002):200-210.

Pennings, J.M.E., S.H. Irwin and D.L. Good. “The Use of Management Advisory Services: An Experimental Study of Crop Producers.” Working Paper, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, April 2003.

Patrick, G.F., W.N. Musser and D.T. Eckman. “Forward Marketing Practices and Attitudes of Large-Scale Midwestern Grain Farmers.” Review of Agricultural Economics, 20(1998):38-53.

Sharpe, W.F. “Asset Allocation: Management Style and Performance Measurement.” Journal of Portfolio Management, 19(1992):7-19.

Williams, E. “The Compatibility Quotient: Before You Hire a Pro, Match Your Marketing Style.”  Top Producer, November 2001, pp. 14-17.

 


Endnotes

[a]

Joao Martines-Filho is former Manager of the AgMAS and farmdoc Projects in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Scott H. Irwin and Darrel L. Good are Professors in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Silvina M. Cabrini, Wei Shi and Lewis A. Hagedorn are Graduate Research Assistants for the AgMAS Project in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Brian G. Stark and Ricky L. Webber are former Graduate Research Assistants for the AgMAS Project in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Steven L. Williams is a former Undergraduate Research Assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

[1] This terminology is adapted from the financial industry, where investments such as mutual funds and hedge funds typically are grouped by investment objective or “style.”

[2] In a related study, McNew and Musser (2002) study the pre-harvest pricing behavior of farmer marketing clubs in Maryland over 1994-1998.  They find that farmers tend to forward price significantly less than that predicted by risk minimization hedging models and that the amount hedged varies substantially across marketing years.

[3] Some of the programs that are depicted as “cash only” have some futures-related activity, due to the use of hedge-to-arrive contracts, basis contracts and options.

[4] Short refers to a “sell” position in the market. Long refers to a “buy” position in the market.


[5] Delta formulas are formally derived by taking the partial derivative of the value function (equations 1 and 2) with respect to the futures price (F0).

[6] Implied volatility is estimated using Fincad XL software.

Figure 1: Example of Marketing Profile Construction

Figure 2.1: Ag Alert for Ontario Profile

Figures 3.1 - 3.9: Ag Profit by Hjort Profiles

Figures 4.1 - 4.11: Ag Review Profiles

Figures 5.1 - 5.11: AgLine by Doane (cash only) Profiles

Figures 6.1 - 6.8: AgLine by Doane (hedge) Profiles

Figures 7.1 - 7.11: AgResource Profiles

Figures 8.1 - 8.4: Agri-Edge (cash only) Profiles

Figures 9.1 - 9.4: Agri-Edge (hedge) Profiles

Figures 10.1 - 10.11: Agri-Mark Profiles

Figures 11.1 - 11.11: AgriVisor (aggressive cash) Profiles

Figures 12.1 - 12.11: AgriVisor (aggressive hedge) Profiles

Figures 13.1 - 13.11: AgriVisor (basic cash) Profiles

Figures 14.1 - 14.11: AgriVisor (basic hedge) Profiles

Figures 15.1 - 15.11: Allendale (futures only) Profiles

Figures 16.1 - 16.11: Brock (cash only) Profiles

Figures 17.1 - 17.11: Brock (hedge) Profiles

Figures 18.1 - 18.6: Cash Grain Profiles

Figures 19.1 - 19.2: Co-Mark Profiles

Figures 20.1 - 20.11: Freese-Notis Profiles

Figure 21.1: Grain Field Report Profile

Figures 22.1 - 22.2: Grain Marketing Plus Profiles

Figures 23.1 - 23.3: Harris Weather/Elliott Advisory Profiles

Figure 24.1: North American Ag Profile

Figures 25.1 - 25.11: Pro Farmer (cash only) Profiles

Figures 26.1 - 26.11: Pro Farmer (hedge) Profiles

Figures 27.1 - 27.10: Progressive Ag Profiles

Figure 28.1: Prosperous Farmer Profile

Figures 29.1 - 29.6: Risk Management Group (cash only) Profiles

Figures 30.1 - 30.6: Risk Management Group (futures & options) Profiles

Figures 31.1 - 31.6: Risk Management Group (options only) Profiles

Figures 32.1 - 32.11: Stewart-Peterson Advisory Reports Profiles

Figures 33.1 - 33.11: Stewart-Peterson Strictly Cash Profiles

Figures 34.1 - 34.11: Top Farmer Intelligence Profiles

Figures 35.1 - 35.9: Utterback Marketing Services Profiles

Figures 36.1 - 36.6: Zwicker Cycle Letter Profiles

Figures 37.1 - 37.13: Averages Across Programs

Table 1

Figure 1

Figure 2.1 - 6.8

 Figure 7.1 - 10.11

Figure 11.1 - 15.11

Figure 16.1 - 22.2

Figure 23.1 - 27.10

Figure 28.1 - 33.11

Figure 34.1 - 36.6

Figure 37.1 - 37.13

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