Friday, December 16, 2011

What do MF Global and ranchers in Kansas have to do with one another?

Well, according to this NPR story, many farmers and ranchers "were major clients of MF Global, buying futures contracts to hedge against swings in the value of their crops and livestock." More than a billion dollars of the cash of MF Global's clients was declared missing when the giant trading company went belly up a few weeks ago. Journalist Lynn Neary interviewed rancher Tim Rietzke, who has spent some time trying to reach MF Global by phone to determine the status of his funds that were held in a brokerage account there.

Rietzke is a well-spoken rancher from nonmetropolitan Comanche County, Kansas, population 1,891. In particular, Neary introduced him as from the county seat, Coldwater, population 828. Rietzke explained the consequences of his missing $30,000 that was being held by MF Global:

Well, much like a household budget, if you had $30,000 in the bank and all of a sudden that money disappeared, it would change your personal life. And it changes your business life much the same. Let's say in the ranching business you wanted to buy some replacement females or breeding stock or a pickup, now you're not sure what should I do. I don't want to put myself in a bind and have to borrow more money.
Also striking to me was Rietzke's response to Neary's question about the size of his operation. He answered instead with this description of where he lives:

Of course, we're prejudiced, but we think we have a beautiful ranch. The cattle are handled just like they were a lot of years ago, all by horseback. Really, I guess if you came out here, you would think that you had gone back in time, but in our county, there are only 1,900 people. There is no stoplight. It's an hour to fast food any direction. It's an hour to Wal-Mart in any direction, but we like that.
That strikes me as quite an expression of rural attachment to place.

The next long quote from Rietzke's suggests something akin to the informal order and general absence of law typically associated with rural places, with the final bit suggesting discomfort with the web of fiscal globalization that links his life to Wall Street and European debt.
[A]lot of people out here still do business with a handshake. So in other words, I'm going to buy hay from somebody and he said, okay, I'll see you hay for $100 a ton and you shake hands, they deliver the hay and you write them a check.

And I don't need to give him down money. I don't need to write a contract. And there's still an enormous amount of business done in our area just like that. So this is really a different part of the world.  When I had a hedge account to protect my prices, I didn't want to invest in European sovereign debt.  I didn't want to invest in MF Global.  I had nothing to do with their business.

1 comment:

KB said...

I very much enjoyed Mr. Rietzke’s description of where he lives and agree that he expresses an attachment to place. He seems proud to live where people practice traditional ranching and markers of metropolitanism (big chain stores and stoplights) are far away. I also sometimes feel prideful when I discuss my small hometown. Part of me believes I feel that way because my town has a relatively strong, close-knit community. Another part of me believes the pride comes from a sense of “surviving” a way of life where modern comforts such as department, chain, and clothing stores are not readily available. Being from a rural community is something one should be proud of.