Last week I finally got around to doing something that was on my seasonal “to-do” list for many years. That was to analyze one of my favorite movies, Trading Places, the 1983 film starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as two mismatched individuals whose lives intersect in the world of commodities trading, specifically an insider trading plot involving frozen concentrated orange juice. That the action occurs during the holiday season and climaxes on a trading floor gave me the perfect excuse to shift away from our usual discussion topics while adding some levity and imparting trading lessons of a different sort.
As I suspected, the piece resonated with many, particularly those traders of *ahem* a certain age, generally with nostalgia. Two came via LinkedIn. The first, from a friend who started as a floor trader and is now himself a highly respected investment strategist with stints at major banks wrote the following:
“I not only traded in the NY pits for 12 years, but have seen the movie at least 20x. Still love it. Thanks for the article, Steve!”
The second came from another former floor trader who is now a product manager in the crypto industry wrote:
“None of us that existed down there can ever talk about it without the stories and laughs flowing. Best job and Christmas movie ever!”
But the most detailed reaction came from a long-time friend who became an attorney, rather than a trader. We attended the Wharton School together, meaning we were both living in Philadelphia when Trading Places was released, but he was a summer intern on the floor of the COMEX in 1982 and ’83. That means that he was working on that floor just prior to and just after the film’s release, and added the following color (with some mild editing for spelling and grammar):
“COMEX was hardly a well-oiled machine the two summers I worked on the floor. Indeed, in relatively short order, my job became the guy that goes all over the city sneaking in food under my jacket. I basically was an Uber Eats before there was such a thing for [the firm I worked for] and friends, except my only profit was my meager summer job pay. Since over the course of two summers, I was able to smuggle thousands of dollars of food onto the exchange, when technically none was allowed, not to mention was without exception allowed into the brokers (traders?) cafeteria to get other food on a near-daily basis, don’t rule out the possibility at least one or two of the apparent implausibilities could have been accomplished. [Before the] 1993 WTC bombing New York, security was lax, and at the exchange chaos was the norm; borrowing someone else’s badge -a scene perhaps left on the cutting room floor – wouldn’t have been that difficult. Plus, some days traders don’t show up and a lot of traders are trade for themselves kind of moseyed in and out of the ring during the course of the training day to take a break. I know one who other traders made fun of because he would drive all the way down from Monroe [a town in New York over an hour north of the city] every day and placed like two trades the whole day on average.
Anyway, I love the detailed analysis – all excellent points as far as I can tell – and thank you for bringing me back to that time in my life.”
That quote points out 2 subtle errors in my original piece. First, I made the common mistake of conflating the NYMEX with the COMEX. At that time the two exchanges shared a building but were technically separate. (Both are now divisions of CME.) Second, since my floor experience came on the NYSE and to a lesser extent the CBOE and AMEX options floors, I failed to fully grasp some of the crucial ways that stock and options trading floors were from commodity trading floors. While neither were bastions of political correctness and all had their unique casts of characters, I didn’t realize that the COMEX was as nutty as my friend points out.
In any event, I’ll be giving up my self-appointed role as film critic and returning to my usual job of discussing trading and investment strategies for the foreseeable future. I hope you didn’t mind my foray.
Disclosure: Interactive Brokers
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