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Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Pit - New York Futures Traders Documentary Review

It seems being a trader in the pit of a commodities exchange is sort of like being a dinosaur in the middle of an extinction event.  Technology is the ice age set to wipe out guys who trade by call out bidding forever.

"The Pit" is a documentary that focuses on a number of hard nosed coffee traders on the New York Board of Trade.  These traders essentially bet huge sums of money on what the value of coffee will be months from now. If they guess the price will go up or down correctly, they stand to make huge sums of money. If they are wrong, the loses could ruin them forever. These are high risk guys living high risk lifestyles. These guys are tough, edgy and a little crazy. They scream and muscle each other into different commodities transactions every day. The days of hollering may be over though. Computers are now making the screaming, or "call out" bidding, obsolete and traders now have to adapt or find new careers.

"The Pit" does a nice job of explaining how futures work. Breaking down how futures are traded is not easy. It is pretty technical stuff that can lose audience members in an instant. To the film's credit, they find a wonderfully colorful trader who breaks down the process in such simple terms it would make a finance teacher proud.

I loved the interviews in this movie. Traders are quite a group of guys. The kind of guys that pat you on the back on minute and stomp your brains out the next (which apparently happens on the trading floor sometimes). I say this quite literally. There are a number of interviews with a trader and his sons that made me wonder if this was an episode of "Growing up Gotti"  Not that they aren't a law abiding family, they seem to be, but check out The Pit and you'll see what I mean.

The film does a nice job showing the lifestyle of a call-out trader. Work only a few hours a day on the floor and walk away rich or a feel like a loser.  Some have massive homes and all the toys. Others live broke with the parents.

The Pit, if anything, is an argument for preparedness. Times change and some of even the toughest guys don't adapt so well. The ICE (Intercontinental Exchange) has taken over the New York Board of Trade and ICE clearly favors computers over face to face, call out bidding.  What happens when the computers come? Can these tough guys succeed when suddenly there is no one to scream at?

If you saw the movie "Floored" (my review of Floored here) about the Chicago Board of Trade you'd agree that "The Pit" is the exact same movie, just a different location (New York).  I liked "The Pit"  more.

Check it out

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