It was 1970 when Rich Feltes graduated from the University of Illinois. He had arrived here to study agricultural economics because the U of I has one of the most accessible campuses on the planet. Earlier this month Feltes retired from R.J. O’Brien. He has had a stellar five decade career analyzing the commodity markets.
If you listen to the conversation attached here, you’ll hear about Feltes’ life gowing up on a farm. He was diagnosed with Polio at 11 months of age and still labored there like his siblings. He made a decision to attend the University of Illinois in agriculture, though the rest of his family went to the University of Wisconsin. Illinois was wheelchair accessible. It appealed to the athlete in him.
Rich Feltes was a four-year member of the wheelchair basketball team and contributed significantly to the 1969 and 1970 national championships. He also won two gold medals, two silver, and one bronze in swimming, track, and basketball at the 1969 Pan Am Wheelchair Games in Buenos Aires and three gold medals and one silver for slalom, track, swimming, and basketball at the 1971 Pan Am Wheelchair Games in Kingston, Jamaica. Additional medals were won in international settings, but perhaps Feltes’ most notable athletic achievement occurred in Queens, New York, where in 1969 he set a new national record for the wheelchair mile at the National Wheelchair Games. This record stood for four years. Feltes says he did that mile in a 45 pound chair. Today’s wheelchair athletes use twelve pound chairs.
Rich Feltes was a crop scout before he became a commodity analyst.
Feltes says his favorite and most useful classes at the University of Illinois were in agronomy, agricultural economics, communications, and statistics, “Looking back those were fundamental building blocks that served me well in my first job as a merchandiser at Continental Grain Company and then subsequently as a crop scout, and then as a full-fledged supply-demand analyst”. Feltes graduated from Illinois in 1970. His career spans fifty years including stints at Refco where he was V.P. of Research, Man Financial/MF Global, and finally with R.J. O’brien. He retired April 3, 2023.
Here are some things Rich Feltes says have changed over his five decades of watching price discovery in the agricultural markets.
- the market participants are more diverse
- the United States importance as an export supplier has waned
- government distortions have lessened (grain reserves, target prices, etc.)
- the push for biofuels has increased demand
- farmers are more trusting of market discovery
- market information is readily available and has lessened the “information edge”
- closing the pits reduced liquidity in deferred contracts
- China as a global player
- greater regulatory oversight and customer protections
There are also a few things in the marketplace today that have not changed according to Feltes. Notably that market speculation has a short term impact on prices but that price discovery always returns to the fundamentals. Feltes believes market reaction to news is more important than the news itself. He says facts are priceless and opinions are worthless.
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