That Other Wall Street: Commodities Trading


James Allen Smith (2009)

Film Review

This documentary concerns commodities trading, which many investors view as a sophisticated form of gambling. The Chicago Board of Trade, which first began operation in 1848, is one of the world’s oldest futures and options exchanges. It’s original purpose was to help provide income upfront for the farming sector. Investors would buy and trade contracts for future delivery of cattle, hogs, corn. wheat and other commodities – guaranteeing farmers and food processors a fixed price for their product. Together with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Board of Trade eventually began trading in non-food commodities, as well as currencies, options,* and other financial instruments.

The film also focuses on the transition that occurred in the late nineties in the late nineties when computerized trading replaced the traditional Pit and the Open Outcry system.  Filmmakers interview many former traders who have lost their livelihoods owing to the shift to electronic trading.

Prior to computerization, it was one of the few ways blue collar individuals could become fabulously wealthy. It was common for Board of Trade pit traders to have no education beyond high school.

In 2007, the Board of Trade merged with the Mercantile Exchange to form the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group.

*An option is a contract which gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell an underlying asset or at a specified price prior to or on a specified date.

**Open outcry is the name of a method of communication between professionals on a stock exchange or futures exchange typically on a trading floor. It involves shouting and the use of hand signals to transfer information about buy and sell orders