He’s already been dubbed “Chocfinger” by the British tabloids, but the debate continues over whether hedge fund manager Anthony Ward deserves the James Bond-esque moniker following his purchase of US$1-billion worth of cocoa-bean futures last month.
Ward’s purchase of 140,000 tonnes of beans caught people’s attention for a couple of reasons: it represents about seven per cent of global production, and he actually took delivery of the beans (reportedly being stored in refrigerated units across Europe). That has raised concerns that he is trying to influence the price of cocoa, a key ingredient in chocolate. Some analysts say cocoa prices are prone to manipulation because production is concentrated in a handful of developing countries that suffer from political instability, causing investors to be easily spooked by bad news. On the other hand, Ward is reputed to be a cocoa expert, having made similar big purchases over the past 15 years (albeit with mixed success) when he thought prices were set to soar because of an impending bad harvest. If that’s the case, this time around he could be sitting on a small fortune. If not, he will need to figure out a way to unload enough beans for 5.3 billion chocolate bars.