The Secret Club That Runs the World: Inside the Fraternity of Commodities Traders


“Commodity players are a shrewd and indomitable lot. And the contracts they trade are still so loosely regulated that the correct combination of money and skill creates irresistible opportunity. That’s why I’m only half joking when I call them the secret club that runs the world.”

When most people think of the drama of global finance, they think of stocks and bonds, venture capital, high-tech IPOs, and complex ...

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The Secret Club That Runs the World: Inside the Fraternity of Commodity Traders

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“Commodity players are a shrewd and indomitable lot. And the contracts they trade are still so loosely regulated that the correct combination of money and skill creates irresistible opportunity. That’s why I’m only half joking when I call them the secret club that runs the world.”

When most people think of the drama of global finance, they think of stocks and bonds, venture capital, high-tech IPOs, and complex mortgagebacked securities. But commodities? Crude oil and soybeans? Copper and wheat? What could be more boring?

That’s exactly what the elite commodity traders want you to think. They don’t seek the media spotlight. They don’t want to be as famous as Warren Buffett or Bill Gross. Their astonishing wealth was created in near-total obscurity, because they dwelled either in closely held private companies or deep within large banks and corporations, where commodity profits and losses weren’t broken out.

But if the individual participants in the great commodities boom of the 2000s went unnoticed, their impact did not. Over several years the size of the market exploded, and so did prices for raw materials—raising serious questions about whether the big traders were intentionally jacking up the cost of gasoline, food, and other essentials bought by ordinary people around the world. What was really driving all those price spikes?

Now Kate Kelly, the bestselling author of Street Fighters, takes us inside this secretive inner circle that controls so many things we all depend on. She gets closer than any previous reporter to understanding these whip-smart, aggressive, and often egomaniacal men (yes, they are nearly all men). They work hard, play hard, flaunt their wealth, and bet millions every day on a blend of facts, analysis, and pure gut instinct.

Kelly’s narrative focuses on one of the most extraordinary periods in financial history. Though the practice of gaming out price changes in commodities goes back to ancient Mesopotamia, it had never before reached the extremes of the early to mid-2000s. Kelly exposes the role of the hedge funds, banks, brokers, and regulators in this volatile market, through fascinating stories of “secret club” members such as . . .

  • Pierre Andurand, a self-made multimillionaire who generated the winningest annual performance ever for an oil trader in 2008 and hired Elton John to perform at his wedding.
  • Ivan Glasenberg, whose secretive Swiss commodities giant, Glencore, founded by the infamous American fugitive Marc Rich, orchestrated a massive merger with the help of former UK prime minister Tony Blair.
  • Jon Ruggles, a brash know-it-all—recruited by Delta Air Lines to revitalize the airline’s fuel hedging business, he continued to make trades in his personal account, a questionable practice given his position.

Drawing on her exclusive access to the secret club, and following the trail from New York to Houston, London, Dubai, and beyond, Kelly reveals the immense power in the hands of a few, and the so-far contentious efforts by the Obama administration to rein in the cowboys.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
CNBC reporter Kelly (Street Fighters) offers brief portraits of successful traders from the lightly regulated world of commodity trading, where deals for oil, copper, and livestock are engineered for billions in profits. Much of the action described took place during a post-2001 boom that prompted major investment banks to get in on the action, and spurred regulators to try curbing the potential fallout from wild market swings that “created kings in the trading world’s empowered class and drove other people and companies into financial ruin.” Kelly presents mostly admiring portraits of obscure but rich financiers. There’s a false familiarity with these elites, as seen in details of extravagant wedding costs, and efforts to provide balance through sketches of would-be reformers such as Gary Gensler, former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, fail to round out the choppy narrative. Apart from references to $4 per gallon gasoline during speculation-fueled price spikes and rising costs to Coca-Cola after a bottleneck in aluminum supplies, Kelly does not fully demonstrate the practical costs to the rest of the world. The need for access to her subjects forces her, like much of the rest of the financial press, to pull her punches. Agent: Bob Barnett, Williams & Connolly. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
CNBC business reporter Kelly (Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Sterns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street, 2009) takes on the world of commodity traders and the controversies swirling around it.The author profiles a world in which large-scale bets on market volatility and careful calculation of hedged positions are often upset by unexpected developments: geopolitical or other kinds of crisis, human overconfidence, bad luck, etc. Kelly introduces many world-class market movers, including Marc Rich, the longtime fugitive and former owner of trading company Glencore, and Gary Cohn, the president and COO of Goldman Sachs, which was investigated for manipulating supplies of aluminum. The dizzying rise of oil prices in the late 2000s and their equally precipitous slide provides a frame in which Kelly takes up the question of whether commodity trading is speculative and/or beneficial. Traders like London hedge fund operator Pierre Andurand move billions of dollars with their intuitive bets and lead excessively lavish lifestyles. The author provides insight into the various levels of the world of commodities, from raw materials production to futures contracts and the derivatives based on them. Kelly chronicles efforts to regulate these markets—especially during Gary Gensler's tenure at the Commodity Futures Trade Commission—and she also details the depths of continuing opposition. Especially intriguing is the underlying narrative regarding the persistence of the chaotic feedback from the combined effects of disparate individuals, markets and events. "A true knack for wagering on the price vicissitudes of crude, copper, or cotton remain[s] a profitable skill in almost any environment—especially when only a handful of individuals in the world [can] really do it well and on a large scale."A lively contribution to an ongoing debate that features the unforeseen as much as the deliberate.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591845461
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover
  • Publication date: 6/3/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 102,780
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

KATE KELLY, author of the New York Times bestseller Street Fighters, covers Wall Street for CNBC. She spent ten years at the Wall Street Journal, where she won a Livingston Award and two Gerald Loeb awards. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

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