Ah November …

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Somehow, some way, 700 became the number the month of October revolved around.

The stage was set Sept. 29 when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 777 points after Congress failed to pass the White House’s bank bailout plan earlier that day.

Chastened by the break, the massive, $700 billion deal then cleared Congress Oct. 3.

Less than a week later, however, on Oct. 9, the Dow nose-dived another 700 points. Actually the break was but 679 points, a puddle compared to the ocean of losses — more than 2,250 points — the index lost those first days of the month.

Greenspan

Then, in an almost certain sign of the coming apocalypse, the 700-year-old former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, admitted Oct. 23 he had made a mistake when he trusted financial markets to regulate themselves out of “self interest.” When Wall Street didn’t (well, duh), he said, he fell into a “state of shocked disbelief.”

Greenspan, actually only 242 years old, (OK, 82) isn’t the only resident of that booming state. Farmers and ranchers have been moving there in droves since midsummer when their largely unregulated markets peaked, then popped, then imploded.

In fact, the decrepit Dow ain’t got nothin’ on the busted board. Since their summer highs to — hmm, their same day? — Oct. 24 lows, new crop corn, soybean and wheat futures have, respectively, lost 53, 46 and 43 percent of their value.

By Oct. 28, that was a head-cracking $4.16 per bushel drop for December corn.

On paper, that means about $51 billion in value of 2008’s estimated 12.2 billion bushel crop simply vanished. The same coulda’-been math for beans shows $22.25 billion evaporated between the July 3 contract high of $16.10 for November futures and Oct. 24’s low of $8.63.

Much of mid-October’s corn and soybean decline is attributable to folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who, oops, got some of the key numbers in the Oct. 10 crop report wrong.

Because USDA mistakenly used “discrepancies in a Farm Service Agency database,” an unprecedented, corrected report was issued Oct. 28. The two intervening weeks, however, were costly.

In the futures markets, December corn dropped 53-cents per bushel, or 12 percent, and November soybeans fell 87-cents per bushel, or 9 percent.

After releasing the new, now supposedly accurate numbers Oct. 28, Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer breezily noted the first-ever monthly do-over for a USDA crop estimate wasn’t “a blow to the credibility of the (report.)”

Wrong

Swell, that should make everyone who got cracked for an additional 50- to 80-cents per bushel in the corn and bean market those two weeks feel better, eh? Moreover, the secretary is wrong.

Until USDA rebuilds it credibility, most traders will discount — sell — futures markets prior to report days simply because the numbers cannot be trusted.

The first test will come prior to Nov. 10’s updated crop estimate.

Despite its dismal beginning and ugly middle, October is attempting to enter November on a better note.

What’s going on?

On Oct. 28, the Dow soared 890 points, or 11 percent. (Of course, the only other time it’s climbed that far in one day since World War II was, eerily, just two weeks prior, Oct. 13.) Grain futures were climbing, too. Since hitting contract bottoms Oct. 24, December corn has rallied 50-cents per bushel in but three trading days, soybeans 75 cents and hard red winter wheat nearly 80-cents. What’s going on?

Commodity chart watchers will mumble something about a bear pennant breakout; fundamental traders will claim the November seasonal is beginning to kick in. A more likely explanation is the market simply exhausted itself in October, a month that seemed 700 days long this year.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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