A trader for a British hedge fund, Armajaro Holdings, has bought up nearly all the cocoa beans in European warehouses, single-handedly pushing the price of the commodity to its highest level since 1997. Who is this mystery trader, and what does he plan to do with all that cocoa?
Who is this guy?
The trader's name is Anthony Ward, but the British press has taken to calling him "Choc Finger." Ward, 50, is a former chairman of the European Cocoa Association, and he has been bullish on cocoa and coffee for years. (Watch an interview with Anthony Ward.)
Just how much cocoa did he buy?
A lot — 240,000 metric tons, to be precise. That's enough to make 5.3 billion quarter-pound chocolate bars, or more than 15 billion standard milk-chocolate Hershey bars, which is roughly 7 percent of the world's annual chocolate production. Ward's cocoa beans would fill five ships the size of the Titanic, according to Marketplace.
Why did he buy them all?
He thinks he can make a lot of money. Before Ward's big purchase, cocoa bean prices had already risen by 150 percent over the past two and a half years, as demand outstripped demand following several weak harvests in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the biggest growing areas. Armajaro sells cocoa to chocolate makers, and now that the hedge fund controls such a large chunk of the world's supply, it stands a good chance of being able to push prices — and its profits — higher, especially if this winter's cocoa harvest is weak.
How much money are we talking about?
Ward made a similar deal in 2002, snapping up 204,000 tons of cocoa when West African harvests were poor and political trouble was threatening to crimp supply further. After the purchase, cocoa prices jumped from $2,140 a ton to $2,447, and Ward made $61 million in just over two months.
Will the deal have any impact on chocoholics?
It could. With nearly all Europe's cocoa in one man's hands, traders say the chance of a supply crunch by summer's end has risen significantly. The earlier run-up in cocoa prices has already forced many chocolate makers to raise prices and tweak their recipes to use less cocoa, and any further cocoa price spike is likely to cause more of the same.