Seven members of the oil-rich Hunt family of Dallas, Tex., and one of the Hunt subsidiaries were ordered by a U.S. District Court judge yesterday not to take delivery of more than half of their holdings of May soybean futures contracts on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) until a hearing in a government suit against them is held Monday.
The temporary order issued by Judge Joel Falum in Chicago after the close of trading on the nation's commodities exchanges came in response to a request by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The CFTC, while not alleging that the Hunt family has manipulated prices, asked the court to force the Hunts to liquidate their substantial holdings of "old crop" soybean contracts "in an orderly fashion" and to forbid them from holding contracts of more than the 3 million bushel limit imposed on individual speculators.
The commission also asked the court for further relief "deemed necessary and proper," which CFTC chairman William Bagley said includes disgorgement of the $30 million to $100 million in profits the agency estimates that the Hunts made on their trading since January.
Bagley told newsmen yesterday that the agency had contacted the Hunts repeatedly since April 14 advising them that their pattern of trading since Jan. 17 constituted trading "in concern." The surveillance and enforcement staff of the agency advised the Hunts that their aggregate holdings of contracts in the volatile market was limited to 3 million bushesl, not 3 million bushels per individual as they had been trading.
Bagley said all attempts to negotiate a settlement with the Hunts out of court have failed. The agency moved to force the liquidation of the Hunt holdings before the opening bell on the CBOT today, which is first delivery notice day for the May contract on the CBOT.
The sizeable position of the Hunts --which at one point last week was more than 30 per cent of the 65 million bushels of "old crop" beans the Agriculture Department estimates will be available at the end of August -- could permit them to "squeeze" or artificially inflate futures prices to their benefit.
At the close of trading yesterday, the Hunts held 7.425 million bushels of soybeans in the May contract, with a total for all months of 22.11 million bushels "long" and 12.45 million bushels of "short" positions. Under the exchange rules, they are permitted to off-set their short contracts against the long positions for a net of 9.66 million bushels. See HUNT, C5, Col. 3 HUNT. From C1
Only 10 million bushels of soybeans are certified and graded for delivery in Chicago warehouses for the May contract, the CFTC said. If the Hunts were able to force delivery of all the contracts they hold, the shorts -- who are required to deliver or buy their way out of the contract -- could be squeezed.
Nelson Bunker Hunt, his brother William H. Hunt, their five children and Hunt Holdings, Inc., were named in the CFTC documents. Nelson Hunt told reporters yesterday that neither he nor his relatives had violated the speculative limit since they traded individually.
He told Commodity News Services that he intended to fight the CFTC in federal court over the issue. "Apparently the CFTC is trying to repeal the law of supply and demand," he said.
Most, but not all, of the contracts bought by the Hunts since Jan. 17 were "long" positions.
A holder of a "long" position is buying the right to accept delivery of a commodity at a future date but at the price level on the date of the transaction. A holder of a "short" position is agreeing to deliver a specific amount of a commodity at a future date at the price level on the date of the transaction.
Since January the price of soybean futures has skyrocketed, especially those of the "old crop" months. Old crop soybean contracts involve the 1976-77 harvest, while new crop months --the 1977-73 harvest.
Heavy world demand for soybeans combined with sharply lower Agriculture Department estimates of the 1977 carryover stocks have contributed to the bullish move, but some commodity brokers admit that the extremely liquid and volatile market is extremely susceptible to manipulation by large commercial accounts and wealthy speculators.
Rumors of the Hunt activity in soybeans as well as in the silver and sugar markets have stoked buying since last December.
Soybeans and soy product futures prices in Chicago have declined at or near the daily trading limit every day this week. Some brokers said "insiders" among CBOT brokers sold heavily this week in anticipation of action being taken against the Hunts by the exchange or by the CFTC or by both.
The court action is expected to sharply depress price for days to come according to traders.
Some commodity sources said if the Hunts fail to win the right to trade individually up to the 3 million bushel limit as speculators, they may attempt to trade under the rules for hedgers, who have no limits on the amount of their position.
Nelson and his brother William are the principals of Great Western United Sugar Co. of Denver. Great Western pioneered the long-term supply contract method of purchasing sugar last year. One of the agreements it signed, a five-year contract with the Philippines: provides that Great Western has the option of paying for the sugar in commodities instead of cash.
Some theorize that the Hunts will argue that they are cross-hedging sugar in the soybean market because of this contract.