[LINE ILLEGIBLE] Chicago's oracle from his supplicants.
Whether mixing in the frenzied activity outside the trading pits of the Chicago Board of Trade or in the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] carpeted offices of a national brokerage firm, the shirtsleeved sage positions himself squarely in the center of the action or the discussion. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] , with the assurance gained from 20 years of painfully accurate forecasts about the giant U.S. grain markets . Available, but aloof.
Conrad Leslie, probably the single most influential agricultural forecaster in the country, is a deliberate, methodical analyst whose dark suits, pristene -white-shirts and conservative ties set him off from the more casual dresser which predominates the grain trade,
Leslie's painstaking studies of both the "fundamental" factors - such as wheather, crop supply, consumer demand - and "technical" indicators - trends gleaned from the charting of innumerable data such as prices, carryover grain stocks and trading volume - all of which determine the values of wheat, corn, soybeans and other agricultural commodities, have likely made him a millionaire, industry sources say.
As a partner in a private commodity firm, Leslie is one of about 1,500 CBOT members. He trades for his own account as well as for the firm's private clients, but has built his reputation on the crop reports he issues seven times a year.
The surveys, which he regularly releases a few days before the official U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, send traders and brokers in commodity exchanges in Chicago, Kansas-City and Minneapolis scurying to place orders.
When Leslie speaks on the number of acres U.S. farmers intend to plant in a dozen or more crops or his estimate of upcoming yields, vast amounts of money exchange hands in thousands of transactions on the commodity exchanges.
Leslie's surveys, which are the result of questionnaires mailed to about 3,200 grain elevator operators in the nation's crop-growing counties, cost about $2,000 each to produce. Clients are mailed the report a week before the major USDA reports are scheduled and generally receive them in time to trade against them on Monday mornings.
The partners in his firm do not see the forecasts before they are mailed to subscribers and the firm does not trade for its own account, two major policies which have established Leslie's credibility with the feisty and rumor-conscious commodity industry.
While few question the accuracy of his work - which generally in just a shade more precise than the USDA's survey of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] farmers - the more jaundiced traders have come to view the reports as more fuel for the speculators' fires.
"The old-time floor brokers know it's accurate and don't doubt that, but some think it's an awful job of prostitution," a young Chicago trader said. "Course they're probably just jealous."
Staff analysts at the CBOT Leslie's work the "most creditable" in the arcane specialty.
Leslie himself, in an interview here this week, turned aside questions about his personal trading, market expectations and procedures with the skill of a diplomat. While he is paid handsomely as a consultant for the national brokerage house [WORD ILLEGIBLE] McKinnon Securities Inc., he says his function for them is to give generally sound, if conservative advice to their clients - who are primarily speculators. That advice is not necessarily the course he takes for himself.
The 51-year-old analyst who was brought to town to lead a number of seminars for Thomson McKinnon salespersons and investors, mentioned several times, however, that some of the best and wealthiest traders only go into the market four or five times a year when they're defined a particular price move which virtually guarantees them profits.
As part of his presentation, he detailed 12 "rules" for speculators to keep in mind before pluging into the chancy markets.
At a recent session at the Marriott Twin Bridges convention center, he outlined his "impressions, not predictions" about the outlook for wheat, corn and soybean production and gold prices. Among these were:
The total U.S. 1977-78 wheat crop may total only 1.7 million bushels, if the planting intentions report issued today by USDA indicates, as Leslie expects, a reduction in spring wheat planting to a 400 million bushel yield level.
Since 1978 U.S. wheat consumption Exceeded 1.9 million bushels, Leslie said a smaller harvest could boost prices by encouraging foreign nations, which have credits to buy U.S. grains, to come into the market this spring. Such a small crop also may trigger additional Soviet and Chinese buying this spring and summer, he said.
Farmers may plant 1 million to 2 million fewer acres in corn in 1977-78 which could produce a 6.3 billion bushel crop. Since domestic consumption this year was 6.1 bullion bushels, a bigger crop would increase the carryover stocks and probably mean flat or lower corn prices.
An increase of about 2.5 million acres to be planted in soybeans in 1977-78 should turn out a 1-7 million bushel crop, which would result in an increase in next year's carryover stocks but may not necessarily weaken prices.
Leslie admitted to being a "closet" gold bug, or firm believer that the price of gold will continue to rise as inflation worsens. While suggesting to his audience that they restrict their commodity trading to U.S. agricultural commodities about which ample and accurate statistics and other information is available, he gave a lengthy and earnest plug to the metal as a valuable hedge against the continued decline of the dollar.