Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Chocfinger; Meet the City Trader Gambling on Cleaning Up When the Next Cocoa Harvest Fails

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Chocfinger; Meet the City Trader Gambling on Cleaning Up When the Next Cocoa Harvest Fails

Article excerpt


THEY call him Chocfinger. He is the City trader who has taken such an audacious punt on the price of the humble cocoa bean that even the biggest players in the chocolate game - huge confectionery makers such as Cadbury Schweppes and NestlE - have been forced to sit up and gulp.

If his hunch proves right, every chocoholic in Britain could end up paying more for their Flakes, Creme Eggs and Mars Bars. There is even the threat of a global cocoa shortage.

Anthony Ward, the 42-year-old head of trading house Armajaro, may have pulled off one of the most extraordinary commodity heists in recent City history. He is used to taking risks. An enthusiastic rally driver in his spare time, he crashed spectacularly in Poland earlier this year. But nothing compares to the gamble he has taken on one of the most notoriously fickle and unpredictable of all the world's commodity markets.

Echoing Bond villain Goldfinger's plan to buy up the world's gold supply, Mr Ward has been steadily amassing a mountain of cocoa beans over the past two years to the point where he now owns 15 per cent of global stocks.

He is confident next month's cocoa bean harvest will be a poor one, driving up the price of stocks and allowing him to call the shots when he sells his beans to the chocolate manufacturers.

Last week saw the climax of Mr Ward's bid to corner the market when he took delivery of around 150,000 tonnes of cocoa beans - three quarters of the total sold last month in the London market. No one knows exactly where the beans are stored but according to market experts it is likely this edible gold is stashed away in guarded warehouses in the great European ports such as Rotterdam and Hamburg.

Mr Ward's daring move has sent shock waves through the cocoa industry. His stranglehold on the market comes after two decades of depressed cocoa prices that have led to the ruin of farmers in the Amazon basin and equatorial West Africa - the main growing areas. Now scratching a meagre living on tiny plantations, the growers have not had enough money to plant new trees and harvests have steadily worsened.

At one stage, the world market price fell as low as [pound]500 a tonne, a fraction of the prices commanded during the peak in the late Seventies. The price now is around [pound]1,300 a tonne - nearly double what it was 18 months ago.

Mr Ward, who is enjoying his summer holiday, needs only to wait until the first results of this year's African cocoa harvest start to filter through from Ghana and the Ivory Coast to find out whether his gamble has paid off. …

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