For the past few days (until today) I’ve been lying around passively on my couch, feeling crappy as a phlegmy cold and cough drains me of energy and leaves me mostly immobile, functioning but only at a maintenance level.
In other words, I’m a lot like the USDA and CFTC right now.
Those organizations publish essential bits of information – mountains of data in the case of USDA – that the grains markets rely upon as scripture. Every day the USDA comes down from the mountain with some tablets of informational wisdom, and every day the markets listen to what Moses says – then often ignores it. Whether it’s crop progress reports or grain stocks reports or weekly export sales or the centrally-important World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, USDA’s always chipping some divine words into the stone and presenting them to the people.
That all stopped when the U.S. government shut down when its legislators failed to pass legislation to pay for the continued running of their carnival, and unlike in the circus world, the show doesn’t have to go on. USDA not only stopped issuing reports soon after the October 1 shutdown date, but also locked-down its website, so users can’t even see what past reports contained. CFTC is not issuing its Commitments of Traders reports, which reveal speculators’ aggregate positions.
It’s all been very discombobulating for the markets, with many, many, many, many speculating on what a lengthy lack of government data will mean. Already futures markets have had to modify contracts and indexes because they have previously relied on government-supplied data for vital numbers.
October 11 is going to be an interesting day, because that’s when the October WASDE report is supposed to come out, but won’t. Often that report causes the markets to freak out, as USDA finds more or less corn and soybeans out there than anybody expected. But now there won’t be something generally accepted as freakoutable.
Of course, there’s lots of private data, compiled internally and not shared by commercial players or compiled externally and shared for money and fame by analytical firms, but nothing has that magical imprimatur of the USDA. So some people might freak out about something in some company’s report somewhere, but others won’t because they don’t consider those numbers gospel. (Check out this clip at exactly the five minute mark for an impressive statement on the source of credibility.)
It’s interesting how much like scripture USDA data is. Many folks parse reports carefully and respectfully and wonder at the enigmatic meanings of various quothings within. Others say the gospel writers or translators got it wrong and mixed up stuff accidentally or for some obscure theological reason. But everyone at least gives a nod to the Good Book and uses that as the basis for discussion. That’s the point of scripture: a central collection of divine wisdom upon which to ruminate.
That scripture’s temporarily suspended now. It’s like Moses came down the mountain, looked at the crowd, then stuck the stone tablets in his camel bags and rode off to the oasis to wait until the funding was restored.
So that’s where we’re at now. Lost in the wilderness, suddenly missing those divine pronouncements we were going to ignore, freak out about, or react to in some way.