'Chocolate finger' set to make a fortune as price of cocoa soars

Anthony Ward, the trader dubbed "chocolate finger" who has cornered the cocoa market, looks set to make a fortune as the price of the commodity continues to soar.

Cocoa, traded on the Liffe futures exchange in London, has hit 15-year highs in recent days as the key news on the west African crop indicates that it will not be a bumper harvest.

Also, chocolate manufacturers, who stayed out of the market as they saw prices almost double over the last year, are now desperately short of the raw material and have been forced to buy the cocoa at these inflated prices.

Mr Ward, chief executive of Armajaro, which in July took delivery of around 5 per cent of world annual production, said the continued strength of cocoa prices proved that he was not simply a speculator. "We're happy. It's been demonstrated very well it was all market fundamentals. But I've been quite surprised myself at the strength of the market," he said.

There is already evidence that this is feeding through to the end product, with the price of chocolate bars rising in continental Europe.

Last month, Nestlé announced that the price of its chocolate bars in its home country of Switzerland would have to rise 4.5 per cent. Austria and Russia have also seen price increases. In Germany, GFK, the economic research company, last week said it expected wholesale and retail prices of chocolate to rise significantly.

Matt Parry, of the Economist Intelligence Unit, said demand from processors for cocoa, ahead of Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter, should be enough to keep prices high. "It looks like the manufacturers have been caught out and they probably can't wait any longer [to buy]. Anthony Ward's bet has paid off," he said.

Although the EIU's latest report said prices will come down in the medium term, the bubble will not burst until next year. Mr Ward took a £150m gamble to take physical delivery of 148,000 tonnes of cocoa from contracts traded on Liffe. It is thought that he acquired the cocoa at an average price of about £1,000 a tonne.

On Liffe prices recently climbed to more than £1,400 a tonne while New York cocoa futures saw prices at more than $2,000 a tonne. Mr Ward took his position after the two last crops in the Ivory Coast, where 40 per cent of the world's cocoa is grown, proved to be weak and both years saw global deficits in supply. Early news of this season's crop from the Ivory Coast suggests it has been damaged by wet weather, as high humidity has caused the cocoa pods to rot. It all points to an unprecedented third year in a row of global under-supply.

Mr Ward will have hedged more than half his cocoa position in the futures market, so it is difficult to calculate what sort of profit he is sitting on. He said it should be measured in the millions, but acknowledged that when he offloaded most of his cocoa, the profit may be in the tens of millions.

"We've been selling in the market," he said. "But we still have a reasonable amount of stock. Mid to late November is generally the best time to sell."

For those who missed out on the cocoa rally, Mr Ward said coffee may be next, although he had no intention of entering this market. "Coffee has rallied 20 per cent in the last eight days. We could see it double," he said.