"There was nothing like the roar and the excitement and the energy of the commodities trading floor. But that is gone and won’t return.”
PIT TRADING 101 - full trailer from Jonathan Hoenig on Vimeo.
Jonathan Hoenig, hedge fund manager and financial commentator known as “The Capitalist Pig,” recently came face to face with his former self, a young, ambitious trader in training, anxious to join the screaming, wildly gesticulating throngs on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
The unexpected opportunity to relive a bygone era in Chicago’s financial history came in the form of footage shot in 1996 by a documentary crew of the University of Trading, which for more than a decade introduced thousands of students to futures trading in Chicago’s pits. Hoenig was one of those students, and the footage captured him in his element.
The documentary project was never realized, and last year Hoenig was offered the raw footage. Partnering with Jamie Ceaser, an award-winning Chicago producer, Hoenig fashioned a half-hour documentary “Pit Trading 101,” which is available for $2.99 on iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo and the doc’s website,PitTrading101.com.
Hoenig, 37, a regular contributor to Fox and WLS-AM talk radio in his native Chicago, had not thought in years about whatever happened to the documentary footage, but it rekindled fond and frenzied memories. “It’s a great look at this slice of life that no longer exists,” he told Millionaire Corner in a phone interview.
Hoenig was a trader for two years beginning in 1999. Seeing footage of the class, he said, “brought back the excitement. I wanted to be where the action was, and (the Mercantile Exchange) was the center of it all. Everything in the world reverberated through that trading floor. I was intoxicated by it and would have done anything just to be in that environment.”
Films such as “Trading Places” and “Wall Street” vividly portray traders in action and to the layperson, it looks like chaos and an insane way to make a living. But “PitTrading 101” reveals the method behind the madness as instructors, experienced traders themselves, teach the “language” of the pit. “You have to nonverbally communicate,” one instructor says in the film. “That’s the secret; that’s the edge.”
"Outsiders don’t realize that the mess of bodies and hands and sound was actually a very efficient and well-orchestrated society and culture,” Hoenig said.
When the footage was shot, 10,000 traders worked on the floor of the Mercantile Exchange. As of last year, less than a hundred remained. Point-and-click computerized trading eliminated the pits such as those in Chicago. "I don’t miss trading on the floor,” Hoenig said. “The computer systems are a better means of trading, but there was nothing like the roar and the excitement and the energy of the commodities trading floor. But that is gone and won’t return.”
"Pit Trading 101” captures what Hoenig calls a work environment like no other. “It didn’t make a difference how you were dressed or even whether you brushed your teeth in the morning,” he said. “Trading is like nothing else; you work by yourself, for yourself and you alone are responsible for every decision you make throughout the day.”
Hoenig feels wistful about the loss of a community and culture. “It seems archaic, and when I try to describe (trading in the pit) to people today, it reminds me of when I was a kid and trying to figure out what silent films were like. People cannot imagine there was a time your ability to be confident and stand up and put your arms in other traders’ faces and scream at the top of your lungs had a big impact on your success. There were days you would work up such a sweat that your clothes would be soaked through. It’s really hard to imagine in this computer age.
Hoenig, too, was compelled to make “Pit Trading 101” to counteract negative media portrayals of traders. “For too long, (they) have been vilified as gambler types,” he said. “I wanted to demonstrate just how worthy and admirable a profession this was, one that served a great purpose and a great utility.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.