David Aaron Gray

"Don't believe everything 
you hear on the radio"
- Charles Foster Kane

David Aaron Gray (Blog)

Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice Futures - Second Acts in Life and the Art of the Comeback, cont'd

Posted by davidaarongray on January 27, 2013 at 12:45 AM

2) Louis Winthorpe III (Character, film Trading Places, 1983)




Louis Winthorpe III and Billy Ray Valentine came from completely different worlds.

Winthorpe, had the perfect white shoe upbringing. Born in New England, and a graduate of Harvard, Winthorpe would go on to become the youngest managing director at Philadelphia’s Investment Banking powerhouse, Duke & Duke (founded by brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke. At the height of his early success, Winthorpe appears to be the heir apparent to the company. His prominent future is only further secured by his engagement to the Dukes' grand-niece Penelope.

He is even fortunate enough to be one of the rare individuals to own a Rouchefoucauld watch - The thinnest water-resistant watch in the world. Singularly unique, sculptured in design, hand-crafted in Switzerland, and water resistant to three atmospheres. THE sports watch of the '80s. Six thousand, nine hundred and fifty five dollars retail! To boot, it tells time simultaneously in Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome, and Gstaad.

Valentine, an African American street hustler from West Philadelphia makes ends meet by feigning appearance as a disabled Vietnam veteran outside Philadelphia’s financial district.

On one particular afternoon after the financial markets close, Valentine waits outside the offices of Duke & Duke and pretends to be blind and paralyzed from the waist down, rolling around the block begging for money. He then has a run-in with Winthorpe outside his office building after being chased out of Fairmont Park by two policemen, who order him to stop panhandling. Valentine gets arrested at the racist Winthorpe's insistence because of a suspected robbery attempt.

The entire encounter is witnessed by the Duke brothers (who hold opposing views on the nature versus nurture issue), and they decide to make a wager and agree to conduct an experiment switching the lives of a rich man (Winthorpe) and a poor man (Valentine) and observe the results.


The next day, Winthorpe is publicly framed as a thief and drugs are planted on him when he's arrested. He is fired from his job, his bank accounts are frozen and he is denied entry to the Duke owned townhome where he resides. He befriends a prostitute named Ophelia who takes pity on him allowing Winthorpe to stay at her apartment insisting on a reward once he's reestablished in society.

Winthorpe soon finds himself ostracized and abandoned by Penelope and his former friends who believe the trumped up charge against him. Meanwhile, claiming to operate an assistance program for the underprivileged, the Dukes bail Valentine out of jail, install him in Winthorpe's position at the company and give him use of Winthorpe's home. Valentine quickly becomes well versed in the business and acts well mannered.

Here's the Duke brothers giving Valentine (who they refer to as "William") a quick lesson in commodities trading:

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During the firm's annual Christmas party, Winthorpe is caught planting drugs in Valentine's desk as he mistakenly suspects that it was Valentine who framed him. After Winthorpe flees, Valentine hides in a men's room stall to smoke a joint that he took from the drugs that he was tossing into the garbage can. The Dukes enter the washroom and, unaware of his presence, discuss in detail the outcome of their experiment and settle their wager for $1. Valentine overhears this exchange and seeks out Winthorpe.

Meanwhile, later that night, Winthorpe attempts suicide by overdosing on pills.

Winthorpe hits rock bottom: http://www.davidaarongray.com/apps/videos/videos/show/17648728-trading-places-the-watch


Valentine, Ophelia and Winthorpe's former butler Coleman nurse him back to health and inform him of the Dukes' experiment. Up to that point, Winthorpe decides to embark on a crazy plot to “shoot people that pissed him off in the kneecaps with a double-barreled shotgun.” When he shares this with Valentine, it is rejected for obvious reasons.

Winthorpe asks if he has any better ideas, whereby, Valentine responds:

“Yeah. You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.”

Understanding this pain first hand, Winthorpe is easily persuaded to develop a more viable revenge strategy.

Serendipitously, while Winthorpe and Valentine begin brainstorming they learn from a television news broadcast, of a businessman named Clarence Beeks transporting a secret report on orange crop forecasts. Winthorpe and Valentine both recall large payments made to Beeks by Duke & Duke and they realize that the Dukes are planning to obtain this report to corner the market on orange juice. The group agrees to disrupt their plan as revenge.

Learning of Beeks' travel plans, the four get aboard his train to switch the report in Beeks' possession with a forgery. Winthorpe, Valentine, Ophelia and Coleman are all wearing bizarre disguises to try to swipe his briefcase as a New Year's Eve costume party is being thrown on the train. Beeks wises up and uncovers their scheme. In chasing them and hoping to kill them all, he fails, is subdued, and the group dress him in a gorilla costume and lock him in a cage with a real gorilla. The fake crop report is then successfully delivered to the Dukes.

Two days later, with the life savings of both Ophelia and Coleman in their hands, Winthorpe and Valentine travel to New York's Wall Street and to the commodities trading floor of the New York Board of Trade to execute their plan which involves the following:

In possession of the real crop report, Winthorpe and Valentine discover that later that afternoon, the Secretary of Agriculture is scheduled to publically announce that the unusually low temperatures experienced in the South over the recent winter had little to no impact on the output of oranges. Being that oranges are the underlying asset for frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) futures (which are listed only at the New York Board of Trade), it’s clear that upon news of the announcement, the contract price on FCOJ will go down. Knowing this, Winthorpe and Valentine put all of Ophelia and Coleman’s savings into shorting the market for FCOJ.

As they approach the entrance to the exchange in New York, Winthorpe gives Valentine (and himself) some final words of what’s at stake in this fast paced world of high finance they are about to enter into. He looks to Valentine with total sobriety and tells him to:

“Think big, think positive, never show any sign of weakness. Always go for the throat. Buy low, sell high. Fear? That's the other guy's problem. Nothing you have ever experienced will prepare you for the absolute carnage you are about to witness. Super Bowl, World Series - they don't know what pressure is. In this building, it's either kill or be killed. You make no friends in the pits and you take no prisoners. One minute you're up half a million in soybeans and the next, boom, your kids don't go to college and they've repossessed your Bentley. Are you with me?” 

See link to the scene below:


Valentine’s response of: “Yeah, we got to kill the motherf... - we got to kill 'em!” confirms that he is indeed, “with” Winthorpe.

Now, before I continue with the story it is important to explain the mechanics of shorting in the futures market:

Step 1: An anonymous broker agrees to lend you a set number of contracts on FCOJ at whatever the current trading price is in exchange for the obligation to repay the same number of contracts at a pre-determined date in the future.

Whatever the price ends up being in the future will dictate who owes whom money. If the price goes up then the borrower must pay back the contracts to the broker at the higher price (plus interest). But if the price for the contracts goes down, the borrower still has to return the set number of contracts to the broker (plus interest) but at a lower price than what he or she borrowed them at, leaving a surplus cash amount that the borrower keeps.

Step 2: The borrower sells the contracts in the market hoping the price will decline

Step 3: The price for the futures contracts (i.e. contracts on FCOJ) goes down

Step 4: The borrower buys back the same number of contracts originally sold (but at a lower price)

Step 5: The borrower delivers the same number of contracts back to the broker (which, if the trade worked will be worth less than when they sold them into the market)

Now, back to the story...

The fake report the Dukes are relying on states the exact opposite of what is to be announced by the Secretary of Agriculture later that afternoon. Thus, falsely believing the price of FCOJ futures will increase substantially (due to an announcement of a damaging crop season), the Dukes begin heavily buying as many FCOJ futures as possible. As other traders begin to realize the Dukes' high volume of buying must indicate they know something the market does not, the whole trading floor suddenly turns into a buying frenzy for FCOJ contracts and the price begins to climb higher and higher.

For every buyer there must be a seller, and the only seller is Winthorpe and Valentine. As the price continues to rise, they are happy to meet the demand of as many buy orders as they physically can...knowing that what they are selling to the market (and the Dukes) is going to be worth much less after the crop report is released.

ABOVE: Winthorpe and Valentine on the floor of the New York Board of Trade awaiting the announcement of the crop report

Sure enough, the Secretary of Agriculture announces what Winthorpe and Valentine already know but the market (particularly the Dukes) is completely stunned by the news. Since the Dukes put most of the firm’s money into buying up FCOJ contracts earlier that morning (expecting the price would sky rocket) they immediately try to sell everything they just bought before the contracts become worthless.

Winthorpe and Valentine are able to turn an enormous profit while the Dukes, misled by the false report, commit all their holdings to the venture and incur a loss of $394 million of profit margin. The Dukes confront Valentine and Winthorpe on the floor who mockingly explain that they made a wager on whether they could get rich while making the Dukes poor simultaneously. Valentine collects $1 from Winthorpe while Randolph collapses holding his chest from a heart attack. Mortimer protests over the loss of all their money as well as their personal holdings (very likely their property, including their house), as well as their seats on the Exchange, are taken from them.

ABOVE: Winthorpe and Valentine are gleeful as they watch the price of FCOJ futures begin to drop.    

Watch Winthorpe and Valentine's trading scheme in action:


Meanwhile, Beeks and the gorilla are loaded onto a ship headed to Africa.

Winthorpe and Valentine decide to take a vacation to celebrate their victory. The satisfaction of the comeback is captured by the following exchange between the two on the shores of a tropical island:

Winthorpe: Looking good, Billy Ray!

Valentine: Feeling good, Louis!



ABOVE: The Duke brothers response to being duped by Winthorpe and Valentine

Of course, at the end of Trading Places we are exposed to the rather brutal demise experienced by the Duke brothers. If you're human, you had to feel at least slightly sympathetic to their particular FALL from fortune.

Yes, they were greedy Wall Street brokers, and yes, they had no remorse when they ruined Winthorpe’s life overnight. But total personal bankruptcy for both brothers along with Randolph’s sudden cardiac arrest on the floor of the exchange might have been a bit over the top. 

Think about all the people at Duke & Duke who lost their jobs when the firm instantly went belly up due to the success of Winthorpe and Valentine’s revenge plot. As for Billy Ray Valentine, he was nothing before he became part of the Dukes' experiment. Instead of sipping a margarita on a sailboat in the Caribbean surrounded by beautiful women, he’d still be pretending to be blind and paralyzed from his made up days in Vietnam in order to feed himself. Let’s face it, meeting the Dukes was the best thing that ever happened to Billy Ray.

And you can’t argue that the racist, stuck up Winthorpe we meet at the beginning of the film was in dire need of a humbling experience and flirting with the prospect of perpetual poverty and destitution likely made him a better person in the end.

Well, 5 years later, some screenwriter decided to update all of us bleeding hearts on the status of the Dukes. In Coming to America, the benevolent Prince Akeem (who has a striking resemblance to Billy Ray Valentine) passes by two elderly homeless men sleeping in garbage bags on the waterfront in Queens holding what appears to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

I’ll let the link below take it from there (apologies in advance, but for some reason I could only find a German dubbed version of the scene but you don’t need to spreken de deutsch to understand what the future holds for the two down and out elderly men)…take a look:

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Ahhhh… see, everyone gets a second chance!

Categories: Top Comebacks of All Time

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