Trading with a knockout punch
Maria Fernanda Moreno Marcondes likes to get her day started with some kicking and punching – exercising through boxing and muay thai are an essential part of her motivation.
“I get up at 5.30am to be ready for training. Putting on some gloves and starting kicking and punching helps me to take out my frustrations and gives me energy for the day,” says Marcondes, Senior Trader for corn and wheat at COFCO International, based in São Paulo.
“I can be anxious sometimes, so this exercise helps me to settle and I find it really relaxing. When I do this, I am competing with myself. But I also like to compete with others: I’m always wondering how our competitors are doing and that’s a bit like a sport, wanting to do better than the others.”
Love for commodities trading
Marcondes was born and raised in a small town in the state of São Paulo, surrounded by cattle, sugar and soybeans. Most of her family are doctors, but she knew early that her skills would not suit that career.
“When I was in high school, my parents sent me to the U.S. for a year to improve my English and then I saw that there was a whole other world out there. I came back to Brazil and decided to apply for an international relations degree with the aim of being a diplomat and getting to live and work around the world,” she says.
That changed when Marcondes applied for a trainee role at a Brazilian trading house focused on sugar. She was familiar with sugar crops from her childhood in São Paulo state and thought it would be a suitable role while working towards her aim of being a diplomat. But then she fell in love with commodities trading. After working in the business for several years, in Geneva and Brazil, she joined COFCO International in 2019.
“I’m the black sheep of my family because I didn’t become a doctor. But they’re all still proud of me and I love what I do,” Marcondes says.
Talking all day
Marcondes’ job comes with plenty of pressure, so a chance to relax and refocus is important. She is responsible for the corn export programme from Brazil, representing 3 million metric tonnes sourced from farmers to the port and another 3 million metric tonnes bought from third parties for COFCO International’s supply chain. She is also currently responsible for the wheat business unit, representing close to 1 million metric tonnes of wheat, between domestic Brazil distribution, export and import programme.
Before each crop is harvested, Marcondes and team put together a budget based on the warehouses and assets they will need and the take or pay (TOP) contracts they have with third party ports. The main target is to optimize the origination from the interior to the port in a timely manner that fulfils the logistics commitments.
“When the market opens, we have butterflies in our stomachs. If it’s a good day of origination we get to move a lot of corn from the farmers and that is the absolute best. If at the end of the day, I see we bought a good amount, with excellent margins this means that we met our targets and that’s a great feeling,” Marcondes says.
“The biggest challenge is to nail the timing of buying and selling, and ensure we have a smooth execution of our entire export programme and domestic distribution. I have to be speaking to everyone, everywhere, all day long, inside and outside the company. There’s a lot of information and then it’s a bet based on that data.”
Sustainable supply chain
Brazil usually consumes 12 million metric tonnes of wheat but produces 6 million metric tonnes. The rest is imported, mainly from Argentina, where COFCO International is the main originator of wheat. With COFCO International’s terminal in Santos, Brazil, it is thus able to make a direct connection between origin and demand for wheat, selling directly to millers.
Marcondes’ team of six work closely with the origination team to know exactly what is going on with farmers, with exchange rates and on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), what competitors are doing and with the central COFCO International desk in Geneva. The key is reading and finding out what’s happening all around the world.
Ensuring products are grown, sourced and transported in a sustainable manner is increasingly important for corn buyers, and thus COFCO International’s business. Marcondes’ team works closely with COFCO International’s sustainability department to ensure appropriate social and environmental safeguards.
“Our origination team has a list of farmers and areas where we shouldn’t buy, because of environmental or labour concerns, and are constantly keeping this up to date,” she explains.
Energy and action
But that is just one of the things Marcondes truly values about her job and the company.
“The best part of the job is talking to people and closing a deal that is good for the company. The feeling is that, yes, I know where my market is going, I know I’m going to deliver the products my customers need and make money for our company. And it’s great,” she says.
Another important aspect is that Marcondes feels empowered to do more than just what is in her job description. The company will support her in taking on more independent and responsibility, within the boundaries of its policies and procedures. This provides tight control of risk while giving people the freedom to do more than the basic requirements. The international nature of the business – dealing with customers in countries like Japan and Central America, talking to colleagues in Geneva and visiting COFCO International sites all over the world – also appeals to someone whose ambition was once to be a diplomat.
“I feel I can make an impact with what I’m doing and there is the possibility to work anywhere you want. If you want to go somewhere then you can move around. I’ve moved enough now, but I like that the opportunities to travel are there,” Marcondes says.