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Jo Bumgarner: Jostling With Men in the Futures Pit

December 19, 1985

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ ″Five at 65 3/8″ Jo Bumgarner shouted hoarsely, wagging her forefinger in the air so it could be seen above the crowd of commodity traders on the floor of the Kansas City Board of Trade.

Her offer was to sell five futures contracts on the Value Line index at 212.65 points, or a total of $531,625. There were no takers.

″Five at 60 3/8″ she yelled. Still no takers.

The noise of pit traders shouting deals at each other rose as the end of trading neared. Moments before the final buzzer sounded, Mrs. Bumgarner shouted, ″Five at fifty-five, fifty-five 3/8″ Another trader signaled he would buy her five contracts.

But after the buzzer, a third trader approached arguing that Mrs. Bumgarner had missed his bid for the futures contracts.

Despite six tiring hours in the trading pit, she confronted the trader. ″Then why didn’t you say you’d take ’em,″ she said, scolding him for not speaking loud enough. Then she turned away.

″You have to be aggressive to begin with,″ said Mrs. Bumgarner, who is the only female trader who regularly joins the six-hour shouting match in the Value Line pit, which is next to the exchange’s older wheat pit.

″They’re not going to give you any slack. It’s a man’s world. They want to see how much pressure you can take, see how upset they can make you,″ she said.

Mrs. Bumgarner executes buy and sell orders for investors trading in Value Line futures. Investors who buy and sell Value Line futures contracts make money by speculating on whether the stocks in the index are moving up or down. When the stock index rises, the value of each contract goes up.

She trades thousands of dollars worth of orders each day, making $2 each time she buys or sells a contract for the brokerage company that employs her.

As a floor clerk in 1974, Mrs. Bumgarner was one of only four women in any capacity on the trading floor. Today, she is the only woman among about 50 brokers who trade Value Line stock index futures five days a week.

Mrs. Bumgarner, 35, stands in one spot on the top step of the pit sunk in the exchange floor. This is her trading turf. She uses the steps to add inches to her 5-foot-2 frame. Some traders still are a head taller than Mrs. Bumgarner, but she appears as tough as her counterparts.

During a flurry of activity one afternoon, Mrs. Bumgarner dodged arms to slip into a crowd of traders. She tugged on a colleague’s shoulder, made a trade and then ducked out before pushing and shoving began.

On another day, she stood quietly, popping chewing gum and shuffling pink and yellow order papers. Then she grimaced as a trader jumped in front of her with both arms flung in the air in an effort to engage in a trading war with someone across the pit.

″There have been times when the guys get mad at each other and they’re about ready to punch each other out. But for the most part there’s not any violence,″ Mrs. Bumgarner said.

However, there is elbowing, toe smashing and unintentional jabbing and sometimes traders intent on making their offer heard spray each other with saliva.

Mrs. Bumgarner began trading in May 1982, about two months after the Kansas City Board of Trade started trading Value Line stock index futures.

″I was a little squeaky - real quiet,″ she said, describing her first trade in the pit. ″I soon learned that being quiet only gets your errors because they miss you.″

After three years in the pit, she contends she has penetrated the old-boys network at the exchange, which has been dominated by men since it was established in 1856.

Mrs. Bumgarner, who is mother of two children, had to earn her acceptance.

In the beginning, she said, some male traders deliberately antagonized her, maybe as a way to force her to toughen up. Others, she said, angered her to tears. Today, razzing to ruffle her composure has been replaced with more affectionate ribbing, she said.

Investors buying Value Line futures telephone their orders to brokers in branch offices across the United States and abroad. The brokers then send their buy and sell orders to the trading floor in Kansas City.

By selling or buying an average of 300 contracts a day, she has the potential of earning about $600 a day, or more than $100,000 a year. However the possibility of making more than $100,000 a year does not take into account the money she might lose by making trading errors.

″My first error cost me $10,000,″ Mrs. Bumgarner said. ″I was supposed to buy the contracts and I sold them.″

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