She Knew To Quit While Ahead

April 01, 1994

Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of the Treasury!

Anyone who could run $ 1,000 into $99,537, for a gain of $98,537, on the commodities futures markets between October 1978 and July 1979, ought to be making Uncle Sam's investments. What a way to run down that pesky national deficit! Play it on pork bellies.

Mrs. Clinton, it is now known, took good advice in cattle futures from James Blair, a friend and lawyer who had Tyson Foods Inc. for a client. Bill Clinton, her husband, was the favored candidate for governor at the time, and after his election a month later, made a number of gubernatorial decisions benefiting Tyson Foods, which no doubt he would have made anyway.

The broker Mrs. Clinton used at that stage, Robert L. "Red" Bone of the Springdale, Ark., office of Refco Inc. of Chicago, was disciplined before and after, for such technical infractions as keeping loose records, and was accused of allocating gains and losses to favored and less favored clients, respectively. He certainly did not get the better of Mrs. Clinton.

Three-fourths of traders who plunge into commodities speculation emerge minus their shirts. So Mrs. Clinton really had the smarts. She closed the account in 1979. A year later, she got the bug again and invested $5,000 in commodity trading with another broker, but had lost the touch and got out when her loss was only about $1,000.

Most people who speculate in financial markets have destroyed their records well before the 15 years that have elapsed in this case. They would rather not be reminded how they did. (If you don't think so, ask your favorite congressional staff member for his or hers.) Fancy Mrs. Clinton even being able to produce such records.

What really commends Mrs. Clinton to be put in charge of big bucks is not the first run, but shutting down the second. If this was a scam, she outwitted it. Lots of times, when the playing field is not truly level, the neophyte player wins big at first and gets excited, only to lose bigger. Mrs. Clinton made a roughly 10,000 percent gain in a year's trading, and a loss of only about 20 percent in the second go-round. Yet she had the discipline to call it quits! Will of iron, that investor.

Yes, she is Treasury secretary material, at the very least.

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