Sort & Cull

The Ghost of Emily Litella

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

Sometime between the posting of my column "Beware the Third Quarter Swoon?" late Wednesday and the surprising explosion in cash cattle prices around Thursday noon, I was visited by the ghost of Emily Litella. Her specter's old-lady eyewear and squeaky voice left me feeling humble, a bit embarrassed, and sadly amused.

For those in the room too young to remember the ever-confused Miss Litella, she was a much-loved character on Saturday Night Live in the late 1970s. Brilliantly played by Gilda Radner, Emily often appeared in the "Weekend Update" segment as an upset but poorly informed citizen responding to what she considered an objectionable editorial.

Each time she was given equal time to respond by the likes of Chevy Chase or Jane Curtain, the partially deaf Litella would prattle on and on based upon some gross misunderstanding about what the editorial had actually advocated. One time she was very angry about "busting children" when the real topic was "bussing children." Another time she vigorously responded to the network's campaign against "violins on television" only to learn that the actual editorial target had been "violence on television."

The comedy bit always ended in the same way. After being discreetly corrected in mid-harangue by one of the annoyed anchors, Emily Litella would look sheepishly into the camera and give her classic, high-pitched apology: "NEVER MIND."

As we close the book on an amazingly bullish week, a week that saw live cattle prices jump as much as $5-$6 from the pre-holiday market (i.e., from $131-$132 to $136-$137.50), I feel like I owe someone out there a "never mind." How could the author of such a cautionary marketing piece one day be so blind regarding extreme price potential around the very next corner? Surely such a ridiculous disconnect was worthy of the addled-brained Litella herself.

Unfortunately, in my world you don't get paid to write and act in comedy sketches. Oh, there's plenty of comedy. But not much is scripted. More often than they care to admit, market analysts are forced to do improv in the theatre of the absurd. This is especially true for idiots like myself who sign on for the chore of predicting short-term price change (i.e., week-to-week, even day-to-day).

How I envy my professional brothers and sisters with the wisdom to hide behind quarterly and yearly estimates. The wide, protective umbrella of averages really cuts down on the need for excuses and forgiveness.

For the record and beyond my spot embarrassment, I'm sticking with the third-quarter nervousness expressed in Wednesday's column. Indeed, this week's huge price swing should probably remind all marketers that we continue to live in extremely volatile times. The irrational "stuff and psychology" that mysteriously fed the third-quarter price implosions of 2015 and 2016 remains afoot.

Believe me, I hope my fretting is completely unnecessary. And if the cattle market is holding like the Rock of Gibraltar by the time Labor Day comes and goes, you'll find be happily dressed like Emily Litella, carrying a big sack of "never minds."

John Harrington can be reached at



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