Queuing with the huddled masses for a budget airline flight last week (mentioning no names — oh, OK then, you jemmied it out of me: EasyJet), I expressed to my family — and everyone within earshot — my devout wish to do something, anything, to subject the owners of that company to a fraction of the discomfort I was experiencing at that moment.
I wondered out loud: how has society made it so difficult and stressful to board a plane and start a holiday? All around, distressed (would-be) travellers sat on suitcases, sweating and swearing, bearing expressions of hopeless resignation evoking the evacuation of Saigon. Going jihadi on the check-in staff was one option, but clearly that involved innocent victims and delaying the flight —perhaps forever — and we had already been waiting too long.
My 15-year-old son, whose emotional development has thus far succeeded only in replacing Charlie Sheen in his pantheon of role models with Tony Montana, indicated a rare business acumen by suggesting I use my vocational expertise to do something horrible to the share price that would cause maximum pain to the majority shareholders, because we know a whining email to the complaints box goes straight into junk.
Not for the first time, I wondered if my son were truly the fruit of my loins (after coming up with such a good idea); also not for the first time, I lamented the irrefutable truth that The Pained Trader is such an uninfluential stock market commentator that I am unable to move the share price of anything unless I fat-finger an order and bankrupt my employers.
In the ideal world where hangovers dissipate easily and my stockbroking desert blooms, I would either just short the stock in massive size myself or call a couple of the largest minority shareholders and have them unceremoniously dump it, thereby causing a huge reduction in the owners’ net worth.
Hit them in the walletHit them where it hurts — or failing that, hit them in the wallet. Imagine how satisfying life as an equity salesman would be if you could call all your biggest customers and say, “My missus just waited in all day for the Sky engineer and the bastard didn’t turn up until 5pm, so please sell aggressively,” and they all liquidated their holdings immediately, forcing the stock down?
Picture how much more responsive to public opinion Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary might be if you sent out a desk note to punters telling them your poor old mum was just charged £50 to check in a suitcase for a weekend in whichever toilet his airline was flying her to and he suddenly discovered his stock was worth 10% less than it was when he had woken up that morning?
Your lunchtime sausage roll from Greggs was as dry as a dead dingo’s dong? Call your analyst and have a “sell” recommendation issued.
That DFS sofa you bought (during the sale, obviously, because it never ends) went up in flames when a spark from your teenage son’s reefer came into contact with the polyester upholstery? Double downgrade to “dump”.
Tesco’s online delivery substituted your republican order for “any cheese biscuits that have no provenance associated with the Price of Wales” with “Duchy Originals Poppyseed and Parmesan Water Wafers”? Annihilate that share price.
It lashes down and you contract norovirus when you are on holiday? You can’t borrow Thomas Cook shares for love nor money because the whole market knows after you call into the desk and notify them the travel company is to blame that they will be punished with a tsunami of “sell at market” orders.
Your car insurers weasel out of your claim when you reverse into a bollard exiting Sainsbury’s car park? Generate relentlessly negative sentiment on both stocks.
Majority shareholders need to know there are quantifiable consequences for treating people with contempt — as opposed to what we have now, which is an environment in which those most impervious to Joe Public’s wellbeing bask in the warm rays of fund manager approbation.
This has to change. Management must be held to account for everyday misery inflicted, not for missing its earnings estimates or KPIs. I know occasionally one hears that a portfolio manager meets a company, doesn’t like what he hears and calls in a liquidate order to his trading desk when he or she leaves the meeting, but this is not what I’m after. I want to be made to feel better after I have been made to suffer and I want share price revenge.
In our business, people have disassociated the financial assets listed on stock exchanges from the everyday entities with whom we transact and which are meant to provide a service.
Rather than basing a trading call on earnings forecasts, poll your mates (predictive text tried to make that “pole your mates”, something I wouldn’t encourage) and find out what happened last time they came into real-life contact with that company. At present, markets seem to reward those shares that fleece and treat the client with the utmost disdain, because they have the wrong mandate and performance metrics. This is what I call shareholder activism.
Back up the truckIt can work both ways. Did you savour this column? It’s an unlikely scenario but bear with me for the sake of argument. Did you enjoy that last awards dinner and had your beaming countenance pictured clutching the gong for “Best Bank For Black Tie Awards Dinners”? Then back up the truck with Euromoney plc. ERM LN is the ticker (I have a seller and can accommodate).
You like what José Mourinho has to say in his after-match press conference? Ramp the pants off Man United shares. Did the kind lady at your bank allow you to go overdrawn again without penalising you unduly? Tell everyone you speak to and have them rally the stock.
In the end, I had to wait for only 10 minutes to check in with EasyJet. When the airline staff made the rounds of the check-in queue and plucked from it those departing on the flight closing most shortly, I answered “yes” when they asked if I was flying to Geneva. I was doing nothing of the sort, but my family and I found ourselves at the front of the queue a moment later.
I told my son we could upgrade the stock to a “hold” recommendation. Triumph turned to disaster and the call went back to “sell” again a minute later when our luggage was found to exceed the permitted weight limit, with predictable consequences.
A salute to CampbellA final note. I could not file this week’s copy without reference to the sad news of Glen Campbell’s death. Rhinestone Cowboy was my anthem and I ruined many a wedding and many a bus tour sing-a-long by belting out that song.
I saw him in concert once — before the Alzheimer’s (his) kicked in — and he was terrible. He was unable to hit the high notes but when he sang that hit of his I felt shivers of nostalgia. I always regarded the song as a metaphor for a sales-trader bursting on to the dealing floor with a big order, and it is to my sempiternal regret that I never had that feeling very often.
I substituted Glen’s lyrics with my own:
Like a rhinestone broker (doo-doo),
Walking out on the floor with a very large unsolicited sell order.
It didn’t scan but it filled my stockbroking dreams.
As the song goes, there has indeed been a load of “compromisin’ on the road to my horizon”. I always wanted to be where the lights were shinin’ rather than fadin’ on me.
Farewell, Glen. At least you had a career.