The Pained Trader: shithole country sales in off-locations

The Pained Trader knows the importance of a quality location.

  • By The Pained Trader
  • 18 Jan 2018
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I have Tippexed out “Emerging market equities” on my business cards and scrawled “Shithole country sales” in its stead.

What was there before seemed hyperbole beside my achievements. The new phrase appears a more accurate job description in light of US president Donald Drumpf’s assessment of those markets in which I have sought my fortune but not found it. 

In fact, I discovered an unintentional comedy in substituting the term "emerging markets" everywhere I read or heard it with the Trumpian disparagement.

As in, “Given our bearish stance towards the dollar, we’re going overweight shithole countries” or, “artificially depressed interest rates in the major economies have lured fixed income investors towards the higher yields on offer in shithole country bonds” and so on.

It may not look like much to you, but I have sacrificed half of my life and devoted almost the entirety of my career to emerging markets — that ragged assortment of less developed nations desperately seeking to align themselves with the democratic and contentedly globalised mainstream and craving all the comforts conferred by status elevated to "developed market". 

I’m not so egocentric to consider the umbrage mine only, and the pity of Trump’s insulting language and racial slur to be the implication I’ve wasted my time. No, it’s all about the tired, poor huddled masses yearning to breathe freely, the wretched refuse of the teeming shore, the homeless and the tempest-tost. 

They’ll never rebuild the Statue of Liberty in the image of the standing US president. He will not lift his lamp beside the golden hairpiece and beckon them inside.

Hailing from the mean and beaten streets of a grim, northern metropolis, I know what a shithole looks like and what it means to escape. Luckily, they had not yet thought of building big, beautiful, billion dollar walls to keep out bad hombres like myself. 

Down here in the affluent and salubrious south, I doubt I will ever shake off this sense of emigré status. In the early 1990s, a few years into my career in the City, I’d accumulated a few bonuses, bought a property — my first — in Pimlico. I was pleased as you like to move into this well-to-do, stucco-fronted quarter with an SW1 postcode. 

After getting the keys, I took a stroll around the neighbourhood and proudly sauntered into my new local, the Clarendon Arms.

A couple of posh blokes were braying at the bar and one took a phone call on his (then) vastly oversized mobile phone. He answered loudly, proclaimed his wellbeing, the caller obviously enquired after his whereabouts and he replied, “Yah. I’m in Pimlico, I think. It’s such a shithole.” 

The damage to my self-esteem was incalculable.

If he thought Pimlico was "off-location" then he would have hated Vauxhall, an aversion he would share with Trump who regards it as so 'off' he refuses to visit his own embassy there. 

He hasn't always been so pernickety, though. I spent a lot of time in New York in the late 80s and on a couple of weekends I sloped down to Atlantic City for a day out of town. 

Atlantic City was the centre of Trump's casino operations and I can confirm it was, above all else, a shithole of immodest dimensions. As a location, it was so off, it was putrescent.

In the pursuit of my so-called career in shithole country markets I have trotted the globe a bit and this has involved extended spells in locations that could only be described as off. 

My stint in Moscow, employed by a bucket shop that even other Russian brokers thought was bent, was spent incarcerated in gulag conditions in the suburb of Frunzenskaya. 

The office building had been seized by the bank as collateral for a defaulting loan and it housed an investment bank, even though there were twice as many employees as there were seats available. There was a water feature in reception, which I was told — I think in all earnestness — was used to wash the money. The ambient temperature on the trading floor was akin to a sauna, owing to overcrowding, cheap Russian energy and general cooking of the books. Lavatorial arrangements resembled a makeshift refugee camp. 

There were no pavement cafes or cosy bistros in the nearby vicinity, just a van outside the building with a hatch through which a pair of disembodied hands would dole out the most revolting pirozhki and pelmeni

I hated every second of it. Frunzenskaya was sub-Vauxhall.

The premises of the Malaysian broker with whom Barings was tied up (almost literally), and where I was posted in the immediate aftermath of the Nick Leeson bankruptcy, were located in Petaling Jaya. 

I was not told until I arrived that the location was not even in Kuala Lumpur but an industrial zone nearby. 

Instead of a skyscraper view of the cranes and construction of Asia’s fastest growing capital, I watched an old lady selling more suspiciously aged street snacks and inhaled the neighbourhoods' polluted odours.   

Mind you, my last stop at Chaucer Securities in the City was no better. Its neo-classical façade and reception’s airy atrium belied the filthy, low-ceilinged, vermin infested squalour within.

The building was sinking into the Thames' murky tide, its plumbing was blocked and the only thing that an airconditioning system in the basement circulated efficiently was tropical disease.

Breathing in the toxic fug of the "health club" left one vulnerable to respiratory illness, aggravated by prison showers replete with sewer flies whose repose was disturbed every time the (cold) water was turned on.

For the most part, though, and taking great care to avoid Canary Wharf, which would have represented the death-knell for my time in this business, the seats I have occupied have been set in light and spacious towers of steel and glass in Singapore, Hong Kong, Manhattan and the City. 

Having observed at first-hand the working conditions of my father, who scaffolded on building sites for half a century, the prospect of well-appointed offices in on locations was part of the appeal of finance.

Salvation Bank is about to move to even plusher surroundings in the Square Mile. The job may suck but I like where it sucks. 

I know where I came from. It was off-location. I’m not going back.

  • By The Pained Trader
  • 18 Jan 2018

All International Bonds

Rank Lead Manager Amount $m No of issues Share %
  • Last updated
  • Today
1 Citi 68,771.53 237 8.65%
2 JPMorgan 57,085.92 227 7.18%
3 Bank of America Merrill Lynch 50,865.00 167 6.39%
4 Barclays 47,895.96 139 6.02%
5 Deutsche Bank 42,753.64 160 5.37%

Bookrunners of All Syndicated Loans EMEA

Rank Lead Manager Amount $m No of issues Share %
  • Last updated
  • Today
1 Deutsche Bank 9,359.72 13 13.34%
2 SG Corporate & Investment Banking 7,508.63 11 10.70%
3 Goldman Sachs 5,773.27 11 8.23%
4 Citi 4,606.54 14 6.57%
5 Credit Agricole CIB 3,259.14 12 4.64%

Bookrunners of all EMEA ECM Issuance

Rank Lead Manager Amount $m No of issues Share %
  • Last updated
  • Today
1 Goldman Sachs 2,546.04 12 11.63%
2 JPMorgan 1,646.29 9 7.52%
3 Credit Suisse 1,641.59 6 7.50%
4 Deutsche Bank 1,465.10 11 6.69%
5 Citi 1,285.41 7 5.87%