Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani. God: why have ye forsaken me?
All these years broking “emerging” markets and I still can’t take the inverted commas off “emerging”.
What did I ever do to deserve an eternity operating not just this most unloved of asset classes, but actually operating in the most leprous and syphilitic regions of it? Rather than poster-children for the wealth-accumulating opportunities in developing economies, Russia, South Africa and Turkey have been object lessons in how not to nation-build, and to screw investors in the process. Have I just unwittingly answered my own question?
I’ve been trying to replicate Jim O’Neill and found an entire career on a single acronym. In his case it was BRIC. I think my coinage – RASTA — for the universe in which I specialise is far catchier but despite continual promotion on my behalf has struggled to find acceptance and currency. As far as I know, which is not far at all, I’m the only person who uses it and the other term I minted, ‘Rastitute’, to designate a stock-mongerer in those parts, is also rarely heard in polite company.
I spend countless hours at my desk, talking with clients on occasion, but mostly talking to myself, debating which country is the most dysfunctional and which leader the most abhorrent.
I wonder how I am meant to put a positive investment spin on these financial deadbeats and tip a trading trifecta when news headlines on each are dominated by war (sometimes with each other), corruption, anti-democratic practices and ludic policies that make you yearn for the relative sanity and stability of developed markets.
And then I get to thinking about Donald Drumpf and figure my asset class has no monopoly on derangement.
Send him down
There was at least an uptick last week with the humiliating quietus made by South African president Jacob Zuma. For months, no matter how many times new president Cyril Ramaphosa pulled the chain, this stool of unflushable buoyancy had refused to disappear down the U-bend, but finally, when confronted with a chorus of “Send him down, that Zulu warrior, send him down that Zulu chief, chief, chief, ah Zuma, Zuma Zuma”, and the possibility of being lynched in the street he finally stood up and then stood down.
Statesmanlike, gracious, magnaminous, articulate, dignified, altruistic... Zuma's valedictory speech was none of these things. The Gettysburg address it was not.
In its discursive, querulous, rambling self-righteousness it was reminiscent of Mugabe's adieu, but to his credit, Jacob did remain conscious throughout.
When he lapsed into Zulu towards the end of his farewell it was only marginally less comprehensible than what had passed before, but still more coherent than the average Trump rant at one of his rallies. His undignified exit was not helped by a costive delivery and ambiguous insignia on the wall behind his head which made it appear as though he had sprouted cuckold's horns.
I was never able to take JZ seriously after I saw his wedding photos, when he draped himself in animal skins which could not cover his monumental belly, and then donned a pair of white trainers, which might have helped him dance but did little to infuse him with the spirit of the brave warrior.
Jacob did not leave without a few gags, though. "I have only asked my party to articulate my transgressions" had them rolling in the aisles and he actually kept a straight face for the deadpan delivery of "I have not been the epitome of perfection". He was dead right about that.
He was so keen to impress on the audience his selflessness that he mentioned the word "perks" a half-dozen times, he threw in the word "stakeholders", without which no stultiloquy is complete, and in an appeal for national unity paid tribute to those "who celebrate joyfully as we lynch one another".
His parting words to journalists, "we will meet somewhere" were poignant, not least because one suspects their next encounter will be in a coutroom. "Ngiyabonga." No, au contraire, Jacob, thank you, sir.
Nelson Mandela’s memoir was entitled “The Long Walk to Freedom”. JZ’s could be “A Long Walk Somewhere” but we don’t know where.
I have many suggestions for the title of my memoir but “Zuma: My Part In His Downfall” was not one of them. I fancy myself as a keyboard warrior, sitting here at my desk, speaking truth to power, but then I remember my readership is in the low single digits and though I may picture myself as a thorn in the side of the dictatorial, it is totally implausible that JZ, Weirdogan or Vlad The I’m Paler have any notion of my existence.
Unless you have the stature of a Jim O’Neill and get yourself on the telly regularly, there is no real platform in financial markets for undermining a regime, so my token gestures are designed to do nothing more than disseminate bearish propaganda, weaken sentiment, deter prospective investors and highlight the pitfalls of emerging markets.
Head of sales prevention
It is not for nothing they appointed me head of sales prevention in previous jobs. I deliberately seek to dissuade my clients from committing capital to my markets and rewarding poor behaviour. I habitually use, with no hint of irony, the term “moral sell” as a stock recommendation.
Almost every time I write a commentary on my sector, I find myself concluding “satire is dead”, but even if it’s not it certainly isn’t functioning as it should. Satire is a mirror in which we see everyone’s face but our own. Maybe that’s why.
In fact, the insignificance of this self-styled, outspoken critic of totalitarianism is confirmed every time I fly to the respective countries and am merrily waved through by immigration officials without being interviewed, interrogated or imprisoned, or handcuffed, blindfolded and paraded on national television as an enemy of the state and forced to confess to trying to infiltrate and spread revolution.
For example, the last time I landed in Istanbul I was confident of being arrested for Gulenist sympathies at the airport but the border control just processed my document and bade me “Welcome back, brother” in Turkish. It was less Midnight Express and more Passenger Express.
“Erdogan: My Part in His Downfall” will detail how I landed as he introduced his dual legislation to criminalise adultery and reintroduce the death penalty, and how I encouraged him to combine them in one law.
'Putin: My Part In His Downfall'?
Next week I am flying to Russia, which is the world headquarters of the repression of free speech.
I rather hoped my visa application would be rejected on grounds of seditious intent and I could decry their anti-libertarian instincts, but in fact my stamped passport was returned to me by courier within 24 hours of submission.
I wanted the full-on Bill Browder treatment. (Auto-correct worryingly tried to make that ‘Bill Browser’.) It’s possible they want me in Russia so they can detain me more easily.
“Ah, Mr Pained Trader. We have been expecting you.” I am definitely off to Russia with no honourable intentions but they are not of the Christopher Steele dodgy dossier variety.
On the contrary, I harbour less-than-secret fantasies of being the enthusiastic victim of a honeytrap. The lure will have the night of her life and if they think they can blackmail me by broadcasting incriminating footage of my performance of the horizontal riverdance, they have picked the wrong dissident.
Beam it out and be damned. It’s about time Russians had something decent on the box to watch.