A friend of mine recently underwent major surgery on both legs. It wasn’t quite the ‘double amputation’ to which one of my clients compared a pair trade recommendation of mine, but it was serious nonetheless.
I was curious about his discomfort afterwards, and he tried to convince me — me, of all people — that it is impossible to feel pain in two places simultaneously. I refuted his argument by pointing out how I’m regularly afflicted with grievous aches of the heart and the arse variety, which battle for supremacy on what feels like near-equal terms. I told him he just wasn’t concentrating properly and to commit fully and focus more if he wanted to experience all the suffering life has to offer. I have no time for dilettanti.
Of course, unsympathetic types could argue that polishing turds in The City isn’t real distress, it’s just a posture. After all, it’s indoor work and no heavy lifting — metaphorical waterboarding rather than the thing itself — but this would be to miss the point altogether.
Happiness, or unhappiness, is absolute not relative, and post-modern stockbroking in the time of Mifid cannot be compared with the lot of a Calcutta sewage worker on a zero-hours contract because that’s not your lot and you can only live the life you have.
If proportion were everything and all our responses to the vicissitudes of the job were carefully calibrated to a linear scale, then Shakespeare wouldn’t have dreamt up the character of Hamlet and Salvation Bank would not employ its Pained Trader.
An artistic failure
TS Eliot found Hamlet to be an artistic failure because it lacks an ‘objective correlative’ or ability to react in balance with external stimuli. I think we’d say ‘drama queen’ these days.
If he thought Hamlet was a flop, owing to his asymmetric emotional reflexes, what would he make of the intense psycho-drama/ tragicomedy of the Pained Trader and his violent oscillations between sensations of raw sex and suicide 10 times daily? He’s either headbutting the desk in frustration or obsessively patrolling the trading floor like the Danish Prince on the ramparts of Elsinore.
For example, the implementation of Mifid 2 is a source of immense frustration and irritation across the City and it has shrivelled commissions overnight. It turned the notorious ‘wildman’ who sits beside me from a coke-snorting, three-bottle, carnivore luncheur into a teetotalling vegan and lowered the horizons of all those who ply their trade in investment banking. However, it was well-flagged for years and everyone seems to have made the necessary adjustment in lifestyles and expectations with stoicism, if not good grace.
Everyone except me that is, who has reacted with a characteristic lack of equanimity to The Latest Inflection Point in the Cyclical DownTurn Bolted on to a Structural Decline, which was no natural phenomenon but a man-made catastrophe.
Businessmen will tell you that, when your margin is cut in two, you need to double your turnover. I’ve halved both. When tumbleweed flows during trading sessions bereft of vigour and order flow, I sit here and agitate the soaring, ceilingless tedium created by well-meaning but fundamentally misguided Eurocrats by plotting their gruesome demise.
Looking good in the dark
A new development introduced this week by the Torquemada of Mifid was the suspension of dark pool trading except for large-in-scale orders, of which, as a specialist in odd lots, I am typically in receipt of very few.
I have been told I look good in the dark but that’s not the same thing apparently. As with a lot of important things in finance, I was just getting to grips with them when they were replaced by something else I didn’t understand. My inexpertise operating these murky and disreputable liquidity venues was common knowledge among clients and colleagues alike but now, notionally in the interests of protecting retail investors, trading in them has been largely discontinued in favour of the lit or transparent markets on exchanges. Where there was darkness, Mifid sought to bring light.
I would like to be able to tell you that volume in large-cap stocks has been hugely diluted by the new restrictions but since I haven’t had any Large Unsolicited Discretionary Orders in large-cap stocks then anything I tell you is pure conjecture.
It being the City, traders have already found a workaround by holding periodic auctions, but I’m told they are so periodic they are pretty much constant, so that they are dark pools in all but name.
Irrespective of the fudge, though, the swamp has generally been drained of additional liquidity and some trading models just won’t work under the new rules. Pretending to a client that you have an order the other side of theirs and then dribbling it out in dark pools hoping they won’t notice, is probably a thing of the past. I think I am also a thing of the past even if I can’t locate when exactly that past was.
My career has been on life-support for a decade now and showing no signs of functioning independently. I sometimes get to wondering, if I were the only sales-trader left in a post-nuclear market or if everyone would kindly just feck off and leave me alone, whether I would be able to make a few bob then? There are no guarantees. Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises where we have failed.
I have a presentiment that, one afternoon a few years (months? weeks?) hence, I will be recumbent on a therapist’s couch, trying to locate, retrieve and resolve the trauma of Mifid, which I will have buried deep in my unconscious.
It will take a deep dive and the therapist will be nervous about bringing me back to the surface too soon. There will be regular and gentle decompressions before she brings me back to the real world and, if it’s the same therapist who was treating me last year for a depression, then she may be grateful it’s my career we are trying to resuscitate and not my fissile heart.
I think I put her in therapy. She told me then, she could not make things better, only help me to understand things better. Can she do the same for Mifid?
Remember to look at the stars and not at your feet? That sounds like a guarantee to step on a dogmerd. Carry on broking: it’s no long walk to freedom, nor even a slow boat to nowhere. It’s a bullet-train to oblivion.