The Pained Trader: time present and time past

For F Scott Fitzgerald, the challenge of holding “two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” was the sign of a first-rate intellect. Does that mean if I can’t decide whether to buy or sell a stock, and I never trade anyway, I am a stockbroker of the highest echelon and rare intelligence?

  • By The Pained Trader
  • 08 Nov 2018
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I read the bull argument for a share. Irrefutable. You share your unshakeable conviction with a fund manager and feel the investment case you have made leads inexorably towards a large discretionary buy order. Without hesitation, he raises the bear contention, insuperable and inescapable objections against which only a fool would argue. No transaction takes place. 

From a revenue standpoint, you are where you started and no worse off, but you feel reduced in his estimations. You feel like your personal stock is lower. You resolve never to suggest anything to him in the future, and, what’s more, you have proven beyond doubt you have no mind of your own. Instead, like a cushion, you merely bear the imprint, perhaps the scent, of the last person to sit on you.

Maybe this is why I put a line through another couple of names on the Post-it sticker which functions as a client list this week, leaving me with a customer base now numbering single digits. Among those, there will be several who have no awareness of their presence on the roll call of dishonour, several who resent their presence, and the remainder who look short-dated on the current trajectory.

Shorn of clientele worthy of the name, it is no surprise I am finding it increasingly difficult to occupy the broking day profitably or usefully. The periods during which I desert my trading post, because the risk of missing something is infinitesimally small, are widening and ‘Status idle’ seems to be the default setting on my monitor. I think Salvation Bank must now be regretting moving into new offices and making so many spaces available to breakout and breakdown. The point of comfortable sofas in quiet corners of the building is to provide relief for the hard-pressed employee, who needs five minutes out of their busy day to collect their thoughts or make a private phone call. I move continually from one to another like a grazing ungulate trying to keep a low profile. Afternoons in the City, broking out-of-favour markets in the post-Mifidian, best execution, high-tech era, are interminable.

Time spools out slowly, warps, expands cosmically when there’s bugger all on the pad. The time at which, I push my diary aside, push the chair back and think to myself that it is about time, In the absence of any orders or anything better to do, that I checked the news on the BBC website, comes earlier and earlier every day. Some days by noon I have read the internet. Having no practical engagement with the local markets I cover in emerging Europe, they open and close without me knowing. I’m aware of a lunch break when the Turks nip out for kebab and for sure, the Russkies work late because they’re busy cyber-hacking and meddling in elections and so on, but I couldn’t tell you when exactly. Having not been involved in the pre-market or at the opening auction or during continuous trading, it comes as no surprise the closing auctions in developed Europe are also notable for my inactivity, so I am always poised on the sprinter’s blocks, ready to flee, the minute they uncross. One benefit of not trading is no booking out of bargains afterwards. I leave via a circuitous route, drop my rucksack by the doors in advance and hang a spare jacket on my chair so the haste of my departure is only visible to the trained eye. There’s a few of us who pull the same gig and we swap shifty glances in the elevator but no words are exchanged.

In the neo-totalitarianism of the City, every instance of individual expression, even the most anodyne, somehow finds itself in conflict with the system. The mere act of coming and going can seem like a declaration of independence. Your browsing history is reviewed, every conversation recorded, open microphones stand watch above some trading floors, the overly loud joke that could be misinterpreted, the lingering gaze held unintentionally for longer than it should be on passing cleavage, the careless, laddish comment in the chat window, a reluctance to participate in corporate cheerleading… all this builds up a pattern of dangerous non-compliance, subversion and counter-revolutionary behaviour, which will need to be eliminated. People underestimated the importance of boredom in the totalitarian state but it was useful in the drawing out and the isolation of individuals who were refusing to toe the line. Autonomous instincts become apparent when everybody is doing nothing.

Why is it then, the moment I burst out the revolving doors like a schoolboy on the last day of term, time immediately speeds up? I might have trudged into the reception with the heavy tread of a convict in a gulag, feeling the day ahead was endless, but now I’m liberated and walking through the Square Mile for a night out like a Pre-Raphaelite strolling through medieval Florence, the minutes whistle by like bullets. It’s an eternal truth — or even, if it’s me pointing it out, a platitude — to note tempus  fugit  when you’re having fun. When Chaucer Securities was trying to sack me last year for gross misconduct after I suggested, in writing, that Donald Tramp had buggered a goat, the interview lasted several millennia — or so it felt. Low point. When I walked beside the river that dusky, scented summer night, pulled her  to me, grabbed a generous helping of orbicular haunch in either hand and sensed the breath from her lungs send its perfume into mine, it was over in milliseconds. Highpoint. “O  lente,  lente  currite noctis  equi,” I begged but no, those steeds of the night just galloped even faster

On a more prosaic level, (Gentle Reader, compared to the highpoint, everything is prosaic) the quick pint after work is exactly what you and your mates on the desk intended when someone suggested it randomly at the close. But you look at your watch, erm, well, OK, four pints in that you haven’t drunk so much as inhaled, and you realise you will be back at the desk in 10 hours and you’ve got to get home and back, walk the dog and you haven’t even thought about eating. When you have been working in this industry for a long time, it feels as though the following morning starts the night before. The minute I arrive home I’m usually thinking about getting up again although occasionally, I confess, that’s because I’m getting home at three in the morning.

King Lear had it the wrong way round: if he’d been a contemporary stockbroker rather than a Shakespearean tragic hero (trust me, they aren’t mutually exclusive) then he would have surely agreed that “men must endure their coming hence even as their going thither”. If you stand on Waterloo Bridge and watch the river go by, you will see (sadly not the bodies of your enemies floating past, but that would be nice) that the water coming towards you travels more slowly than that which has gone past.

I must go. I’ve got to be up with the larks in the morning. Probably before them.

  • By The Pained Trader
  • 08 Nov 2018

All International Bonds

Rank Lead Manager Amount $m No of issues Share %
  • Last updated
  • Today
1 JPMorgan 132,387.73 545 8.30%
2 Citi 123,981.47 487 7.78%
3 Bank of America Merrill Lynch 105,093.26 413 6.59%
4 Barclays 99,545.40 383 6.24%
5 HSBC 81,053.20 424 5.08%

Bookrunners of All Syndicated Loans EMEA

Rank Lead Manager Amount $m No of issues Share %
  • Last updated
  • Today
1 Bank of America Merrill Lynch 11,525.35 30 7.25%
2 BNP Paribas 8,422.96 46 5.30%
3 UniCredit 8,389.55 43 5.28%
4 Deutsche Bank 8,298.69 30 5.22%
5 Commerzbank Group 7,837.68 40 4.93%

Bookrunners of all EMEA ECM Issuance

Rank Lead Manager Amount $m No of issues Share %
  • Last updated
  • Today
1 Morgan Stanley 4,425.28 19 11.23%
2 Goldman Sachs 4,006.06 15 10.16%
3 Citi 3,527.84 22 8.95%
4 JPMorgan 2,809.08 19 7.13%
5 UBS 2,241.39 12 5.69%