Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Port-fall-io

I have just lost my shirt. And my shoes, my future kids' education funds, possibly my future kids themselves if I can somehow sell them or their likenesses. Needless to say, I own Goldman, Citibank, and AIG stock. I have been attempting the un-attemptable: buying on the cheap. I think that's what they call catching falling knives. 

The only thing I have of worth is a gold necklace. Given the move in gold prices, I may melt it and sell it. Until then, I'm wearing it as a badge of intrinsic value. Even dollar bills are looking attractive as fuel for the winter.

I took a walk in Manhattan this morning after having breakfast with a close friend and ex-trader colleague. In his day, he was what Michael Lewis referred to in Liar's Poker as a "big swinging dick". He coolly made prices for and traded the derivative value of billions of dollars. More often than not, he came out winning. Earlier this year, he smelled a rat in the market and cashed out. He seems to be one of the few that got the getting-out timing just right.

But back to my morning stroll. As you may imagine, I passed a lot of bars as I walked through the city. Oddly, given the early hour, they were open and they were absolutely not empty. Stressed-out looking men wearing loosened ties, shirts open at the collar, and that ubiquitous khaki pant typed on laptops while talking on cell phones, or stared numbly at TV screens which were almost exclusively featuring CNBC breaking news headlines. It wasn't a stretch to guess that these men were bankers, or that they had been bankers as of yesterday or even just earlier this morning.

I recognized the dazed look. When I first quit my banking job in 2006, I walked home from work on a beautiful day: warm, sunny, a cold April breeze blowing. I bought myself flowers, thinking this was something I should do. "Surround yourself with beauty!" I told myself. "Drink in this moment; smell its entirety!" I took my flowers home, walking very slowly past a lot of people walking very quickly. After I put them in a vase, I cried for a really long time. "What am I supposed to do now?" I asked myself. And then, "What about tomorrow, too?" But no one answered me. I sat alone in my apartment wondering what to do and where to be.  

Oh, I know what you're thinking: "Poor you!" And in some ways, I admit I'm thinking it, too. Bankers have had a pretty bubbly run of it for the past several decades. One in particular, a cantankerous Patrick Bateman-type character (familiar to those who've suffered through reading American Psycho) summed it all up as follows: "There is no meaning in life but money. It's the joke that only bankers understand."

I thought about that colleague as I got on the subway. Standing in front of me, with tired eyes and struggling with deep tearful swallows, was another wandering banker. He paced throughout the subway car, occasionally taking out his Blackberry. Without ever looking at it, he would shake his head and put it back in his pocket. He looked as if his job loss had been fresh. And that maybe he, too, shared in Patrick Bateman's life philosophy. He won't be the only one. 


Somnambulist said...

It's been a quite stunning turn of events the last ten days or so... even at the beginning of this month if you had said Fannie, Freddie, Lehmans, Merrils, AIG, HBOS would all die or be swallowed within 3 weeks, with MS and Goldmans looking shaky too, I would assume that you had been sniffing those flowers a touch too hard!

I don't think this is nearly over either.. we are seeing a structural shift. Your fried who cashed out earlier this year may have made the best trade of his career...

Anyway, my advice is a) hang onto the necklace, it's great, and b) stop trying to pick bottoms... ;-)

Patricia Sexton said...

I'd be very interested to hear how you're doing with all this.

As for know what they say about people who pick bottoms. Smelly fingers. Guilty as charged, unfortunately.

Somnambulist said...


Numbers-wise it's all been going pretty well to be honest. The only problem is that the correlation between performance of the business and the ability to make it to the next pay day (and I mean salary here, not bonus) appears to be breaking down. All out of my hands, no not worth worrying about...

CHF mortgage is locked in for 5 years at 3.81. I'll be in the Alps if you need me :-)

At least