By Richard Matthews February 26th
Normally when I publish, writing that word still gives me a huge buzz, a column I like the feedback that I receive. The reactions are normally pretty good and most often are just people disagreeing with the view I have. Now that’s OK, as when I set out to write my aim is to make people think , to question what is going on around them . This week however I received more comments than about anything else I have written. Nearly all friendly, some very amusing and some unprintable. Not unprintable for any other reason than the comment or story contained, how shall we say it, factory floor language. In a world where most programmes have a viewer warning concerning everything from, nudity , flashing lights to outdated attitudes it is refreshing to remember a simpler time when you could call a spade a f***** spade and not offend . This is not to say that we never offended anyone and as we would say they (normally) got what they deserve and it is hard to imagine how we would have survived the pressure without venturing into some eccentric behaviour.
The stories that I was reminded of are a testament to the fondness that Andy is held and before I move on it would be remiss of me not to give a flavour of how we worked and also engage with another Liffe legend. There can be no argument that we broked under pressure in a challenging environment, the ringing in my ears from Tinnitus reminds me every day of this. The pressure would mount gradually till every participant be they brokers, fillers, runners or observers just wanted to get the trade done and move on. We as brokers just wanted orders of round large numbers which were easy to signal in and let’s be honest easy to remember. To encourage this we would threaten clients that if their order wasn’t big enough it would go in the draw. Unwary clients would ignore this advice and subsequently find out what “going in the draw” meant. The phone receiver would be unceremoniously thrown in the draw which would then be slammed shut four or five times. After this the phone was recovered and whistle blown down the microphone. The noise must have been horrendous and imagine it being relayed round a dealing room on a squawk! All because the dealer, more often than not a trainee, had had the temerity to issue a small order. In other words he dared not to pay us enough.
Andy and I worked together at a company called LCF the acronym most accurately translated as Lose Cash Fast for those of us learning to trade, although there were some less complimentary versions which I won’t go into .The company consisted of outcasts from every market in the City. The characters are just too many to cover off in one go but suffice to say a company with an accountant, a lovely, lovely man now sadly passed away, who would fit straight into a 1970s caper such as Minder , was an extraordinary place where the commodity and money markets overlapped . We used to joke that if we had company cars they would be magic buses – practical but outrageous with constant arguments over the fares. Many of us passed through LCF and I still remain friends with quite a few and one or two who read this column. It was in fact one of, if not the first, of many companies started to enable locals to trade. Out of the many Locals that went through its doors there was none more aggressive and hungry than Terry Crawley better known as Terry the Till.
Terry, from the very first time I asked him to execute orders was different. He wanted to win and as you can expect by his moniker win he did. He would stand alone with no backing paper taking the largest banks in the world on in the BTP pit. I later became friends with a day trader who used to trade BTPs for Nomura who was full of admiration for how big Terry’s cojones were. Towards the height of his fame a profile of him was written up in, I think , The Evening Standard describing his abilities and making a guess at his earnings …something along the lines of “ Former carpet fitter from Bermondsey becomes millionaire”. It may have been more accurate to say each month he added another million. Talking to him shortly after the article, actually listening as you didn’t really talk with him, he described how he had got dozens of begging letters before describing how one guy had written asking for his tools from his former trade as a carpet fitter . He was outraged that anyone could expect him to give something away even his old carpet fitting tools. I do however think that this was faux outrage because he was and is a decent guy and I wager the guy got his old tools. I better say that as my step-son caddies for him at Queenwood!
Terry would swear with the best of us and when fined £1000 for using the F word in the pit he would get £5000 , or five bags as he would say, out of his pocket and repeat the F word another four times before throwing the money at the pit observer saying “ That’ll pay for five” . What would he say now as the elections loom in Italy? I suspect something similar and it’s interesting to note that there are some large shorts in the market although when a hedge fund announces he is short it oftentimes means he was short and is now covering. What could go wrong in Italy a country with a dark heart where appearance matters so much but also a country that’s not known for its political stability? And as I write this the outlook in Germany is still uncertain. Uncertainty is what we love and it could be about to increase some more. The European elections last year just about scrapped through a semblance of normality, despite strong showings but “populist” parties and the markets are expecting normality to continue. Will it? I have a sneaking suspicion not but Super Sunday will decide by which time the standoff in the US 10year may also have been resolved and the shape of the yield curve determined
Elsewhere in Europe everything looks good. Well it does if you ignore the upcoming Spanish pension crisis, ongoing issues in Catalonia, Latvian corruption scandals and the reality that Brexit is going to hurt a lot of net takers , oops I mean beneficiaries, and no one really knows how to fill that gap. Dangerous times and one of the more surprising movements is that Bitcoin and other cryptos have held pretty good and there is talk that they are replacing gold as safe havens, personally I think that it is too early to say that but I am surprised how resilient that they have been and from a personal note how much interest there is in them. Oh and I did get paid on my trade so I am more enthusiastic!
Characters from the old markets are increasingly replaced by machines and the emotion and humour disappears. I’m glad to be old, it was my birthday this week so perchance that’s why I’m looking back to a time of meritocracy where a carpet fitter could become a millionaire trader by living on his wits and aggression. A simpler time when your accent, race, religion or sex didn’t matter and was not politicised. I’ve been looking back to a time when brokers would walk into a bar and order 6 pints of beer for one nervous guest. I’m looking back but also looking forward to an exciting new venture and some serious market volatility in the near future.