Looking back is easier than trading back.

I think I’m goin’ back

To the things I learned so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth

Carole King/Gerry Goffin

I was going to write about being under pressure this week inspired by the waitress in a local coffee shop who was moaning at 7.30 in the morning, in an empty shop, that she was under stress. Hmm, I thought, that’s stress but not as I understand it. I had even worked out in my mind about using the great David Bowie song under pressure to open the article. Luckily I mean the transcript of the first verse not my shower time rendition and then talk about how we reacted to pressure and let the steam valves open. This of course would feature various hostelries from Shorts to The Hole in the Wall bar, thank you Danny Elsey for the nudge, through to the more rock and roll relaxation techniques that were employed.

Tempting, really tempting, and indeed as with lunches there are a cornucopia of stories but the thought of having to change so many names was a bit too challenging for a Sunday morning so the stories of Big Val and little Tony n the City Circle or Maggie in The Cock and Woolpack will have to wait a while. I am still going to look back but to a time and a market where to be as hard as nails wasn’t always quite tough enough. I suspect that all brokers and traders have a league table of speed and aggression that the various markets in the City represent. For example , and this is only a personal view, the broking of Local Authority loans ( where I started) was and probably still is the bottom of the food chain followed by Sterling interbank up through Dollar Depots to Spot FX . I can only talk about the days that the markets were still in their pomp and dealing rooms were filled with noise and voice broking was the only broking we knew. All these markets I worked in and , rightfully or wrongly , viewed the aggression of the money markets one up from say the Stock market , Lloyds or the Gilt market .For me though the hardest , fastest and most unforgiving markets were the futures markets.

It’s hard to sometimes to reconcile, let alone explain, the aggression of a market and the happy memories. You literally stood and shouted your orders for up to eight hours and tried to physically intimidate your counterparty. The first pits used to open at 8.02 we had all of our buy and sell orders ready, our pit trader knew them and was shouting along with the other traders selected orders pre market from 8.00. Danny, (Danny The Rot, so called because at 18 he was as aggressive as a Rottweiler), and Jonny Staf were ready with their cards to record trades and then throw them back to the junior trader behind them who at the same time was using hand signals to communicate orders to the market . This carried on till 4.02 in the afternoon. In the booth 3 of us were on two phones each to our biggest clients whilst a junior also had two phones one to our overseas offices and one to Prebons, the money broker. At the time a voice commentary was quicker than the screens and also could add in colour such as the size of the order and who was buying. I must say it was one of the most awful jobs going as the money brokers would be dealing off the prices and if he gave a wrong quote they would hear “Exocet !!” as I launched a telephone at him . Worse still was that when he really hacked me off and it was raining I would make him go and sit on my motorbike to keep the seat dry.

Some of it sounds awful behaviour and it was and I’m not proud. I still see my old yellow jacket (junior traders and Runners had to wear a yellow jacket), David, at Football matches and he admits although we were brutal it was a great training. David holds no grudges and has had a highly successful career in Bond trading. Well no grudges apart from the motorbike story, oh and the Pheasants and he did mention the £20k loss. He almost deserves a column to himself!

There are two things that really stick out to me only one of which I knew at the time. This is the humour. A times  it was Batsey ( named after Norman Bates of Psycho) running around  the Short Sterling  pit at break neck speed pretending he was on a motorbike or the more childish humour of attaching a nylon transparent fishing line to the back of a fifty pound note and then as an innocent runner bent over to pick it up jerking it away. On really quiet boring days the more craft conscious of us would fashion working spurs from trading cards which would be attached to an innocent traders shoes who would then walk around to yelps of Yee-hah. I can still hear the communal singing  whether it was a rendition of “ Don’t cry for me Argentina” for Jimmy Two names, as he entered the market after an evening of debauchery, or the humming of the twilight zone before the release of  Non-Farm Payrolls. 3000 people humming or singing in and enclosed space was quite magical. Not as moving though as the two minutes silence observed every year for Remembrance Day. It didn’t matter how fast the market it stopped. This still sends a shiver down my spine when I remember it. It didn’t matter whether you came from the East End or the West End or who you worked for at certain times we all came together.

To me though, the most amazing thing to come out of the market is the friendships. Remember this was a market where you stabbed someone in the front if you got the chance. Nothing sneaky if you didn’t agree with someone you did what you had to do. I am ashamed of a lot of my actions down there –my finest moment was certainly not cutting the phone cable of a rival broker just before a figure (sorry Jaffa my old cocker). Actually even the nicknames could be vicious. Jaffa? So called because he couldn’t have children, in other words seedless. But you know what? If I saw him again we would have a good laugh about it. Err well perhaps he was the exception.

I am feeling reflective this weekend , partly as the I’ve been glancing back at what I have said about the markets and Italy for the past few weeks ,but more pertinently because I’ve been in contact with four people who worked for me back in the 1990s. Always a little worrying when you haven’t seen or spoken to someone for 20 years and you recall stories like the one about David I mentioned earlier but this is not a plea for them to just tell me nice stories of the old days its actually the wonderful camaraderie that is felt between all ex floor staff be they the lowest of the low to the very top we all shared an experience which was unique sometimes the worst job but as memory brings a sepia tone for many the greatest days of their lives. I just hope I am remembered for being a decent boss on more days than those when I was a bastard. As I managed to sit opposite one on a train recently and he still got in contact with me despite me obviously having a conversation without recognising him I cant have been that bad!

All my favourite words start with F !

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

Henry Francis Lyte / Will Henry Monk

By Richard Matthews May 20th 2018

I have been thinking a lot about my late father this week. I often think about him when I’m in The City as he spent most of his working life in and around Ludgate Hill but this week it was the approach of the Cup Final that got me remembering. Not because he was a Chelsea supporter, although like me when it comes down to it and a London team is playing he would support them, but because he just loved football and adored the whole day of the Final. From breakfast onward the television would be on and filled with the build up to the kick off and 3.00. From David Coleman presenting live shots of the façade of the hotel whilst telling the viewers what the players were having for breakfast through ”Jeux sans frontiers” Cup Final special to the team coach we both loved it. The real highlight was to spend the day with him and go.

Luckily we went to several finals together and suffered together the indignity of losing 3-1 to Swindon in 1969 (I know it was only the league cup but it still hurt) and the high of beating Liverpool in 1971 a day that we would never forget. He loved the game but also the ,marching band of Marines at half time, when he would stand stock still and although he never said anything he was clearly remembering lost friends but more than anything he loved the singing of the National Anthem and “Abide With Me”. We sung “Abide With Me” at his funeral and it never fails to move me, I confess I had a tear in my eye yesterday when I listened to it being sung and remembered him and indeed my late father in law whom I watched the last Cup Final with. I was surrounded by rowdy family who didn’t know the significance to me but they reminded me that life goes on. My father was a quiet man not adverse to dishing out the occasional clip round the ear, as he would say, but he was a man who worked his way from the depths of Docklands, in the Isle of Dogs, to a successful career and I’m sure he gave up much of his life to educate his family and give us a better start in life than he had.

Every year he would take two weeks holiday and we would fly to Pisa, in Italy, normally arriving in the middle of the night on a cheap flight and of course the hotel would be shut so we would sleep in the garden. This was in the days of exchange control and if my memory serves me well the airport in Pisa was still under US military control when we first went in 1960. We would take a packet of porridge for the hotel owner, Signor Bandinelli. Odd you may think but he had been a prisoner of war in Scotland and developed a taste for it. The holiday consisted of lovely long days on a beach with warm water and treats of an Ice Cream and occasionally a hot slice of Pizza. I can still see the old man with a pith helmet who lugged a huge heated box along the beach or maybe Bomboloni or fresh Coconut as a snack. I developed a deep love for Italy and indeed in my early teens for a beautiful girl that played football on the beach which led me to buy the Dino I wrote about last week and its subsequent theft.

What a sense of achievement my father must have felt from learning to swim in The Thames in the time of the First World War to taking his family to swim in the beautiful warm Ligurian Sea.

That’s four words starting with F then. Father, football, Ferrari and Forte dei Marmi. My favourite word starting with F is of course the word the rhymes with duck. A word I hardly used before working as a broker but quickly learnt that it has extraordinary wide use and is indeed one of only two words that can be used as a noun , adjective and verb. The other of course rhymes with the pre Euro currency of Ireland. Let us be clear here it’s a word that I never heard my father utter although he must have thought it on many occasions at Highbury, particularly when Willie Young was playing, but using its past participle ( F***ed for those not educated !) is how Italian politics now appears to me .

I’ve written several times how the Italian elections may prove a watershed point in both their own future but also Europe’s. A country that has had 65 leaders since the war is not sending out the right signs of stability and sooner or later this had to come to a head and implode. The impending unholy coalition of extreme left and right populist parties which I keep seeing as a horse-shoe is all of a sudden almost, and may indeed be by the time this is published, a reality. Never mind has been the attitude towards this, Italy will muddle through it always does. Emboldened by the failure of Le Pen and other populist leaders the markets have ignored for too long the real chance that this time Italy was going to be different.

The BTP/Bund spread widened as I have predicted but actually why would you buy Bunds any more than BTPs? Be under no illusion the policies which are coming out from the two parties threaten all of Europe. With Merkel weakened in Germany and now the target, rightly in my opinion, of Trump’s disdain due to their unwillingness to make the 2% NATO contribution that they should and Macron fighting battles at home the Euro looks very vulnerable and with noises off from Italy I would be wary of holding any Euro paper, Bonds or Stocks. As Bond yields increase in the US the trade must surely be to buy Dollars and watch yields increase. We have almost a virtuous circle as I have described recently. The Dollar rises in value as there is a flight to quality, money floods in and companies create new jobs which can’t be filled which causes wage inflation and interest rate rises and guess what? The Dollar rises some more as the 10yr yield rises. Easy when you know how, they say ……..

Richard Matthews, who began in career in 1973, is a former trader-broker in the London money, futures and foreign exchange markets. Twitter @dickiematthews5

Red Car,Yellow Car those were the days !

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.

Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,

So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Janis Joplin 1970

By Richard Matthews May 13th 2018

I wrote about my old friend Freddie Martin a few weeks back in relation to business trips and visiting Ireland back in the 70s and was delighted when the old boy got in contact with me this past week. Delighted not only from the prospect of meeting up but also from his question “Did you know I got your old company car when I joined R.P.Martin?” In truth I didn’t and I hereby apologise for the state that it was probably in, dented, stinking of cigarettes and probably a few empty bottles rolling round in it.

Let’s be clear on one point. I love cars, always have and always will. From my first Dinky, Matchbox or Corgi toys through Scalextric to the real thing. Despite always wanting a metallic blue car I seem to have always veered towards red and yellow and preferably Italian. Indeed the car that Freddie was referring to was a bright red Alfa Sud Sprint Veloce. A gorgeous car with a lovely throaty flat four boxer engine. It sounded great went well and as all cars Italian, in the 70s and 80s, was reluctant to start if there was even a spot of rain around. Never mind it got me around in some style and indeed I seem to remember getting it to France whilst endlessly playing Avalon and Layla on the cassette deck. It was of course a company car.

Company cars for much of my career were not only the fastest versions of that model but also the cheapest pay rise that could be given. Tax efficient to the employer, cheap to finance through leasing and status granting to the employee. What was there not to like? On the surface not a lot, certainly from the employees point of view not a lot, not a lot if you were thought highly of anyway. But from the employer a whole host of potential problems. The era that really was interesting was the Red Porsche 911 period when all of a sudden Thatcher’s children started earning big bucks in the City. A red 911 became a status symbol not only for the driver but also for the commentator as it seemed to highlight all that was obnoxious in the City.

Out of all the cars I was responsible for giving to employees, and indeed having myself, I can’t actually remember anyone actually wanting a Red 911. Black with a whale’s tail ( Bunker) certainly, Silver (mine) Blue soft top(mine) but never red. There may have been a Red 924 come to think of it but the bête noir of the media I don’t recall being responsible for. I do though remember the fun and games that the cars ensured we all had. Looking at it from an outsider’s point of view the employer and employee agreed what car was going to be given, the employee accepted a lower salary (yippee) took the car and everybody was happy. If only it was that simple. In broking, for that’s all I can talk about really, nothing is ever simple and everyone is always looking at the angles and of course we were all young. Probably too young to appreciate what we had and consequently every problem imaginable came about. From the predictable Monday morning calls when a nervous voice would say “Can you just talk to such and such Police station” to the inevitable “I’ve had a little accident“.

If you are given something, however much you deserve it, you will never respect it as much as if you bought it. Fact. I’m as guilty as the next man for the way I misused company cars and I hope that you realise that it was just down to youthful exuberance. It was of course the same youthful exuberance when Papa T, Stick and Scrapper Harris (I bet you can’t guess why he had that nickname) carried a Mini up to the first floor of the Runneymede hotel during a company outing? Nothing to do with the industrial quantities of Beer that had been consumed. Company cars were used for every reason from impressing girlfriends who had the use of pool cars to creative business opportunities. In one instance the girlfriend of a senior colleague of mine managed to slam the car into reverse on the motorway, thankfully she didn’t think a pool car was destined for the nearest swimming pool. The most creative use was, without a doubt, spotted one morning outside the original Futures market at The Royal Exchange.

We had a dynamic young trader called Danny the Rot not because he was rotten; oh no he was thus called because he was as ferocious as a Rottweiler. Tall, ginger and with a sharp tongue and a brain to match he was still a teenager when we gave him a BMW 320i as his first car. I suspect he hadn’t actually passed his driving test but never mind. We were standing, as we did, pre market outside the Royal Exchange when we saw Danny’s car turn up. Out he gets, as does his Dad, and we all think how kind of Dad. Next, Dad walks to the boot, gets a plastic bag out attaches it to the boot and carefully places an aerial onto it and sets off for his day job as a mini cab driver using our car. Oh happy days and they normally were until the employee left and on occasions they disgruntledly would drop the car keys down a drain. Not Danny though he was always behaved like gent, well to me anyway.

I worked my way up through various cars until I bought my dream car a Ferrari Dino in the early 90s. I had always wanted one since I saw my hears desire, well a pubescent boy in Italy was allowed to dream, get out of one in Forte Dei Marmi in 1969 and eventually I got one as the prices plummeted in the early 90s. I lovingly rebuilt it and changed its original colour of red to yellow and to complete the dream I drove it to Italy and parked it at the very spot that I had last seen this girl. I got out, breathed in the scent of pine trees and sun oil and thought “ I’ve bloody made it “ and went to lunch only to return a few hours later to find that it had been stolen. I did get it back a year to the day later and actually have a good idea of who stole it but that story can wait.

In present day Italy the seemingly endless wait for a resolution to the Italian election seems to be drawing closer with all the usual suspects being involved even Berlusconi seems to have taken political Viagra as he rises back into prominence. I could write thousands of words about what the outcome will be and still be nowhere near correct so all I am going to say is that a horseshoe alliance of left and right seems increasingly likely and any thoughts that Italy will muddle through as normal will be misguided. There is every likelihood that an anti- Europe, anti-euro, pro Russia, Populist Party will come to power in the heart of the community.

I’ve written mostly about cars this week and Italy still manufactures the most beautiful sounding cars but not even this fact justifies the 10 year BTP yielding less than the 10 year US Bond. That is as about as logical as Australia competing in that travesty called the Eurovision song contest and must surely point to more USD strength .

Have a good week and if you enjoyed this please share!

Richard Matthews, who began in career in 1973, is a former trader-broker in the London money, futures and foreign exchange markets. Twitter @dickiematthews5

Postscript

Now I know some of you will want to know if I still have the car. Sadly no, and yes I sold it too early but as they say you never go bust taking your profit too soon.

Marbella, Madrid, Fatima and a Nun

By Richard Matthews May 6th 2018

It is always incredibly pleasing when an article you’ve written is well received and doubly so when people featured in it contact you to express their agreement, amusement or just plain satisfaction with what you’ve written and last week was one of those weeks. Friends who I have not heard from in years contacted me and reminded me of stories associated with TITS whilst others reminded me to have no regrets and to be honest I don’t have too many. Just good memories of people such as lovely Lucy from Easy computers who tried to help us, the “Dinner Ladies” who were the women who brokered mortgages from part of the office led by Heather from IMS and parties where Cheesy encouraged people to dive though inflatable rings in the swimming pool. A ring that not even Lucy,who miraculously squeezed into her clothes, could have squeezed through.

I reflected on all this memories whilst I was in Madrid this last week and more pertinently about someone who never visited the office, Douglas. Now Douglas was a neighbour of mine up in the mountains of Granada but not just any neighbour he was the most extraordinary friend and on occasion’s dangerous drinking partner. He came from the south west of England and had the burr to his voice that identifies people from that area. A big man of maybe Six foot two or six foot three with a handshake or more often a slap on the back that sent shudders through the body. Bearded always immaculately dressed and rarely without a cigarette puffing away. He was part of an extraordinary group of people that I had first encountered when I moved to Spain from the UK. Ranging from heiresses to a retired Latvian smuggler and his American wife Phyllis …who had been a book keeper in a casino in Havana. Need I say more?

Douglas, pronounced Dooooglas by every Spaniard was different. Doug loved a pretty woman and indeed one evening over a long supper tried to seduce, in order of appearance, my mother in law, my sister in law and our daughter all to no avail. I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning that he was, as the Spanish say, a Viejo Verde. He had several passions, alongside chasing women, including rose gardening in the nude by the full moon (his garden still has over a thousand species of roses) whilst living by an Ermita ( Spanish for an isolated chapel) to Fatima and every year he helped to finance her Saint’s day but our joint passion was football. He had wonderful connections in football with Real Madrid and through these into Telefonica. Telefonica were, and probably still are, a living nightmare to deal with and in the end destroyed TITS as they were unable or unwilling to supply a decent internet connection for us but not without Douglas trying every contact he had to help me and boy did he have some contacts. I will forever be grateful to Douglas for trying to do this and I remembered him this week as the last time we were meant to go to football together was the last time Arsenal played in Madrid in 2006 when they came away with a famous result and he cancelled at the last minute only to die eight months later.

Douglas always tried to get me to look beyond my own nose about Spain and realise the connections that it had through South America and to see that was really where the business opportunities lay. As anyone who has ever visited the Casa de Contratación in Sevilla will tell you the Spanish Empire was every bit as big and influential as the British Empire and those old ties via language and institutions still run deep. With the news of Argentinian forcing interest rates up to 40% last week the reverberations will surely be felt in the Spanish banking and industrial sector.

Those of us with long memories will cast our minds back to the 1980’s and the lost decade caused by the Latin American debt crisis. It is obviously too early to compare what is happening to that dire period but the risk of contagion is certainly real. After the U.S. employment and earnings figures last week showed virtually full employment in the States and wages starting to increase the threat of US inflation returning and encouraging a more hawkish stance from the fed is certainly upon us. Reading the numbers and taking into account the empirical evidence there seems to be a shortage of skilled workers which will exacerbate the inflationary fears as “tax” dollars return to the States and create further demand for labour. There are already some signs of emerging markets being pressured as dollars fly the roost and as I wrote earlier in the year the LIBOR/OIS is worth watching as rates rise and fears of a Latin American default hit the market.

A time for safe haven investments and currencies appears to be on us and Sterling will of course be caught in the crossfire. Things could turn really ugly for targeted currencies if Donald Trump ever decides to reinforce his trade with an infantry of interest rates which cannot be discounted. All of course a long way from the beautiful Ermita that Douglas used to live beside and pictured at the start of this column. It seems apt to write about Fatima’s acolyte this week as next Saturday is Fatima’s day and hopefully will be celebrated in the style that Douglas brought to everything he did and may she continue to look over us. Oh and the Nun? Well all I can say is that Douglas had apparently attempted to seduce a Nun one day only to be rebuffed at the last hurdle when he revealed to her that the key to his heart was her making love whilst in her habit which proved to be a step too far.

Richard Matthews started his journey in broking in 1973, is a former trader-broker in the London money, futures and foreign exchange markets Twitter @dickiematthews5 www.theotherdoor.co

Postscript ….

I was never really sure of Doug’s surname as it seemed to change on quite frequent occasions. I heard one day that he had fallen from a Plum tree where he had climbed to pick a particular Rose for a woman he was having supper with. He never recovered and died a few months later in October 2006 at 63. I went to his funeral where it turned out he had 5 ex-wives (he had only ever admitted to two) and one of them had stroke at the wake. Gone but never forgotten.