The worst two jobs in the financial markets.

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure that brings a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
Written by Queen and David Bowie

Richard Matthews 17th June 2018

Whilst I was standing waiting for my morning coffee a couple of weeks back the manageress was muttering to one of her suppliers about how she couldn’t live with the pressure. At 7.30 in the morning and a shop bereft of customers, apart from me, where was the pressure? Being a Sunday and having a naturally kind disposition I will be generous and suggest that maybe she had had a row with her partner? Or the District line was late again or perhaps taking in my sunny persona first thing was too much for her to handle? Do I really buy that or was she just suffering from the inability to take any kind of stress that seems so prevalent these days amongst the younger generation?
Baristas, Roasters, house blend, maps where the coffee came from are all far cries to the cafes where we used to buy our coffee from in the morning. From my first days in the City up till the late 90s getting a coffee was just what it said and the only question shouted at you was “Sugar”? That was it, simple. I’m not in any way suggesting that the coffee isn’t better but sometimes I just want a simple Coffee. I don’t want to have a discussion over where the bloody bean came from or indeed give them my name although I do enjoy doing so at Starbucks using my nickname and then watching the Barista shout out it out.
The old staff in the sandwich shops, which always seemed to be owned and run by Italians for some reason certainly didn’t ask your name and didn’t really care as they prepared a toasted fried egg sandwich or some other cholesterol raising delight. They just served you and then got on with preparing the staple sandwiches which they would sell later. Simple sandwiches, Cheese and Tomato, Sandwich spread, Ham and Tomato or maybe the really exotic Prawn Sandwich. All freshly cut and piled up with not a shred of cling wrap in sight and any old dishcloth used as protection from the flies and fag ash that were certainly flying around. No thought of Health and safety or indeed healthy eating but boy a bacon sandwich for breakfast and a slice of bread pudding never did anyone any harm, did it?
The pressure associated with sandwiches was not generated in the shops where I presumed tidy fortunes were being made on the back of cash transactions and in the secondary market of Luncheon Vouchers*. LVs were given out as a perk and at the beginning of the month there would be a healthy market in them with the serious lunchers selling them with the juniors and back office employees bidding for them. It certainly ages me that the LV that I can clearly remember was for 15p and I guess the market would be 12p-15p. Oh what fun but nothing compared to the fun of the dreaded sandwich run.
The City, certainly was, a meritocracy and it didn’t matter who you were, who your Dad was or what school you went to you started at the bottom. In the Futures markets that meant you wore a yellow jacket and ran errands, a runner, and in the money markets you started as a board boy which is how I started. I guess a board boy for those not familiar with a dealing room is somewhat like the guy who marked up the board at an old fashioned bookies pitch. The dealing room would always have a long white board (I think that it was actually a black board with chalk when I started) which was dived into rectangles, nothing like the massive electronic boards in the Futures Market. The rectangles would represent different time periods for example in the deposit markets the different time periods from overnight, Thursday/Friday , weekend through to five years would each have their own rectangle. These were in week segments to start with then as the maturity became longer maybe quarterly and eventually in years. In the rectangles we would chalk up the bids and offers from the various Banks with price and size. The idea being that a dealer could glance up see the price and depth of any period he was quoting and also be able to reference whether the guy he was quoting could actually deal. For decades these were the dealer’s failsafe reference points. Even when Reuters started a similar service no electronic screen could show the depth or change so rapidly.
That job as well as being my first job after being about a month in the dealing room was pressure for as I am fond of saying prices aren’t door numbers …they move. It taught you to concentrate and also taught how markets moved and what banks (names) could deal with each other and how a two way market worked. None of this “I’m a buyer can you help me” it was a vicious market where we brokers was expected to make a price blind not knowing whether the bank was a buyer or seller or indeed whether the bank could deal with your counterparty. If the broker got the price wrong he was duty bound to make up the difference between his price and where the market actually was. The scream of difference was not a sound anyone liked let alone the board boy whose fault it always appeared to be. Nothing to do with the dealer spoofing the market or not reading the right price…no it was the board boy’s fault who would then suffer abuse I wouldn’t hurl at Spurs let alone the violence of anything at hand being thrown at them ( normally a spare white board rubber). Quite similar to school in my youth really.
That was pressure but the real pressure for a board boy was the dreaded sandwich run. Seriously I loathed 10.30 approaching as that was the time that the brokers could either face solids for the first time that day or decided to they needed a stomach liner before the magical time of 11.30 when the bars opened. I still remember over 40 years later as a shy kid (err well not many of you knew me then so I might get away with that) standing there trying to scrawl down the order or more often than not just guessing and trying to blag it when I returned with the wrong order. My memory wants me to think that it was dozens of sandwiches but actually it was probably for a dozen people each of whom had maybe two types but still some would want pickle, some loathed lettuce or tomato, some wanted packets of cigarettes as well .Every order was different but in fairness it was always finished with “Get something for yourself” and money thrown at you. You would get to Pepe’s in Mason Hall Avenue and your mind would go blank trying to remember if anyone wanted a Penguin chocolate bar for desert at the same time as trying to remember the cost of each person’s order whilst you nervously felt to see if the £20 note was still in your hand.
The sandwich run of course taught you a lot about being a broker, as did being a board boy. You learnt to remember a series of orders, how to add up in your head rapidly and lets be blunt how to blag. If you experienced the sandwich run as a junior you will know what I mean. Say for example you’re been asked to get an Elephant Bollock sandwich you would return with a straight face and just say sorry I couldn’t get it as the shop had run out of brown bread. Of course it was harsh but both you and the older brokers learnt lessons about your character and ability. But without doubt there were benefits as the junior who took the senior broker seriously when he said “Get something for yourself” and bought himself a Hermes tie from the change of the money given to him for the sandwiches…..I wonder what company he ended up running ?

Jagger, Football and the Futures floor

The thrill is gone

It’s gone away from me

The thrill is gone baby

The thrill is gone away from me

Although, I’ll still live on

B.B.King

By Richard Matthews June 3rdI’ve been thinking a lot about the Rolling Stones this week and have even tried to understand You Tube in an attempt to watch them as I get increasingly excited about going to see them for probably the last time. I am genuinely excited about this and my mind started drifted to what has driven them on for so long. Let’s be honest they haven’t made a great record since the early 1970s yet 40 years later they are still selling out stadiums and getting old guys like me excited. Surely it can’t just be the huge sums of money that they make it must be the buzz from performing that drives them.

As some of you know a few of my relations are in the performing arts as are a couple of my friends. I have never asked any of them the question whether it’s the fame or the fortune that drives them. I did however ask my old school chum Nick Feldman, of Wang Chung fame, how he could go up on stage in front of thousands of fans and his reply was illuminating when he said “Well you did too, when you were on the floor”. Now, I am certainly not claiming I had thousands of fans on the floor, that was for some of my better looking colleagues like Bunker or Prentice, but I did get a great surge of adrenalin on occasions.

The scoring of THAT goal by Marco Tardelli and his reaction or the roars for an encore for Mick Jagger are easy to identify with as ultimate moments of excitement but the selling of a big clip in the market ? Surely not! Well perhaps there are similarities. They are moments of high excitement which lift you and more particularly the actors up from the drudgery of the day to day. Markets are the same and indeed when it comes down to it 99% of the time they are bloody boring and to me that is where the stress came in. Like the drum solo or Arsenal’s long periods of sideways passing, markets can become becalmed in the doldrums. Impossible to explain but that’s the market.

This is not to say that any of us sat idly by doing the Daily Telegraph crossword or playing par to 100, no the quiet markets were in a way when the stress came out. Stress was and is got out oftentimes through humour. A quiet morning in the money markets was the same as a quiet day on the futures floor. I wrote a little about Batsey last week and his love of attempting the wall of death in the pit. Now Batsey is a lovely guy and still a little eccentric but out of all the people I’ve worked with there was one truly bonkers personality, Adrian Scott-Jones. I worked with Scotty, who was more often than not just called Loopy, at R P Martin in the mid 1970s and stayed friends with for many years after. I’ve already tried to write a story about some of our joint luncheon exploits but my editor ( well Debbie my wife, my official PC barometer) told me I couldn’t recount the story so it was cut . Let us just say that when God created Adrian he emptied the draw called eccentric and placed the contents into Loopy’s personality, then rubbed his hands together sat back and grinned. In excess of six Foot, immaculately dressed always with a starched collar and highly polished Brogues Adrian looked every bit the Stockbroker. But he wasn’t he was a money broker or as a stockbroker would look down his nose and say “a shag broker”.

In the 1970s R. P. Martin was one of the top Money Brokers in London and this is where Adrian practised his special brand of madness. RPM were situated on the corner of Gresham Street and Coleman Street just by Guildhall and with The City Circle conveniently located within 100 yards and a back door straight into Shorts Bar. Just to really fill in the picture we had a messenger , Charlie, who used to wheel a tea urn around in the morning to re-fill your mugs but he also always carried a bottle of Vodka for those in need. Wood Street police station was also nearby where at the time the Police stabled their horses and when it was quiet you could hear the horses trotting by. On hearing them Loopy would get his hunting horn out ( just what every broker kept in his bottom draw) , open the window, start playingand then scream“ away the Foxes , away the Foxes”. I can still see him running down the street doing the same dressed in a full Thawb (Google it – I had to!) that he had brought back from an early trip to Bahrain and also the occasions that the Police would pay us a visit. Adrian like all of us lived for the trade. Sadly the last I heard of Adrian he had taken it all a bit too far and was languishing in a Federal Prison for one trade too many- boy that will be a challenge for his cell mate- Loopy if you read this I still love you shagger!

Hitting a spoof bid in the overnight market and watching it collapse or lifting a large offer just before an interest rate move  came out was rewarding . Fun , profitable and made you feel good but nothing compared to the thrill of open outcry . The buzz of the pit and floor watching for a hand signal from you and the noise that came back when you had read the market right and had the market on the run were , or should I say are , unbeatable. To quietly talk to a client, explain that the market was long, thin of bids and being spoofed and for them  to believe you was half the battle but to hear those words “ your amount is my amount “ or more prosaically “ sell the fucking lot” was only half the fun. To actually nod the order in and watch the market collapse, hear the noise and see the panic for me was as good a thrill and rush as any performance in a concert could have been. And do you know what the really good news was? I never had to sing.