SKETCH: Ultimately, the markets must decide

The Slog ponders about what happens if the markets don’t know.

So anyway, Fred came in, looked at his Reuters screen, and saw that the metal commodities sector was bearish on the news from Athens. He sold some General Mining and went off for a coffee. Bert passed his desk, saw the same screen, and went to his own pod. Bloomberg told him that the markets had now steadied on the news from Athens airport, as Papandreou left for Cannes, talking about a more solid EU. He went to his commodities folder, bought General Mining, and then popped downstairs to pick up a croissant.

In the lift, he met Sarah from sovereigns, and she asked if he’d seen the transcript of Sarkozy’s statement as he left Paris. No, he replied. OhmyGawwd, you must she said, exiting the lift. In the breakfast shop across the road, Demetriou the Cypriot owner had BBCNews on, and Bert heard a snatch from Sarkozy’s soundbite, in which the French President said “….should now definitely get out of the European Union…or be forced out”. Blimey: Sarko was talking about using force against Greece. He forgot about his breakfast, and legged it back into the Omnivore headquarters.

Fred was at this moment on his way back from the coffee machine, where he’d met his Section Head Phil. Phil was glum at the news about all the Greek military being fired. ‘All’ was a lot, right – what might it mean? Phil thought it might mean the Greek armed forces being cut. That meant fewers tanks and guns and stuff. Back at his desk space, Fred went back to General Mining’s page, and sold some more. After clicking on ‘finish’, he nodded as a distracted Bert walked briskly past. Safely back in his pod, Bert went into General Mining, and trebled his purchase of five minutes previously. There was going to be a war, and he was ahead of the curve. Result!

In his bigger-than-anyone-else’s glass space with the corner window overlooking Threadbare Street, section head Phil continued to look into this Greek army shit. It looked like he might have it wrong: the colonels had been purged, not fired. They’d been replaced with guys loyal to Papandreou. Did this mean the Greek leader was getting ready to put down a revolution? That would mean more weapons and more tanks.

Looking to advertise just how far ahead of the curve he was, Bert tapped at Phil’s open glass door, and said how the Greek situation was looking good for metals. You bet said Phil, we should get into bull mode about it. Bert added that he was on the case, then returned to his pod and doubled the General Mining Fund purchase.

By the time Bert had increased his General Mining position, Phil had taken the lift to the Director’s floor, and – having loitered for five minutes – tried to look casual as he at last saw Equities Director Marcus heading towards him. Marcus asked him how it was going with the air of a man who couldn’t care less and, encouraged by this, Phil said he was instructing his key traders to take solid positions in metals shares and futures.

Had he seen the Sarkozy remarks at De Gaulle airport, Marcus asked. Not as yet, Phil replied, but he was in the loop about the Greek army gearing up for revolution. Revolution in Greece? said Marcus, wow, no, I was talking about Sarko saying the UK should f**k off out of the EU for good. He said that? asked Phil….it could mean war and shit, wow…then all the more reason to be in General Mining and metals right? Right said Marcus, especially as there’s gonna be a revolution in Greece, Jeeesuzz. Phil took the stairs two at a time back to his floor and, passing Bert’s space, asked him what positions he had with General Mining, Krupp and British Aerospace.

I’m good on those Bert replied, and then doubled all his holdings in them the second Phil left. Four floors further up, Marcus was  in the Chairman’s office suggesting a major redirectionalisation in the iron ore mining sector, and arms manufacturer stocks. We’re ahead of the wave on this one Jasper, he assured the Omnivore boss.

Back at his desk, Fred was Googling ‘Athens crisis latest’ and clicking into a Daily Telegraph piece explaining how Papandreou had both the Greek armed forces and the EU surrounded. Just as I thought, Fred thought: his original thought had been right, as he’d thought it would be. It was only a thought, but surely a lack of military action plus an EU debt meltdown meant the last place to be was in mining and arms. He went back to the relevant pages, and sold his entire holdings in every relevant position. He’d ducked, evaded the curved ball, and was now free to reinvest in bear funds. Bert ambled up to Fred’s pod.

Looks like the EU’s turning nasty, he said. You bet, replied Fred. The meltdown looks pretty bad. Bert nodded, adding that – if nothing else – it was now pretty clear what positions to take. Absolutely, agreed Fred. Both men left the brief chat more confident than ever that they were on the right track.


Over at Consolidated Miners in Johannesburg, Corporate Finance Director Hal Owen at last got in to see Ty Phoo, the Chinese CEO imposed on the Board in a Beijing coup the previous year. Hal said he had grave news. Glave news? asked Ty. No grave news, Hal corrected: I think Omnivore knows that Amalgamated Diggers are working to undermine our position. Ty was unhappy at the thought of his mines being undermined, especially by his Austlarian enemies, but before he could think further about it, Hal Owen explained that Omnivore were taking two entirely opposing positions in Consolidated’s shares. This was obviously being done as a hedge against whichever way the takeover might go. Mr Ty thanked his finance guru, and nodded to signal that Owen should now exit meekly from the room.

Alone again, Phoo rang Bo Sun, the metals & mining commissar in Beijing. Amalgamated are planning a takeover, he told Bo: get Wen on the case fast. Tell him to remind the roundeyes who pays their export wages. Sun sucked his teeth and said Wen was tied up with all this Greek shit, but he’d do what he could.

Wen Jaibao had suffered an appalling night into the small hours in Beijing listening to this Regling idiot from the EFSF explaining how the Greeks would be crushed into submission, so when Bo Sun told him what the Aussies were up to, he got on the phone to Austlarian foreign secretary Wayne Belcher at the double. It being already 10.00 am in Canberra, Wayne was a few tinnies to the good, and didn’t take kindly to Mr Wen’s interpreter yelling insults at him. At the Cabinet meeting half an hour later, Belcher gave an exaggerated and jingoistic account of the Chinese position, at which point Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose poll figures were in need of a boost, fired off a stiff note back to Beijing. Wikileaks picked up the missive, splashing it across the Western media within minutes. The Russians also blagged into the diplomatic exchange, and fed the story to bewildered eurocrats as the death-knell for any EFSF deal….given that Beijing would now be fully engaged in knocking seven bells of shit out of the Aussies, as opposed to dealing with all this Greek shit.


By 6 pm in London, Fred found himself completely distracted by the news that China and Australia has broken off diplomatic relations and were rattling sabres at each other. This was big, he figured: mega big. No longer able to get Aussie metals for the war effort, China would pile more investment into African mining. Whereas Amalgamated Diggers would go through the roof supplying metals for all those guns and tanks and stuff the Aussies would need for their war effort. Cuts in Europe were chickenfeed compared to this. Working frantically across five files and nine windows, Fred sold all his bear funds and poured his entire annual investment budget into metal mining and futures. His bull position was way ahead of the game. He’d be a hero on this floor by tomorrow lunchtime.

Bert yawned and was about to quit his pod for a large Jamesons in the Default & Liquidity Pool, when his Associated Press window flashed that the Greek deal had collapsed following firm signs from Beijing that they wouldn’t be helping with EU bazookas, on account of needing seven new aircraft carriers. This changes everything, he mused: the EU economy will dive, the euro will collapse, and the French banks will fall over after the now inevitable Greek default. He dashed into Phil’s glass case and broke the news. Don’t worry, he told the section head: it’s hot off the wires…we’re way ahead of the curve here.

So it was that all three traders, the equities director, and the Omnivore Chairman Jasper Trillion worked through the night, such that by 6 am everyone had reversed their positions…..and thus, the firm’s net exposure to bull and bear scenarios was precisely what it had been fifteen hours earlier. The only things that had changed were first, the debt crisis was now global, and Australia had declared war on China. But in the cab home at first light, Marcus figured what the hell: a bloody great war had gotten us out of the mire last time after ’33, and it probably would this time. The markets always balanced things out. The markets must always decide.

In Johannesburg, an exhausted Hal Owen watched as both his share price and that of Amalgamated Diggers zoomed up and down until the printout graph looked like the weft on a spinning machine. In the seat opposite, Ty Phoo was draining some fine Japanese brandy, still clueless as to why somebody (even him maybe?) appeared to have caused a full-on Asian war. He was also struggling to understand why, since 4 am that morning, he had been able to buy Amalgamated or be bought by them on seventeen different occasions over five hours.

Maybe Wen had gone mad. Maybe that Juria Girrard was mad. For sure, Papandreou was mad: the BBC said so, so it must be true. And even more for double-dog sure, these f**king fang woi stock markets were mad. He poured himself another large one, and began to doze off, reminiscing as he did so how much easier things had been under Mao: peasants doing brain operations, and neurosurgeons getting trench foot in the paddy fields. You always knew where you were with Mao: tits up and snafu, 24/7. He drifted into dreams of tanks running over dissidents. Life had been so much easier then. If only we could all go back to that nice, cosy Cold War.