Monday, April 14, 2014

Bulls, Bears and Bucks

Bull and Bear at Frankfurt Stock Exchange
Mark Forsyth in his Times column finds poetry on Wall Street: "Pump and dump. Rank and yank. Short and distort. Trash and cash."

The financial world is a veritable zoo, Forsyth observes: dogs and pigs (who get slaughtered) and penguins and black swans and, of course, bulls and bears.
A 1490 edition of Aesop’s Fables contains an extra story never seen before. It’s about two guys who make a deal to sell a bearskin to apes, before having actually obtained a bear. They reckon that bear hunting must be easy, but when it’s time to hunt they both flee in fear, one climbing a tree and the other playing dead.

The moral of the fable: Don’t sell the skin till you have caught the bear. Any financier, though, will recognize the principle of the naked short. This maxim was so well known in the 18th century that those who sold speculatively were known as bearskin jobbers, and then simply as bears
Our founder, Merrill Anderson himself, pointed out that nest eggs are fake. Forsyth concurs:
The nest egg that we’re taught to store away? It is a perfectly real thing among chicken farmers, who insert a fake egg into a nest. The hen won’t leave until the egg hatches, and in the meantime she lays a bunch of real eggs of her own. Thus the nest egg is the capital, the real egg’s the interest.
Like to make a few bucks? "The only reason that anyone has ever made a buck," Forsyth writes, "is that Native Americans had no interest in coins or checks, and preferred to be paid in buckskins."

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