IS IT A BIRD? Is it a plane? No, it’s a stockbroker.
Once upon a time there was a super-salesman named The Fabulous Fabman. He had superpowers. He could sell junk to people who thought they were clever. He could maintain two girlfriends at once. He could create shares so complex he could not understand them himself.
Fabman sold stuff from an office at Goldman Sachs. He told customers that his shares would go up up up. But he completely forgot to tell people that the experts with whom he worked had bet huge sums of money that they would go down down down.
Yet there was one strange thing about Fabman, whose real name was Fabrice Tourre (French for “fabricator of bull”). His mouth said one thing but his fingers said the opposite.
He’d spend his days selling shares with a bright smile—but would write guilty confessions on email afterwards: “It's bizarre I have the sensation of coming each day to work and re-living the same agony—a little like a bad dream that repeats itself."
One set of shares was to make him famous. He asked ACA, a company of financial experts, to certify a list of shares as investments sure to rise. But it was really a list drawn up by a firm named Paulson of shares sure to fail. Even by his Fabman’s standards, this was cheeky—especially when he got both sides into the same room. Fabman’s fingers tapped out an email on his Blackberry: “I am at ACA Paulson meeting,” he wrote. “This is surreal!”
The investment was called the Abacus bond, because anyone who bought it would be blasted back to the pre-industrial age.
Sales went well. After shifting millions of dollars worth, Fabman’s fingers confessed in an email that he was selling “a thing which has no purpose”. His mouth talked the shares up but his fingers described them as “monstruosities!!!!” [sic] a word which could also be used to describe his misspelled nouns.
Super-salesman Fabman told colleagues that he had “managed to sell a few Abacus bonds to widow and orphans that I ran into at the airport”. His email confession said: “The poor little subprime borrowers will not last too long!!!”
As doom approached, Fabman wrote another email: “The whole building is about to collapse anytime now. Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab.”
For a while, it looked as if he had got away with everything. But sadly for him, lawyers of the “widows and orphans” did some investigating—and managed to get hold of the emails above, none of which I made up. Now the French financial expert is in deep shallots a la mode and Goldman Sachs’ shocking ethics have been revealed.
What do we learn from this story?
Only that nothing has changed. Twenty years ago, this columnist was a junior financial reporter, and wrote a stock tip: “When a stockbroker wants you to buy a stock, it means his friend wants to sell a stock.”
ON UNRELATED MATTERS….. Your humble narrator is about to get on a plane to fly to Singapore. I have a schedule chock-full of book tour events, but if I get a chance, I will try to track down the famously beautiful and brilliant truck driver who lives there and pass on good wishes from the gang…