Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Team Israel And The Perma-Plebes

The monitors were stacked in a "U" formation; 4 across the bottom, and then 2 high on either side. It was a fortress, a kingdom, and Mr. Green, the little Jewish man staring into them, was the king.

The dull light emanating from them turned his skin a bluish color and reflected off his crisp white shirt. On either side of him were younger men with similar, yet smaller monitor displays; his sons. Together, they ran what came to be known as "Team Israel." Word was that you had to be Jewish to work for these guys, and word was that they were all very good traders.

"Team Israel" sat across from our "team," a ragtag collection of potheads, ex-convicts, foreigners and Ivy Leaguers.

Now, when I used to hear the term "trading desk," romantic visions entered my mind. I pictured oriental rugs underfoot and monitor displays supported by hundreds of pounds of rainforest-harvested lumber. Indeed, I pictured a grand desk, from which well thought-out ideas involving large sums of money were put to test in the marketplace.

I was quickly disabused of this notion by Anvil.

Instead, both Albert and Mr. Green sat in the middle of long makeshift desks that consisted of about 20 pale-grey folding tables placed end to end. Extending to the left and right of each of them were 8 traders. So between the two teams, there were about 34 traders; 17 on one side staring across at the 17 on the other side.

The only thing separating us, besides religion, was the wall of monitors.

The largest monitor formations were found in the middle of the desk, by Albert and Mr. Green. As the profitability and skill of the trader tapered off, so too did the monitor displays. So the best traders were all clustered together at the center of the "desk," while the plebes at the end of the desk, with their two 18-inch monitors, were left to marvel at the circuitry in the middle.

The plebes, over in their shanty-towns, would joke amongst themselves about buying 10,000 shares of Vodaphone. They'd say, "Man, I had 400 shares of IBM and was stopped out a penny below the low point of that move, just before it ripped 9 fucking points." Plebes were often heard complaining about the trading software, or about their commission rates.

Their position sizes were strictly limited... indeed, holding 200 shares of a stock was enough to make many of the "perma-plebes" panic. But still, they'd imagine themselves one day behind a wall of monitors, sitting near the center, glibly glancing over at their personal Bloomberg Terminal while off-handedly discussing the losing positions in their long term accounts.

To make the jump from being a "perma-plebe" to a "trading king" was difficult, if not impossible, because it not only meant having to transform one's personality, it also meant a king would have to fall to free up some space in the center. No, it was much more likely that a plebe would slide off the end of the desk and go back to his bullshit job recommending mutual funds to under-informed retirees.

He'd show up again one day to visit the desk during his half-hour lunchbreak, extolling the virtues of a steady paycheck...

Anyway, desk space was at a total premium. The monitors were so tightly packed that if somehow the dude next to you haggled or traded his way to an extra monitor upgrade, you were screwed. Your space, already tight and infringed upon, was now very infringed upon. Personal items were lost forever amidst the tangle of wires that ran under the tables. A rumor that was often discussed and never dismissed as a total falsehood, was that Mr. Green had lost a single Armani shoe to the unforgiving cables.

You see, for a trader, screen real estate is very important. The more you can fit onto your screens, the more you can conceivably watch. The more you can watch, the more opportunities you can find. The more opportunities you can find and exploit, the more money you can make.

Anyway, viewing the disparity in the monitor setups was my first indication that I had to negotiate not only for my commission rates, but also for how many monitors I would get and what software services I could use.

I shuffled in and found my seat at the end of the desk, next to a man who was sitting at the edge of his seat and speaking to his monitors in some forgotten Eastern European language. He seemed to be threatening his monitors, under his breath.

The market wasn't even open yet.


marc said...

Good stuff man.

Where do you trade if I may ask?

Dinosaur Trader said...

Thanks, marc.

I'm now at Assent.


marc said...

Thanks, keep it up. Please. You are the only one that isn't angry out there.

MikeH said...

Best post of 2009. Take the rest of the year off.

Dinosaur Trader said...

Thanks, Mike.

Hopefully, I have a few good ones left though.

2010, I'm outta here.