Poetry and doggerel
'If there's no money in poetry, neither is there poetry in money', according to Robert Graves, but we hope to prove him wrong - and there is, at least, doggerel. This is a compendium of poetry and doggerel relating to financial markets. Contributions to the collection, along with any comments on the circumstances of writing, will be gratefully received: please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Cohen of Governance for Owners penned the following while considering QE exit strategies. He sent it to us in April 2013, when it seemed just as relevant to emerging market equities.
Who can tell
How the lobster got
Into the lobster pot?
When it went in
It did not doubt
There was a way out
There was not!
The first financial carol of 2011, 'In the Greek midwinter', was followed by the beautifully sung 'Hallelujah Corporations!'
Martin Wolf, musing in November 2011 on the implacability of sovereign creditors, quoted A.E. Housman. His article appeared in the Financial Times on All Souls' Day:
To think that two and two are four
And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
And long 'tis like to be.
All Saints' Day 2011 was celebrated with 'Eliot's Eurocrat':
Berlusconi is a Eurocrat: he's worse than Jacques Delors,
For he's the country leader who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Europe, a democrat's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime - Berlusconi is not there!...
... with further contributions of high calibre in the comments. This is part of a rich mine at http://macro-man.blogspot.com/. Here's another gem:
...'Forward, the Euro Brigade!'
Was there a bond unpayed?
Not tho' the Eurocrats knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do or die:
Into the valley of Debt
Rode the unfunded...
... 'The Charge of the Euro Brigade'.
Gather round, dear investors, and hear all about
The worst IPO that has ever come out...
... in the opinion of author Joshua Brown, as of October 2011: Groupoem - an IPO for the ages.
The Ballad of Diamond Jim memorably covers the thorniest issues of bank regulation, untackled over the three years since outbreak of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. Hear it uninterrupted, or with commentary from former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson. A small excerpt:
Diamond Jim raised a toast, in a bankerly way,
To his massively outsized Wall Street pay.
"Our game is diseconomy of scale.
The key is to be too big to fail,"
Said Diamond Jim.
He mocked risk control, called it a sham.
He said there's no need when you have Uncle Sam...
In 2010 I belatedly discovered an anthology in song at www.versusplus.com. Titles include 'The dollar and its diving (great recession remix)', 'Nobody knows the bubbles I've seen', 'Go tell it in accountin'', 'Oh CRE', 'Crash dance', and more.
The investor's dilemma of May 2009 was encapsulated in song by Merle Hazard:
'Inflation or deflation?'
Tell me, if you can
Will we be Zimbabwe
Or will we be Japan?
The Rent-An-Index Song was composed decades ago by Robin Angus, once known as the Bard of Charlotte Square and now at Personal Assets Trust. 2008's results may tempt many to dust off their presentation techniques...
I am the very model of a trust performance measurer,
I'II dazzle your directors and I'll titillate your treasurer,
The figures that you show me in a manner sad and dutiful
I'll polish by comparison to make them bright and beautiful.
Your equities will outperform and so will your debenture stocks,
If measured in the way in which I tell you to present your stocks:
Your assets may have tumbled, but no assets ever fell enough
To trail behind the index - if you choose your index well enough.
I recommend my methods with a zeal that's indiscriminate
Whenever you've an awful year you're trying to eliminate,
Your faulty stock selection may have set your assets slithering,
You've failed to beat the All-Share, and in consequence you're dithering.
Your discount's leaping higher, and investors they are clamouring
To unitise the trust in which they've taken such a hammering,
A bid is in the offing, which could make a jobless gent of you –
A nasty-looking predator has twenty-nine per cent of you.
Forget those horrid nightmares! I shall certainly be sicker than
A parrot, if I cannot find a stock you've risen quicker than:
I've indices galore, and you can see the choice proliferate
By changing round the currencies (for that I charge a stiffer rate).
The simplest-seeming markets can be shown in really dotty terms –
Imagine, say, the Nikkei Dow expressed in Polish zloty terms,
And Jacobson & Ponsbach (that's in Sweden) would be wholly a
Departure from the obvious in Tugrik (that's Mongolia).
There's outperformance waiting: I'll make sure you get your share of it,
For you've been outperforming too, although you're unaware of it.
The Goddess Truth she need not blush (I haven't quite forgotten her),
Your figures may be rotten, but I'll find an index rottener.
Your dreadful US holdings may have driven you to mania -
I'm sure they've outperformed the Tramways Index in Albania.
So don't forget this wise advice - for trust men always treasure it -
It isn't what you measure, but the way in which you measure it!
Late 2008 was recorded in song - 'Monster Crash' - and in verse:
'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through their home,
Foreclosure was looming, for sure not a loan;
First Bear, then Lehman, then Fannie & Freddie,
TARP, Madoff, GM - enough already.
Their bills were stacked by the chimney with care,
In hopes that a bailout soon would be there...
In February 2008, pictures
of Dubai inspired Mish to ask:
Where have all the dollars gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the dollars gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the dollars gone?
Gone to Dubai every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
By August 2008 the dollar's rally was recorded by Macro Man (full version):
Dollar! Dollar! burning bright
In the markets of the night
What subtle hand has bolstered thee
And caused the woeful buck's rally?
'Leverage is as leverage does', observed Cassandra, inspiring Macro Man's 'Shall I compare thee to a levered trade?'
2007 caused poetic standards to rise to the tragicomedy. Must read:
‘Twas the fright before Christmas; the merchants did grouse,
Not a damn thing was selling, not even a house;
Restocking was futile with goods still on shelves,
And the streets were now teeming with unemployed elves...
... and an illustrated masterpiece, 'Broker Joe', attributed by the Wall Street Journal to Cameron Crise of Fortis Investments.
Another review was '2007: a watershed year', by Marty Lowy.
By December 2007, with bailout cost estimates soaring, worried US taxpayers dusted off The Tax Poem.
In November 2007, with stockmarkets buoyant but credit markets in chaos, we heard www.wallstreetmeltdown.com.
Later that month, it transpired that Old
Mother Shipton may have foreseen it all - including, perhaps, The
Twelve Days of Crisis, and 'The Charge of the Buy to Let Brigade'. Most of the latter is now
lost to prosperity, but a few lines survive:
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to view & buy,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred thousand landlords.
In December 2005, as gold breached US$520/oz and silver approached US$9, new songs were released: 'Inflation Nation' and 'Silver Solution'.
On US election day 2004:
We were singin’
Bye-bye, dollar assets good-bye
Sold my Chevy at the levee
‘cause my pension ran dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ sake to try
Singin’ this’ll be the day that it died
This’ll be the day that it died.
Helter skelter in a summer swelter
The equity’s gone from your leveraged shelter.
Fannie and Freddie are falling fast
Crash, they landed, but in a new class
Full faith and credit have long since passed
With Congress, in denial, out of gas.
Now the Wal-Mart there has cheap perfume
With imports filling every room.
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance.
The consumers tried to take the field
The central banks refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the dollar died?
... and there is much more: Harry Chernoff's 'American Bye'.
An earlier American bubble was recorded for posterity, in April 2000, as 'Humble Pie':
A long, long week ago,
I can still remember how the market used to make me smile.
What I'd do when I had the chance
Is get myself a cash advance
And add another tech stock to the pile.
But Alan Greenspan made me shiver
With every speech that he delivered.
Bad news on the rate front;
Still I'd take one more punt -
I can't remember if I cried
When I heard about the CPI;
I lost my fortune and my pride
The day the NASDAQ died.
So bye bye to my piece of the pie;
Now I'm getting calls for margin
'Cause my cash account's dry;
It's just two weeks from a new all-time high
And now we're right back where we were in July,
We're right back where we were in July.
Two haiku written by Cliff Asness of ASQ Capital Management in the US were relayed by dailyreckoning.com on 21 Oct 03:
Bubble is back big time
Price does not matter once more
People do not learn
Day traders are back
Like cockroaches hard to kill
Unfair to roaches
Musings on value and price coincided in April 2003 with the discovery of Chris Mann's 'Money and the new millennium', written in 1998:
A species dwindling to its end,
the value of a spouse or friend,
a brutal corporation's ethics,
a wiser company's aesthetics
on money's index cuts no ice:
it registers not worth but price.
Goldman Sachs' tech conference in Feb 2002 was held in the desert, at Palm Springs:
I met a trader from a western land,
Who said: too many profitless enterprises
Stand in the desert.... Near them, is Goldman,
Half sunk, its shattered vision lies, whose options,
And wrinkled scrip, and snear of the con-man,
Tell that this tempter well those passions bled
Which few survived, stampeding into silly things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the prospectus, these words appear:
"My name is George Gilder, Telecoms King:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that collosal wreck, bounds the bear
And lowly share prices stretch far away.
Anon, with apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelley
Christmas 2000 was commemorated as follows:
'Twas the night before Christmas, the Street was in panic,
The prices of tech stocks had sunk like Titanic...
Those nostalgic for bygone days may prefer the version for Christmas 1999:
'Twas the night before Christmas, while moguls drank highballs,
All fully invested, right up to their eyeballs...
Both provide enduring portraits of financially historic years. 2001's update was less memorable, as was a rival version which started with this accurate portrayal of the 3Q01 US results season:
'Twas the night before earnings, when all through the house
Not a gadget was selling, not even a mouse...
However as an early Christmas present for 2001, I was introduced to a whole website of financial verse: wallstreetpoet.com.
Songsters' section: Jan 2002 brought 'The Sound of Wall Street', by Mary Levai, the editor of Bill Fleckenstein's daily Market Rap:
Raindrops on Wall Street and whiskers on nitwits
Bright copper futures and false affidavits
Brown paper stock options tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things.
Opaque financials as layered as strudels
Dead fish as upright as overcooked noodles
Net-income forecasts with phony ka-chings
These are a few of my favorite things.
Funds' window dressing in evergreen sashes
Flaky financials from lax lads and lasses
Fed easing summers, fall, winter and springs
These are a few of my favorite things.
When the Dow bites
When the Sox stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad.
Those nursing bruises from emerging markets may be consoled to know that they are not the first to be thus disappointed:
Oh, where are the regions where well-paid inspectors
Found metals omnigenous streaked and emboss'd,
So kindly bought for us by honest directors,
Who charged us but three times as much as they cost?
Oh, where are the riches that bubbled like fountains,
In places we neither could utter nor spell,
A thousand miles inland 'mid untrodden mountains,
Where silver and gold grew like heath and blue-bell?
Now curst be the projects, and curst the projectors,
And curst be the bubbles before us that rolled,
Which bursting, have left us like desolate spectres,
Bewailing our bodies of paper and gold.Thomas Love Peacock, 1825
Blaming the analysts as always...
The greatest stock mania in London since the South Sea Bubble had seen many dubious flotations rapturously received. Financial crisis was evident by late 1825, although the wider stockmarket crash occurred only in 1827. Many of the new listings had involved South America, as had Gregor MacGregor's promotion of Poyais, a territory on the border of Nicaragua for which a bond was raised in London in 1821, and to which two hundred enthusiastic colonists departed in 1823.
Of the South Sea Bubble, Jonathan Swift wrote as follows:
As fishes on each other prey,
The great ones swallowing up the small,
So fares it in the Southern Sea:
The whale directors eat up all.
There is a gulf where thousands fell,
Here all the bold advent'rers came;
A narrow sound tho' deep as hell,
‘Change Alley is the dreadfull name.
Nine times a day it ebbs and flows,
Yet he that on the surface lies,
Without a pilot seldom knows
The time it falls, or when ‘twill rise.
Subscribers here by thousands float,
And jostle one another down,
Each paddling in his leaky boat,
And here they fish for gold and drown.
Now buried in the depths below,
Now mounted up to heaven again,
They reel and stagger to and fro,
At their wits' end, like drunken men.
Meantime, secure on Garraway cliffs,
A savage race, by shipwrecks fed,
Lie waiting for the foundered skiffs,
And strip the bodies of the dead.
Jonathan Swift, 'The South Sea Project', 1721
Read further excerpts in the Bubble Poem from the print 'The Bubblers Medley', and find a wealth of related material at the Bubble Project.
Now for some doggerel, inspired by the chatty geckos during one of the long evening powercuts of my stint in India:
Chameleons feed on light and air:
Analysts' food is value and growth:
If by virtue of their flair
Researchers could but find them both
With as little toil as hoped,
Would they ever change their hue
As the light chameleons do,
Suiting it to every ray
And changing twenty times a day?
Analysts are on this earth,
As chameleons might serve
Hidden from their early birth
In a cave behind the curve.
Where light is, chameleons change:
Where growth isn't, analysts quail:
Value is growth disguised: if few
Find either, never think it strange
To see that great performance range.
Yet dare not stain with wealth or power
An analyst's free and heavenly mind:
If bright chameleons should devour
Any food but hype and PR,
They would grow as earthly soon
As their brother lizards are.
Investors from a sunnier star,
Enthusiasts from beyond the moon,
Watch out for a bear market soon!
Claire Barnes, Bangalore 1995
with apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelley
This caused groans, but I still maintain that it is not much worse than the original - and the fickleness of poets is much less expensive.
I copied the next one from the Financial Times during the sterling crisis of the early eighties. Unfortunately I have no note of the author, but would be pleased to add the attribution if anyone can supply it.
The Owl and the Pushy-Cat
What's new Pushy-Cat?
The owl and the pushy-cat went to see
How to raise a big floating rate note.
They said: "It preserves the official reserves
We shall need for a more managed float."
For the owl had heard from the Baker man
They had had a complete rethink.
They'd planned a concert, concerted a plan
To get the dollar to sink -
To get the dollar to sink.
"Now you know", said the cat, "when I proposed that - "
But they did not seem to much care.
Their own PSBR had expanded too far
And protection was causing a scare.
Now some may think we should no longer shrink
From the band of EMS girth,
Where the currencies ride on the deutschemark tide,
And the pound - it will find a new worth
And the pound - it will find a new worth.
The market went reeling, the dollar enfeebling,
But just for the space of a day.
Then they all got confused, and felt battered and bruised,
And dealers, once more, earned their pay.
In May 99, by contrast:
Euro, euro everywhere, but not a coin to see -
No one wants to hold it, where will the bottom be?
Caroline Baum, Bloomberg columnist
The timeless cycles of human psychology were described by Kipling. Copy books were for children to practise their handwriting, copying out repeatedly the sage maxim at the head of every page.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall.
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That water would certainly wet us, as fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision, and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place;
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
With the hopes that our world is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses: they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, they promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed they sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the devil you know."
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more reason and the men lost reason and faith
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The wages of sin is death."
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four -
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man -
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began -
That the dog returns to his vomit and the sow returns to her mire,
And the burnt fool's bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as water will wet us, as surely as fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return.
Rudyard Kipling, 1919
Momentum investors, like economists, must be wary of extrapolation:
A trend is a trend is a trend.
But the question is, will it bend?
Will it alter its course
Through some unforeseen force
And come to a premature end?
Sir Alec Cairncross, 1971
Computers don't really qualify for the financial theme - but perhaps they fit under economics, especially after the US statistical shenanigans of the late 90s. I have written about Microsoft and the open source movement as an economic factor in Asia, and noted the Dalai Lama's announcement of Yellow Hat Linux. Since computers running Microsoft software are prime examples of what is wrong with hedonic deflators, and one of my (former) colleagues did throw his Microsoft computer out of the window... we present the poem 'Abort, Retry, Ignore', and to calm the frustrated, a page of computer haiku.
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