I was sitting on a bench in my favorite pocket park on East 59th street near my condo early one Sunday morning. Not doing much— just sitting there and lightly dozing. I had been up all-night fixing a glitch in the computer system that I use for currency trading. I needed some down time. I was actually the sole benefactor for this park but I had asked that my gift be anonymous. I use the same process for all of my other charitable donations, most of which have involved substantial sums of money. I like to stay out of thelimelight.
Anyway, this young man sat down next to me. He smiled warmly and I returned the gesture. “I’m Josh Wellman,” he said. “Just graduated from college. NYU. Bachelor’s degree in business. I also just got hired at Goldman Sachs as an associate. I’m thinking that it’s too competitive an environment for me in the long run but it’ll be a great launching pad. I’m starting in derivatives but we’ll see where this takes me.”
“Good to meet you,” I responded. “I’m Jack Bernstein. I’m a currency trader on FOREX, the global marketplace for international currencies. I started a small company for currency trading soon after I got out of college. Work out of my apartment. I’ve taken the business to a point where I only work a few hours a day. However, and because I trade in many time zones, I’m often working when others are sleeping. Hence, my current state of disarray.”
“I’d like to hear more about what you do if you are willing to share some of the details with me,” Josh responded.
I’m usually not that chatty with strangers but this young man was not a competitor and was even perhaps a potential recruit for my company. I continued to chat with him and to discuss my firm and trading practices. Probably a little ego creeping in here. Not my usual reaction and modus operandi of keeping everything to myself.
“As I mentioned,” I continued, “I trade currencies on the FOREX. It has no trading floor like the New York Stock Exchange but it’s the largest market in the world by trading volume. Trillions of dollars change hands every day. By the way, I am also an expert in flash trading. I execute currency buy-sell orders with my homebrew trading software in microseconds.
“Currency arbitrage is a strategy by which a trader takes advantage of different buy-sell prices offered for the same currency in two different countries simultaneously. Let’s say that I am alerted that the Bank of India is selling euros at a particular price and Citibank is paying one or two cents more for them in the U.S. This provides an instant opportunity for arbitrage. In a fraction of a second, I buy a million euros in India and then, at nearly the same time, sell them for dollars, reaping an instant profit of $10K. Need to work in very high volume trading.
“I’m sure you are thinking, Josh, that’s easy. Why doesn’t everyone do this for a living? Well, first of all, I usually never trade in euros to dollars or vice versa. That’s nearly always a perfect market with few arbitrage opportunities. A much more common trade for me would be Vietnamese bongs for, say, Thai bahts or the reverse. There is a less active market for them, one more subject to arbitrage. My job, or rather that of my AI software, is to look for currency trading opportunities that present themselves only for a nanosecond or two.
“Secondly, my computer trading technology, unequaled even for large banks, is located in a secure room in my condo. No one else has access to it. At the center of my trading operation is an AI module that searches for currency trading pairs suitable for my attention 24/7 based on criteria that I have personally established. I designed and built the whole system—it can’t be duplicated in the market at almost any price.
“Theoretically, currency pairs are affected by interest rate differentials, international relations, the strength of each currency’s responsible nation, and the state of various nations’ imports and exports. I specialize in often unstable currencies like Turkish lira and Argentinian pesos. With my flash buy-sell orders, the larger issues regarding unstable currencies are not really that relevant. Large banks also try to avoid trading in them, thus offering less competition for me. My AI knows the times when pesos are the most stable and that’s when I make my trades.
“As to my life outside work, I must admit that I’m not very active on the social scene. My wife left me more than ten years ago without looking back. No children. I do have certain social and business obligations, however, so I host a dinner party at the end of each month in my condo for a dozen or so people. I hire a name chef to supervise the meal preparation. Best wines available. That’s my life story. What do you think? Want to join my little firm?
“Mr. Bernstein! Mr. Bernstein! You need to wake up to take your meds.”
I had been dozing for a few minutes in my bed and did not appreciate being shouted at and shook by this overweight, uneducated woman. She probably took a crash course in nursing in some community college where she must have skipped all the classes devoted to manners and cordial behavior. But I'm constantly being told by her. and others, that I need to be on my best behavior so I’m willing to be cordial despite her rude behavior. I will try not to make waves in my current environment.
No one in this place knows anything about my esteemed career as a currency trader in which, as I mentioned, I risked millions on trades daily. Well, now that I think about it, my trades never actually reached these levels. Perhaps I was embellishing my life story and career a tiny bit to impress you.
You also probably need to take a number of zero’s off the size of most of the trades I mentioned. And, I never really had a condo in Manhattan—more of a fourth-floor walkup in Queens. And, by the end of my currency trading career, I was definitely working on the red-ink side of the ledger. Suffered some major losses. In truth, I would also refer to myself as a “behind the scenes” trader working in obscurity in Queens.
“OK, I’m up now,” I said to Nurse Ratched. “Hand me the paper cup with the pills and get me a glass of water. These pills won’t go down dry very well.”
“Get your own water,” she responded. “I have to take care of thirty residents on this floor. I don’t have the time or patience to cater to your special needs.”
I begrudgingly took the paper cup from her and filled my bedside glass with water from a pitcher that was adjacent. I felt a pressing need to strangle this primitive creature and put her out of her misery but I was able to constrain myself, at least for a while.
Unfortunately, she made no obvious effort to leave my bedside to my great distress. Apparently, she had more gripes to lecture to me about. I gritted my teeth.
“And by the way, the manager of the facility has told me that you’re way behind in your monthly payments. You’re at risk of being thrown out of this facility on your ear. Is there someone we can contact like children or relatives for help?”
“No, not really,” I responded. “There’s really no one to call. That's all behind me.”
I then thought to myself. They’re robbing me blind here. I do need to pay more attention to the contract and my monthly budget. I will catch up on my payments as soon as my financial situation is clarified. They will just have to wait as I wade through the paperwork.
“And now, just leave me alone for a change.” I shouted to her, now in a more agitated state of mind. “This has been a rocky day for the Argentine peso and I need to pay attention to the trading action. There’s surely money to be made here but I can’t be distracted.”
She wheeled around, apparently willing to give me some peace of mind for at least one more day. But our conversation did make me realize that my living situation was precarious. Of course, I have been working on the edge my whole life—this was nothing new.