Mr Prospector bumps into an old mate at the bus stop.
“There’s probably a reader out there somewhere,” I tell myself every month that I sit down at the typewriter in front of my two bar electric heater in the penthouse over the chippy in Airdrie. That’s it by the way. I think that somebody somewhere might just still be reading this column, nothing more than that. Last time out I wrote about the capesize market, and for the reader that’s still paying attention (perhaps), you might want to re-read it as pretty much everything I said would happen did happen. However, while I still maybe have one reader left, after writing the last piece here, I brought up the subject of my ability to put together trading strategies to Norwegian Phil over a Malibu and Lucozade at the Airdrie Working Men’s Club earlier in the week. A wiry elderly gentleman that you would think was regularly involved in fights due to his ‘leftfield’ attitude to modern life, Phil peered at me over his filthy pince-nez and said in his traditional monotone: “You should write more about ‘80s synth music. Nobody’s interested in shipping anymore.” He then stuffed in another ball of snuss, closed his eyes and went back to sleep. Everyone’s a critic these days!
Deflationary pressure continues on my fee here at Splash, so I am going to get to the point sharpish. I left the pub at about 8pm on Tuesday night, feeling refreshed having arrived for a quick one at midday. It was hammering down with Storm Dennis, so I decided to take the bus. As I approached the bus shelter I noticed a small man sat inside. From a distance I could see that he was exceptionally disheveled (even by Airdrie standards), with a long greasy grey beard and wild hair. As I got closer, he looked up at me and cheerfully shouted, “Mr P! How the devil are you?” It was none other than One-Armed Archie, Airdrie’s former foremost shipowner and regular panelist on the dry bulk investor session during Airdrie Maritime Week (half priced fish and chips before 10am on Tuesdays. Full delegates only).
“By God Archie, you look a mess! What on earth has happened to you?” I asked. “What do you mean?” he said. “No offence mate, but you very much look like you are homeless. You certainly smell like it. Are all your possessions in that Lidl bag there?” I asked, pointing to an old plastic bag full of holes. “Ahhhh!” he said. “You’ve noticed my new strategy have you?” He gathered himself and his bag up and leaned in conspiratorially. In almost a whisper he looked me in the eye and said “This is the future, Mr P. This is the strategy that will turn my fortunes around.” I looked at him and he pierced me with a steely stare. ‘“What? To become a tramp?” I asked. “No, no, no, no, no! I’ve gone asset light,” he declared with a proud beaming grin. “Oh and I believe the politically correct term you are looking for is downwardly mobile rather than tramp.”
I wasn’t too convinced and Archie could sense it. “You don’t see it do you?” he implored. “Listen, listen and I’ll tell you why it’s the new business plan that you should seriously consider. Firstly, as in the title, I am asset light, which basically means I have everything I own in this bag here. White lightening, some old newspapers, lots of string, an empty bottle and a pen to write my cardboard signs. I don’t have any of these fancy assets like my old ships or a home or a car. I’m absolutely free. Never felt freer in fact! My head is buzzing with all the opportunities that have opened up for me now. I can pounce on any mispricing or opportunity faster than anyone in the market.” I was even more skeptical. “Unless they’ve got a car of course. What sort of opportunities?” I asked.
“I run an incredibly agile business model. I am capable of exploiting all sorts of market opportunities now I don’t have the legacy of assets to drag me down. I just wish I’d thought of it sooner. You want an example? Well ,I recently developed a trading technique where I go to a phone box and call the pizzeria in the High Street and pretend to be the mayor of Airdrie. I order 10 margaritas as I’ve got Idi Amin and his wives coming over and tell them I’ll send my driver to pick ‘em up. Well, they think the pizza market is on fire and start baking like crazy. Meanwhile, I just sit tight over the road, watching them make tonnes of pizzas. After a while I go back to the phone box, call back, pretending to be the mayor again, this time telling them that Idi Amin is in fact not visiting Airdrie after all and I am cancelling the order. They realise they are long way too much pizza and end up dumping it in the Biffa bin round the back. That’s where I pounce! Free hot pizza!” I asked how often that trick works? He looked wistfully into the distance and said, “To be honest when I called up they said ‘We can see you over the road Archie, you daft bugger. Stop calling us’. In the end it cost me 50p to make the call and now they mash up the leftover pizza with caustic soda so I can’t eat it. But the idea is superb.”
I was very worried that Archie, who was always a couple of goujons short of a buffet, was truly losing it. “Are you out in the streets all the time?” I asked. “Yep, the market never sleeps,” he snapped back. “Well it’s only open in Tuesdays and Thursdays and it closes at dusk, so technically the Airdrie market is more closed than open,” I said. “Not Airdrie market you fool, THE market. You know, bid/offer, buy/sell, mine/yours, on subs/relet, all that jazz. My balance sheet is in perfect health for a big move now.” What balance sheet was this? “I have no long-term debt, no immediate liabilities, positive cash flow in the sense that I find money on the floor at no cost, no complex equity structures, no sleeping partners to deal with. I’m pretty much the perfect vehicle for investment. I’m going to open up an office in Kirkcaldy to be nearer the clients there. Well, when I say an office I mean sitting outside the station and when I say clients I really mean passers-by. But who knows, right? Get a team together. I met up with Spider Harris last week. Remember him? He trades stuff out of bins and spare change. He’s keen to use his contacts to set up an office outside a cinema in Glasgow.” Spider Harris was arrested in 2008 for punching a police horse outside a Celtic match.
Now I am very fond of Archie, he’s a lovely fellow at heart. But I think he’s finally lost it (and trust me he’s been looking for it for years). To sell all he owned, fritter away the cash, end up homeless and rebrand himself as an agile trading vehicle seems too far-fetched for words. Well, not for words really. Perhaps just for these words.