Why heed the fickle gods of traders in underpants?
I've been swotting up the City – and naked short-selling is the least of its absurdities. We need our own FDR to tell it like it is
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 25 May 2010 20.00 BST
Can't you just see them in their designer underpants, lolling around the greasy trading halls, these predators of global finance calculating new, fiendish ways to rob us decent, hard-working folk of our measly hard-earned pensions and savings? No matter that stock exchanges are falling, established businesses are going bankrupt, hundreds have lost their homes and thousands their jobs, cities are going unplanned, parks unmowed, students untaught, crims uncaught – there's still shedloads of money to be made out there.
A year ago it would have seemed incredible to me that you could borrow shares and sell them on straightaway, before you'd even paid for them, then wait until the price drops and buy them back for less than you sold them for, and return them to the lender, pocketing the difference. It's called short-selling, and it's all perfectly legal. My next novel is partly set in the City, so I've been swotting up on what goes on there. Believe me, the underpants are the least of it.
But wait! As the tempo steps up and temperatures rise in trading rooms, even the underpants are ripped off, and there they are, pale City-white flesh luminous in the glimmer of computer monitors, sweltering stark bollock-naked – naked short-selling for all they're worth. Actually, I made up the bit about the underpants. Naked short-selling means you sell shares you don't own without even borrowing them – without even being able to show they're available for sale. Being undressed while you do it hardly seems more implausible.
You don't have to be a financial genius to realise that selling millions of shares – especially if you don't actually own them – can force their value down, enabling you to snap them up later at bargain basement prices. This, we're told, manipulated the markets and drove down the value of government bonds across Europe. Now who's this dumpy blonde striding into the trading hall wearing high heels and carrying a big cane? It's Angela Merkel, calling for a ban on naked short trading. Go Angela! Smack their naughty bottoms! Tell them to get their keks on! more