Identity Paradox

The Misadventures of the Street Strategist Vol. 2 


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 Read a sample chapter from the book and the Table of Contents below

In this volume the Street Strategist, the most famous unknown, the pavement philosopher of maximum imagination and minimum talent, of infinite comprehension and zero knowledge, of total opinion and minimal truth, 

  • queries if the universe is infinite, 
  • declares that he was born to run with Bruce Springsteen, 
  • introduces the problem of the exogenous actor in finance, 
  • establishes a Supreme Court precedent a decade before it happened, 
  • proposes how to analyze the true cost of power, 
  • challenges the Supreme Court to cite him in contempt sub judice, 
  • whips out a prescription for the Indonesian bond market, 
  • fuels a debate in Hong Kong between the former US Treasury Secretary, later President of Harvard University, and Allan Meltzer, the economist that the Nobel Prize forgot, 
  • attends hearings on the first ever impeachment of a Philippine president, 
  • pushes for a merger between CNN and Bloomberg, 
  • sings an elegy for George Harrison,  
  • and among other things, outlines a strategy for winning three Nobel Prizes.

 

Identity Paradox: The Misadventures of the Street Strategist Volume 2 is the latest compilation of the continuing chronicles of the Most Famous Unknown’s ruminations on the irrelevant, the immaterial, the insignificant, the negligible, and the obscure, as published in the longest column space in the country.

 

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In which the Street Strategist lectures strategy to two information providers

The Merger of CNN
and 

Bloomberg

T

he merger of CNN and Bloomberg is a strategic inevitability; that their respective owners fail to recognize this opportunity is classic strategy myopia; and that the Street Strategist is the first to conceive this idea is a statistical verity.

Unfortunately, as with every other article of mine, upon the publication of my thoughts, I outlive my usefulness.

In the instant case, the title of my article and the first paragraph alone carry my core thoughts, and everything from here on is nothing of substance but pure form. You can stop right here.

Go forth, position your investments, and profit from my thoughts, and if you are able to do so, do let me know because you will have proven that you are smarter than I am because I’ve never been able to.

Gestation period

If I tell you that I’ve had this idea for two years now, you probably wouldn’t believe me.

Indeed, in reaction to my article Live Show which first introduced the concept of selling the playlist of a Bruce Springsteen concert by auction as if he were a live jukebox, one reader with an MBA mused: “How do you keep track of all these ideas?  If what you are saying that some articles have been percolating in your mind for two years is true, then how do you remember the articles that were in your mind two years before? I would like to know as there are many ideas that I had that I would often forget after some time.”

Simple. If you noticed, my articles are actually autobiographical, meaning, they are somehow related to my experiences.

It's not easy to forget your experiences, especially the bad ones, notwithstanding any effort to suppress them.

Therefore, it is easy to recall article topics I’ve marked years before.

A classic example is The Accounting Wizard which I developed ten years before I found the chance to publish it, although despite the delay, it stormed the scene judging by the response I received. Many readers found the article’s approach refreshing – from MBA students in Kuala Lumpur to investment bankers in London to asset managers in San Francisco.

Oh yes, the list includes a few Bloomberg financial journalists.

Mayor

However, waiting for the perfect timing is the primary reason I hold many of my articles in abeyance, including this one.

Until I got the sign of the times: On CNN, I witnessed Bloomberg winning as mayor of the most famous city in the world. There’s a word for this queer event, and it’s a title of a new movie. It’s called serendipity.

Oops, I just realized I may have confused you regarding Bloomberg. If this is the first time you’ve heard of Bloomberg, you’re excused, no need to explain.

On the contrary, you will have to explain to me if you’ve heard of Bloomberg before. Why? Because a Bloomberg computer costs a cool thousand dollars;  no, you’re not buying it, that is just the monthly subscription fee, which is almost a year’s minimum wage in most Asian countries. And yes, to you have to pay more for most live market data, and any other premium service they can think of. Therefore, if you have access to one, your company must be wealthy enough for such extravagance on some data and news.

Fired

In the article The Most Dangerous Weapon, I mentioned of being assigned in New York for a few weeks doing basically Xerox machine duties. During this stint somebody toured me around the company’s trading floor – whatever that is – describing it as large as a football field – whatever that is.

There, I saw hundreds of Bloomberg terminals with those quirky keyboards. I became acquainted with the Bloomberg machine during this time.

Mike Bloomberg worked summers in an electronics company, and given his interest in science attended John Hopkins University. He obtained a Harvard MBA and soon found himself rising up the ranks at Salomon Brothers, one of the largest investment banks in the world.

Today, Salomon is part of the Citibank group.

In 1981, Salomon Brothers fired him. With his severance pay, he approached Salomon’s competitors and proposed to computerize the trading records and database for instant access by traders. At the time, handwritten ledgers ruled the market.

At Merrill Lynch, the information technology group said they could internally develop in six months what Bloomberg proposed if they dropped everything they were doing.

Of course, the last condition was impossible, and that was the key to landing the contract.

By the way, for those in the solutions services industry, if your presentation focuses on “time-to-market” rather than “we-are-better-than-your-inhouse-experts,” you will have a greater chance of getting the mandate.

Convinced of the viability of the Bloomberg system, Merrill Lynch eventually invested $30 million for a 30% stake in Bloomberg, and later waived its exclusive contract and allowed Mike to market the system to other banks including Salomon Brothers.

Today, Bloomberg has radio, TV, and publishing operations in addition to its news delivery over the Bloomberg machines.

Survivor

Mike Bloomberg’s autobiography featured glowing compliments from Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson among others. While he certainly he has detractors, compounded by three sexual harassment suits that were settled, his single-handed fight against media giants shook the financial information industry.

If Salomon did not fire him, the investment bank could have been the Bloomberg system’s owner.

If would have been cheaper for the bank to have him as an employee instead of being a competitor.

Sometimes, shortsighted executives could really make monumental mistakes in failing to recognize employees with talents greater than theirs.

Why did Bloomberg survive against financial media giants Reuters and Dow Jones disproving initial predictions of its demise?

I have concluded that Bloomberg’s survival was based on its different strategic tact.

Reuters and Dow Jones are basically news and commentary providers. Their delivery of market data was geared towards information, live information.

On the other hand, I view Bloomberg primarily as a large calculator, and news provider second. In the process of executing mathematical models of the stock market, Bloomberg allows one to access historical data stored in its database, a feature that is its greatest strength but merely an afterthought in the design of other financial media companies.

Compared to having mathematical PhDs coding financial programs into Bloomberg, it was easy to add news services and publications to the Bloomberg system.

Thus, traders calculate option pricing using real historical data, create their own models, and store them in Bloomberg. They can synthesize their own bonds or derivatives every time using actual market data as model inputs.

At one time, I created a certain index of stocks automatically calculated by Bloomberg.

I was even amused that some investment managers have been tracking this index including a few based in Singapore, some curious research people in Europe, and even AIG asset managers in Hong Kong who kept emailing me for the month-end index level for their own monthly reports.

All these do not require the intervention of Bloomberg personnel. On some occasions, I found wrong data in the system, and their database guys promptly corrected them. Such is the power and convenience of Bloomberg.

Merger scenario

Perhaps, no other financial information database system in the world can match the combination of breadth and depth offered by Bloomberg. And the company always brags having the best pantry in town.

Since I consider Bloomberg as the best of its league in financial modeling and trading data, while hacking away at a terminal, it dawned on me that CNN, the top news provider, and Bloomberg should merge.

Perhaps no other merger scenario in the information media industry makes greater strategic sense than the merger of CNN and Bloomberg.

For financial experts, the merger needs no further calculation. For political analysts, the merger needs no further dissection. For the media analysts, the merger idea needs no instant replay.

The merger simply has to be; it is a strategic inevitability.

Don’t remind me that CNN is already owned by Time Warner AOL or that Bloomberg is privately held. These are organizational hazards of the merger scenario but these do not stop the wild thoughts of the Street Strategist.

As for New York City – the world’s most famous city – having a mayor who is a Harvard MBA, an information technology revolutionary, an entrepreneur, an investment banker, and a billionaire is certainly an interesting proposition.

Not a bad proposition as well for one who got fired with a US$10 million severance.

Finally, let me have my mesmerizing exit: The single greatest scourge of management is allowing their personal inadequacies to cloud their judgment thereby failing to recognize talent and genius greater than theirs.

(Thads Bentulan, November 15, 2001)

* * * * * t * * * * *


 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Chapter

 

Page

Born To Run

June 15, 2000

11

The Value Creator

 June 29, 2000

21

Is the Universe Infinite?

 July 13, 2000

27

Power Storm

 August 10, 2000

37

The Exogenous Actor

August 24, 2000

43

Justice

September 7, 2000

55

The Tobin Tax Revisited

 September 21, 2000

63

The Value Liberator

October 5, 2000

69

Parliamentary Coup

November 16, 2000

77

The True Cost of Power

November 30, 2000

81

Proportionate Response

 December 14, 2000

91

Identity Paradox

December 28, 2000

97

Impeachment

 January 11, 2001

105

Justice Overruled

January 18, 2001

115

Fundamental Law

 January 25, 2001

121

Strategy for the Senators

February 1, 2001

133

Impeachment Sidelights

 February 15, 2001

141

Sub Judice

March 1, 2001

149

Prescription for the Indonesian Bond Market

 December 20, 2000 and March 15, 2001

157

A Fermi Problem for Indonesia

December 20, 2000 and March 15, 2001

163

A Debate in Hong Kong

April 15, 2000

167

Hiding Tiger

April 15, 2001

175

Unproximate Cause

 July 12, 2001

177

The Journalist’s Quandary

July 26, 2001

181

The Most Dangerous Weapon

 October 4, 2001

191

Live Show

 October 11, 2001

195

A Strategy for Winning the Nobel Prize

 October 18, 2001

203

The Form is the Substance

 October 25, 2001

211

Superordinate Goal

 November 8, 2001

217

The Merger of CNN and Bloomberg

 November 15, 2001

225

The Sourcerer’s Apprentice

November 22, 2001

231

Blessing in Disguise

 November 29, 2001

241

The Blessing and the Curse
of the Weeping Guitar

 December 6, 2001

245

No Sadder Christmas

December 20, 2001

253

Postface

259