We are extremely happy today to have our lovely Lady Trader blogging for us in defense of Bobby Axelrod. Lady Trader is not just a fan of Billions, but she has been living and breathing the world of Bobby Axelrod with 20 years of experience in the securities industry. For 8 years, she was a software and media equity analyst in asset management at The Bank of New York and Weiss, Peck & Greer. In addition, she was responsible in supporting the portfolio managers in portfolio construction and risk-control. She previously worked for 6 years at the American Stock Exchange as a special assistant in the Finance and Information Technology Departments. Prior to that, she was at Dean Witter Reynolds in the Retirement Plan Operations Division.
Dear Lady Trader, we cannot thank you enough for sharing your expertise with us over the months and it feels wonderful to have you share your own perspective on Axe and his doings, particularly in the wake of 9/11, in your own words.
Let’s face it: Bobby Axelrod would be the last person who would say he needs defending. He’s a big boy, playing in the big leagues. He knows who he is, and is OK with it. And basically, could give a shit about what others think of him.
However, in light of the revelations regarding Axe and 9/11 over the past two episodes of Billions, I feel the need to try and explain his actions from the point of view from someone who not only trades for a living, but was in lower Manhattan on 9/11.
I have lived in New York my whole life, and worked in lower Manhattan from 1988 until 2003. My first job out of high school was at a firm called Dean Witter, and I worked in 5 World Trade Center. Growing up in Brooklyn, my dream was to work in “the City” as we called Manhattan. From my bedroom window, I could see the Twin Towers and felt that if I could work in those buildings, I would have “made it”. At the age of 17, both those dreams came true.
It was brilliantly clear, beautiful late summer morning. I was in my office at the tip of lower Manhattan (approximately 3-4 blocks from the World Trade Center) on 9/11, dialing in to a conference call. Word started to spread around the office that a plane had hit one of the Towers. At first, everyone assumed it was a small prop plane. The thought of a commercial airliner never crossed my mind. I went around to the side of the building that faced north, and saw smoke coming from the Towers, but still nothing to make me think it was a 767. As I went back to my desk, I thought “I hope not many people were hurt”. Several minutes later, the news that another plane had hit the South Tower came across my news feed. Then, the word of the crash at the Pentagon.
Being in the tallest building at the southern tip of Manhattan, panic and fear spread across the office. Would our building be next? Both my mother and husband worked two blocks from me, and phone lines were down. I could not reach anyone. Even as I write this, the emotion of that morning is as fresh as the minute it happened.
I eventually made contact with both my husband and mother, and went into my Mom’s office. She was in a sub-level of her building, and we felt it was safer underground. Around noon, we left her office, trying to make our way out of Manhattan and into Brooklyn. All transportation out the city was shut down, so we walked over the Manhattan Bridge with many others. I walked over the bridge with thousand of New Yorkers, and there was a deafening silence. As I got to the mid-point of the bridge, I looked towards Manhattan, and where two buildings that meant so much to me used to stand, was nothing but smoke. Surreal does not even come close to what I felt. Empty, sad and scared is a much better description.
Why do I tell this story? And what does it have to do with Axe? Well, if I am going to explain Axe and his actions, I want to give you, the reader, my experience so you will understand my point of view as well. I was one of the lucky people who did not lose a loved one on 9/11. But I lost of the feeling of safety, and part of my identity that day.
We see in Episode 1, June, a 9/11 widow, make the comment “It just wrong that you are the one standing there…”. We later find out that Axe was at his lawyer’s office going over his severance package because he was being fired. Is that his fault? There are literally hundreds of stories of people who were supposed to be in the WTC that day and were not. It was primary day for Democratic candidates for Mayor of New York City. Many people were not in the office because they went to vote before work. Also, the New York Giants had played the previous night on Monday Night Football, and I know from first hand experience, after a late night football game, some fans sleep in a bit and come into the office a little later. No matter what reason Axe was not in the office, it was a matter of circumstance. Perhaps it was his fate not to be in the office that day. I just don’t believe it’s a reason to paint him as a villain.
Now, the trading. This is a little bit more complicated and nuanced to explain. First and foremost, Axe is a trader. And he’s a good trader because he sees an opportunity, and runs with it. We find out in Episode 8, that Axe, after hearing a plane hit the WTC, shorted stocks in the aviation, hotel, and shipping industries. Most people would immediately think: what a cold hearted, money grubbing monster. But remember: most people did not know this was a terrorist attack; most of us thought it was an accident (at least those of us not watching it on TV). Even if it were just an accident, the market would open down, because the one thing the market hates is uncertainty. How many were hurt? How would this effect business in New York? And a whole list of other questions would have spooked the market. So, Bobby does what would be natural to him: place a bet.
Shorting names in those industries after the first plane hit was not a slam dunk; often times, once facts are known, the market can rebound just as sharply and quickly as it craters. Believe me; I’ve been caught in it. Also, as Damianista, JaniaJania, and Bookworm have so brilliantly explained in several prior posts and in the Billions: Glossary, getting caught in a short squeeze can be a death blow to any position. So, it was pretty risky to short those industries before knowing all the facts.
It is more problematic, at least from an optics view, when we learn in Episode 9, that he “stepped on the gas” after the second plane hit. The excuse of not knowing what was happening flies out the window. But, if we believe that Axe is first and foremost a trader, then this makes sense. You wouldn’t expect a shark not to attack when there is blood in the water, so it’s not hard to see why Axe does what he does.
In the end, only Axe knows what he was thinking on 9/11 while the world was changing forever. Yet, since I can see things as he might have seen them that day, I can understand his thought process. The moral aspect of what he did is for others to decide.