Happy Friday from the Trader’s Desk!
This week, I’m giving you a 2 for 1 special! As the “fin speak” in “Optimal Play” and “The Oath” was at a minimum, I’ll be giving you my thoughts and observations on both today.
I was so happy that basically an entire episode was dedicated to my sister Damianista’s specialty of game theory. If you haven’t, read her recap. It will give you a professional’s take, and it’s great.
I don’t know much about game theory (a reason I need to sit in on a game theory class, taught at a major university; know anyone that can help?), but I do know what is and isn’t insider trading. And, it’s a shame that poor flight attendant McKayla didn’t. I guess she didn’t know you are supposed to do a Dollar Bill when you are talking to ADA’s and just keep saying “Lawyer! Lawyer! Lawyer!”
I smiled on seeing the episode open at MetLife Stadium, home of Big Blue, my NY Giants. If Axe is looking to buy an NFL team, talking to Steve Tisch, the co-owner of the Giants, is a great place to start. The Giants are co-owned by the Tisch and Mara families. The Mara family founded the team in 1925; they are NFL royalty. But, alas, as Mr. Tisch said his team is not for sale. Perhaps Axe should try to buy that other team that the Jints let play at MetLife on some Sundays.
It’s time for the Alpha Cup showdown. I like the play on Alpha Cup; does it stand for alpha male or alpha the way it is used on Wall Street (a measurement of risk-adjusted performance)? I was asked by Jania if charity poker games like this really exist, and the answer is yes. As I addressed in my recap of “Risk Management”, we traders are gamblers. We love to bet on things. I will say, I have never been to one like this, but I have been to several “Casino Night” type of charity events.
I’m going to just say it: I know jack about poker. On my trips to Vegas, Atlantic City and Foxwoods, I stick to Blackjack and Roulette. Growing up, we didn’t play poker; my Dad is a Blackjack guy, my grandfather loved dice, so I was not exposed to it. However, you didn’t need to know a lick about poker to see the mind games going on.
Both Axe and Krakow will use anything and anyone to win, especially against one another. Krakow uses Wendy to try and psyche out Axe (let’s all agree Wendy knew it, and went along). Axe uses Taylor, because he knows they are that good. Everyone in this war is cannon fodder, collateral damage. The Generals only care about the outcome. It reminded me of lyrics from Black Sabbath’s War Pigs:
Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait ’till their judgment day comes
I love Taylor. My recap of “Dead Cat Bounce” tells you why; I just don’t get them here. I cannot connect with their dislike of competition. Wall Street is where competition lives! Can competition bring out the bad side of people? Sometimes; but I believe having competition can only make you better. It will make you step up your game, and humble you as well. It teaches you that you will lose sometimes, but also teaches you how to be better next time. Being a woman in a male dominated field, I had to compete against the idea and the stereotype that women on Wall Street were mostly admin assistants. Knowing I had to prove myself made me work harder, and kept me focused. I still love Taylor, we just don’t see eye to eye here.
Axe seems to have the need to accumulate things in “Optimal Play”: an NFL team, the Alpha Cup, Chuck’s Churchill books (and every other copy!!!!), and to a certain extent, Wendy. I get the feeling he needs to surround himself with things to fill a void. What that is, I don’t think we know yet. It could go back to his childhood; when you grow up not having much, do you over compensate for that when you can afford it?
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cameo by the King of Shorts, Mr. Jim Chanos, a legend on Wall Street, and a song by Keith Richards, a legend, well everywhere.
I’m calling this episode the Megadeth episode. I’ve been waiting for this one since we got a photo of Axe wearing his “Peace sells, but who’s buying” t-shirt in November. I continually love the heavy metal references in this show! Now that we know there will be a Season 3, can we get my man in a Black Sabbath shirt? I mean, he loves Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera; he HAS to love Sabbath, as they are the grandfathers of metal (and if you haven’t guessed by now, my favorite band). Because we love to connect the dots here at FanFun: the lead singer of Megadeth, David Mustaine, was in Metallica prior co-founding Megadeth. On Billions, it’s all related.
Aside from the writers obviously being metal heads, there must be a Star Trek fan on the writing staff as well. In the scenes involving Craig Heidecker and his space travel project, I counted no less than 4 references to Trek! (I’m a Trekkie. I love Star Trek. Yes, I know the name of Captain Picard’s pet fish. No, I don’t speak Klingon, fluently…). The first thing that struck me was the name of the company, “FarPoint”. The very first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is called “Encounter at Farpoint”. Next when Elena said that space was the undiscovered country, Wendy mentioned Shakespeare, but I immediately went to the sixth Star Trek motion picture “The Undiscovered Country”. Elena also mentioned space being the “final frontier”, and I think we all know that line was spoken by both Captain Kirk and Captain Picard in the opening sequences of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation respectively. Finally, Elena speaks of a “mind meld”. Mr. Spock was the most famous mind melder I know! Hats off to the Trekkie on the writing staff! I say to you: Live Long and Prosper!
This marks the second episode in a row we have a cameo by a real life billionaire. Mark Cuban is well known for being the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, and as a judge on “Shark Tank”, but he is a pretty savvy investor, and makes frequent appearances on CNBC. Cuban has a similar background to Axe: he grew up in working class, blue collar Pittsburgh. He’s a self-made man, who tells it like it is, and could care less what people think of him. In 2008 the SEC charged Cuban with insider trading. He fought them and in 2013, a jury took only 3 ½ hours to find in his favor. It was a long, public battle, and during that time, he made attempts to buy the Chicago Cubs, the Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even expressed interest in buying a piece of my beloved NY Mets. As he said to Axe, “I don’t own a baseball team”. The ongoing SEC case almost certainly hurt his changes. His advice to Axe was from experience. This was another great get by the creators.
Axe decides he wants to be part of the Giving Oath, and gets a meeting with Sanford Bensinger. The Giving Oath is a play on the Giving Pledge that was begun in 2010 by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, two of the richest men in the world. As of June 2016, $732 billion has been pledged. Names like Larry Ellison, Mike Bloomberg, Elon Musk and Tim Cook have all made the pledge. That is some rarefied air. It would make sense for Axe to been seen in these type of circles to make the NFL re-think their view of him. I’m sorry though, I never for one minute believed Axe would sign on. Act like he would take the Oath? Sure. Go through with it? No. Axe does not give away things. He exchanges things, but never gives them away. His battlements are his wealth, his position, his things. He may act like he doesn’t care about them, but he has the need to acquire and accumulate things. I also don’t think for Axe “giving it away feels better”. He makes so much money “because I can”. Axe is the warrior who will cut his enemy’s hand off. He is not the king who gives his hard earned kingdom away. That is why “anyone who makes me money is my favorite”.
Axe talks of cold calling when he first started out. Cold calling is when you have to call people, out of the blue, and try to sell them a product your firm wants you to sell. Thankfully, I never had to do that, but I know people who did. They would call people off of their alumni lists, clubs, etc. It’s crappy work, but if you can sell the product, you get a commission and earn your keep.
Lara says she’s a business woman, but her move on Mercy Squad was more mob boss. I wasn’t surprised Axe was proud of her – she did what she had to do, just like he would. I didn’t like her ratting out Wags like that though. If she wants to act like a mob boss, then she needs to know that ratting is a no-no.
And what about Wags: the guy is losing it, big time. How the hell do you not remember an ass tattoo? I have had a few too many on occasion, and there have been times I may not remember saying a thing or two, but an ass tattoo? Wags has got a tramp stamp of Yosemite Sam! I will admit, I don’t know if I wanted to see what it looked like, but I am a bit curious! He says no to rehab but this may be a case that even Wendy can’t fix. Let’s hope Wags isn’t going the way of Amy Winehouse.
We have seen Axe working out in the gym at Axe Capital. I’ve never had the pleasure to have a gym at any of the firms I’ve worked, but it was one of the perks mentioned when I interviewed at hedge fund Omega Advisers. It is definitely something funds have. I’d love to be able to run while watching the market!
Two scenes in lower Manhattan take me back to the area of the City that I absolutely love. The FBI invading Spartan-Ives was outside the Cunard Building across the street from the famous statue of the Bull (I have a photo of me on that bull somewhere…). It is a dazzling building, and until 2000 was a post office. I didn’t love waiting on line in there, but you would look up at the ceiling and marvel at it. It made the wait much more enjoyable. Bryan telling Dake to “back the fuck off” was filmed in Battery Park. I spend many a spring and summer lunch hour sitting right at the East Coast Memorial, with my nose in a book, and my brown bag lunch, enjoying the warmth of the sun. It’s a beautiful park with great views of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and my hometown of Brooklyn. Also, the when the sun sets over the harbor, there is nothing quite like it.
And now for the main event!
Axe and Chuck get ready for battle, as Megadeth’s “Peace Sell” plays in the background. I remember my best friend Brenda and I listening to this album (yes, we listened to it on a turntable) in my room in 1986. So, when the song plays, I’m 16 again. But back to Axe: it is interesting that when picking his “battle armor” this is the shirt he chooses. As much as the message is “I’d like peace, but really…” it also brings him back to his roots. He’s that Yonkers kid again and here is someone trying to challenge him. I notice that every time Axe is challenged in one way or another, he becomes that tough boy again. He literally transforms. The way he talks, the way he moves. Here is where the brilliance of Damian Lewis shines. Just those little differences and he is not Axe the hedge fund king, he is Axe, the kid who works for everything he has ever gotten, and will fight tooth and nail to keep it! When Chuck and Axe are on screen together, it is electric, and you know the smallest spark it going to light the place up! I’m glad we only get to see them on screen together infrequently – it makes the scenes when they do clash thrilling.
Until next time, “Fire Away….”