From The Trader’s Desk: Category is…. Anger! Bring it to the Runway! Billions S4E5

Those who try to burn him pay
You don’t do that to Johnny Blade
He’s the meanest guy around his town
One look and he will cut you down
Johnny Blade – Black Sabbath

Happy Friday, and welcome to the Trader’s Desk!

It seems this week’s episode, the category is anger, lots and lots of anger! Let’s explore why everyone is so damn pissed, so everybody, Bring It To The Runway!

Also, there was some new “fin-speak” in this week’s episode. I have updated the Glossary with new definitions. Most are not integral to the story lines, so I won’t be going into too much detail about them here. As always, if there is something you would like me to explain, please comment below!

A brief comment about the Chuck/Axe bromance: Does Chuck know who he has gotten into bed with? Axe wants to put Taylor in a “fucking cell” now! Chuck has names higher on his hit list, but Axe does not care: “I did earn your seat as much as you did.” Axe will be friends with Chuck as long as he does what Axe tells him to do, and Chuck has been known to thrown anyone under the bus as long as it advances his interests. Is this the first signs of this buddy movie coming to an end?

Taylor’s Anger:
Taylor is feeling the pressure of Grigor’s money leaving TMC. That is the reason we see Taylor hugging the porcelain throne first thing in the morning. That large change to the AUM (Assets Under Mangement) is going to really hurt TMC. Time to put your game face on Taylor, and face the troops!

Taylor, Sara and Mafee know that once this info goes public, TMC’s other investors will be concerned and possibly jump ship. Sara, being a good COO, knows what needs to be done. Taylor and Mafee: do what you do best, invest; Sara will create the environment in which they can do just that. And, the first order of business: welcome new Head of IR (Investor Relations), Lauren Turner!  She’s hung over, but is ready to work.  TMC needs a “Grigor size” replacement of funds, but those are few and far between. Taylor and Sara know that $3.1B of the NY Firefighters Fund is up for grabs. That pension fund used to be at Axe Capital but that relationship fizzled (9/11 anyone?), and Taylor’s association with AC may hinder TMC getting a nibble. Lauren is up for the challenge, so pickle juice in hand, she’s out the door.

Taylor also needs to deal with their dad. Bad news – the $28M needed for the CNC project is not going to be available now that funds are flowing out of TMC. The margins (profits) on the trades TMC makes are small, so size matters (ex: 1% profit on $3B = $30M). Taylor is not interested in being a boutique shop. Taylor needs to make money; more than Axe, more than anyone on the Street, in absolute returns and continue to do that year after year. This is what drives Taylor now – not the work, but the outcome, and how much money they can make.

Lauren gets Taylor the meeting with the Firefighters Fund. She and her friends partied with the decision makers from the fund at Johnny Utah’s and got Taylor 10 minutes (and the last spot) in front of the Board. Taylor is also going to have to overcome the bias against TMC for its prior affiliation with Axe Cap. They have to give one great story – one that the Board will like more than they hate Axe.

And, true to form, Taylor uses their 10 minutes wisely. Taylor’s pitch cannot be about strategy or investing; it has to be about the people, the firefighters. The firefighter’s bravery and service are their value and contribution. Taylor doesn’t want to see that stolen from them. Taylor has firsthand experience how that can happen, because their former boss, the hated Bobby Axelrod, tried to steal it from Taylor. Taylor will make sure that doesn’t happen to the firefighters. We always thought that the final straw for Taylor was Axe using Taylor’s relationship Oscar, but Taylor plainly states it here: their anger at Axe is because they feel Axe was stealing their value and contribution to Axe Cap. Taylor is not wrong, for if Axe had just treated Taylor with respect, Taylor would still be a happy Axe Capper. Where Taylor made the mistake, in my opinion, was ever believing Axe could truly value anyone or anything but himself. People have a shelf life to him; only pieces for him to move on his game board. Beating Axe is how Taylor will prove their value –to Axe but to themselves as well. The bigger issue: is Taylor willing to do “whatever it takes” to beat their former boss? We know Axe has no red line; does Taylor?

Axe’s Anger:
Axe is happy to welcome John Rice, son of a former co-worker who perished in the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the WTC, and a recipient of the scholarship fund Axe set up for the children of his late co-workers. Rice now has his own fund, which Axe invested in, and the returns are solid. Rice’s thank you to Axe for everything he has done (putting him through business school, investing and endorsing his fund) is to present him with a check for $102M – his initial investment compounded (net of fees) and a profit of $17M. The fund’s redemption period ends the next day, so Rice wanted to bring the check over himself. Most people would love to get a $102M check, but not Axe. He doesn’t trust anyone, so he’s putting Rice on the grill! Rice’s AUM went over $1B, and he just feels like his fund is getting too big to manage (depending on your strategy, scalability issues can happen). Rice is cashing out others as well so he can stay “nimble”. Axe is certainly not buying it, and he tasks Wags to find out who else is being cashed out and why.

Looks like Axe is in the only company he truly enjoys – his own. No one else is being cashed out! As Wags offers to “loose the hounds of hell on this ingrate”, Axe just walks away (is it me, or has Axe been growing weary of some of Wags’ shtick lately?). He will handle this, but first he needs to check in with Wendy, who’s back in the office, but doesn’t necessarily want anyone to know. It doesn’t matter what she wants, Axe needs her, now. Axe tries to talk about what’s going on with Wendy, but that’s not what her office is for. Have a seat Axe, and let’s find out what’s bothering you about John Rice.

Is Axe more upset at the rejection or embarrassment at the hand of Rice? Axe does not understand why he’s not feeling pure anger at Rice’s move. Oh anger is there, (when is anger not just at the surface with Axe?) it’s just not his primary emotion. Wendy calls it: he has actual feelings about this! Axe doesn’t like to deal with feelings (as we are well aware from S1E11 “Magical Thinking”) so he is befuddled.

Wendy tells him all this is his fault. Axe had promised to be there for Rice; be a stand-in father. But just as he seems to be doing with his own kids, he failed. Yes, he paid for school, and backed Rice’s fund, but was he really there for him? Did he act as a mentor or just throw money at him? As soon as Wendy uses the word “mentor” I immediately thought of Taylor, and that was Wendy’s point. To Axe, this situation feels like what happened with Taylor (although I think this is much more mild; Taylor took clients and money from AC, Rice is giving money back! Also, Axe played a major role in causing Taylor to betray him.). Even though Axe admits that Wendy may be right about what he is feeling, I doubt it. Axe rarely takes any responsibility for his actions. He can rationalize any of his behavior at this point. Axe once told Wendy he was worried he was a sociopath; Wendy told him he may be on his way to becoming one, and I think we now know the answer. Wendy has clarified the situation, so Axe knows exactly what he must do.

Axe visits John Rice Capital (does anyone have an original hedge fund name anymore?) and plays like he is trying to make amends. He knows he should have been more than an ATM to Rice, so let’s take the boat out (Rice, have you never watched ‘The Godfather”? Never take a boat ride!!) Axe is so charming; he can get anyone to do almost anything.

At the marina, Axe convinces Rice to leave his phone in the car since they won’t get reception anyway. And it’s out on the open water they go.

Rice tries to talk baseball, but Axe wants real talk! He waxes poetically about how Rice’s dad was his mentor and how Rice’s dad appreciated that Axe paid attention to details, like how he liked his coffee. All this bullshit is just Axe trying to build a bond with Rice, get him comfortable. Oh, this is such a great set-up!

Rice and Axe catch a huge fish.

“You want to eat him, or let him go to fight another day?”

Rice chooses to throw the fish back, being a “true sportsman”, something we know Axe is not. Axe does not let anyone stick around to fight another day if he can devour them!

Axe is trying to convince Rice that going bigger in his fund is doable – just come up with a different strategy. However, Rice is not interested; it’s not about the chasing for him (as it always is for Axe). He’s content, so Axe won’t be able to rip up that check just yet. It seems Axe doesn’t get what he wants (and we all know what happens in that situation!), so it’s time to head back to shore. Conveniently, the Vanquisher (I guess Crusher as the name of Axe’s boat would have been too much?) won’t start and even $100K won’t get them to the top of the towing list. Something in the fuel line?  A blown fuse?  No, this is all a ruse. The boat is fine; that fake distress call (shout out to Spyros with a nice New England accent!) was the trigger to set Axe’s plan (and his accomplices back at the office) in motion!

Axe wanted to get Rice away for the day; if Axe got his way, and Rice took his money back, everyone’s friends again. However, that is not how it went down, so Rice will pay. Axe had a contingency plan set and ready to go, and boy what a plan it was!

Doing his best Don Draper, Axe changes the conversation; Rice wasn’t cashing him out, he was pulling his money from John Rice Capital, questioning Rice’s strategy, getting other managers on board, and putting out a pretty amazing smear campaign. Rice had no way to respond to any of his clients, and their calls for redemptions. Everything is personal to Axe, so if you try going against his wishes, you will be ruined. Did he really need to go that far with Rice? Of course not, but this is less about Rice and more about Taylor. Axe hasn’t been able to destroy Taylor, so he’ll have Rice as an appetizer, and send a message to the world – Do Not Fuck With Bobby Axelrod! Would we expect anything less? This is a vicious play by Axe, but not surprising. This is who Axe is: he is the Terminator!

 

Wendy’s Anger:
Two questions I have had since E4 are now answered: Wendy and Chuck are still (kind of) together, and Rebecca and Wendy have a better relationship than Wendy and Lara (or Wendy and Chuck for that matter!)

On a nice double date, the couples are digging into some fine looking pizza. This is the first time Wendy has been out in a month, but the enticement of privacy and a pie was too good to pass up.

We can tell Wendy is still angry at Chuck and we understand it a bit more now. She still blames Chuck for outing her to the public. Wendy had control of how people saw her depending on how she presented herself to them: Wendy Rhoades, Dr. Wendy Rhoades, Mrs. Charles Rhoades – she was the one who decided what people saw. Now that control, that choice, has been taken away.  Who would not be pissed at someone who takes away your ability to define yourself? Especially a man taking that choice away from a woman. Axe tries to make Wendy understand that Chuck was in a tough spot and had to make a choice. What about Wendy’s choice? Axe and Chuck just don’t understand, or just don’t want to because for them, getting ahead and doing whatever it takes supersedes anyone else’s feelings. Blowback does not matter – everyone and anyone will be and can be collateral damage.

Rebecca tries to tell Wendy people will forget, since everyone will go right back “to their own shit-pile”. Wendy appreciates the comment, and even tells Axe ‘this one’s a keeper”. Rebecca is right; people will move on and the news cycle is very short these days, but that is not really the point. Wendy is angry because her choice and her control of her image were taken away. Oh, and she won’t forget that Axe took Chuck’s side in this.

Wendy needs to find out what people are saying about her – specifically at TMC. Best way to find out? Hack into the social media account of someone in touch with TMC employees – like Rudy! Wags does what Wags does best – know shit others need to know, but just don’t want to! He gets the password, and Wendy is off digging. Will she like what she finds?

Well, she finds out what people are saying, and they are obsessed! However, after a while, Wendy realizes that these people are strangers, who mean nothing to her, so why give them this power over her?

One thing did hit a nerve – the TMC employees were of course part of the peanut gallery, except for Taylor. Not only did Taylor not join in, they told the others to stop. Wendy admits to Axe that Taylor was the only person to reach out to her. (Wendy does fib a little here: she tells Axe she didn’t take the call, but she did. She didn’t say a word to Taylor, but in this day and age, we all know exactly who is calling us. Wendy could have ignored or declined the call, but she didn’t.)

Wendy thinks Taylor reached out because they feel sorry for her and Taylor no longer sees Wendy as a threat. Axe – and I’m shocked at first – disagrees. He sees it as an act of an “open and evolved person who understands vulnerability”: But Axe is Axe so what do we next get? “Lame” as he walks out of Wendy’s office. He would only use that kind of opportunity to crush someone, never to lift them up.

Wendy calls Taylor and says she’d like to talk and see them. Is this because Wendy is still angry at Taylor  and has a plan to use Taylor’s empathy against them? Or has Wendy finally had enough of the men in her life just being non-feeling assholes? That is the $99,000 Question!

Anger is a secondary emotion I’ve been told; it usually masks hurt. All these people have been hurt in some way or another. It seems like they will continue to hurt one another and continue living and perpetuating all this anger. But, when your anger becomes all consuming, what do you have left?

 

Author: Lady Trader

"Lady Trader" is a Brooklyn girl, and a Wall Street lifer! Recently fought cancer, and won! I love heavy metal, history, sci-fi, oh, and blogging about Billions and it's great lead actor, Damian Lewis!

18 thoughts on “From The Trader’s Desk: Category is…. Anger! Bring it to the Runway! Billions S4E5”

  1. Lady “T” What would you recommend reading, be it one book, several or a volume set to at least get an idea about money management for profit is about? Just more than curious about the absolute state of mind without the “Pathology” if that is even possible. Love your review!!

    1. Thank you for reading and the kind words!
      One of the first books I read about Wall Street was “Liar’s Poker” by Michael Lewis. It really gave you insight to what it was like to be a trader in the Roaring 80’s!
      Another book I would suggest is “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” by Burton Malkiel. It’s a great basic place to start. One of these days I’m going to write the book of a young lady from a working class background, no college, who succeeds on Wall Street! When that is published, I hope you’ll read that one too!

  2. I love it that you start every review with a song, and a song that Axe definitely loves 🙂

    Now that you’re saying it yes you are absolutely right Axe has been shut Wags up multiple times this season. Hmmm… 🙂 I also love the analogy with the fish… true sportsman or not? Axe is certainly not. He eats John and doesn’t allow him to fight for another day. Again, what a great analogy… His best Don Draper moment. Exactly! Change the conversation!!!!

    I hope we get a little sense of Wendy’s intentions regarding Taylor in this coming episode. She is such a poker face that I really couldn’t read her!

    1. Thank you for noticing! I think everyone needs a shtick, so song lyrics to start my blog will be mine! And, yes, they just happen to be metal songs, that Axe knows and loves!

      I’m glad you are seeing the change in the Wags/Axe relationship. It’s not “in your face”, but he seems a bit more dismissive of Wags. It may not mean a thing, but we have learned to look in every corner, and under every rock for a sign of what may be to come!

      I knew you would love the Don Draper reference – I did it just for you!

      Wendy and her poker face this season. She is not readable at all (except when it comes to Chuck) and I’m here for it. I really have no idea which way the meeting with Taylor will go. And that is why we love this show – even after 3 seasons, and all our analysis of these characters, we are still surprised!

  3. I was initially confused why Malburn and Birch jumped on Bobby’s side against John given they either dislike or hate him themselves, but then I wondered if they were sensing weakness and wanted to poach some of his investors as well from his rotting carcass. Does that seem the most likely reason to you as well?

    Speaking of John, while he may fall by the wayside as another minor character speedbump as others have, I hope he actually sticks around and ends up joining Taylor later. While Taylor’s crew is expanding slowly I do think they’re still a bit lacking in terms of actual financial experts amongst their current staff and it feels like a lot to depend on only Mafee for that sort of support. Just a thought, but it seems like a great opportunity to address some of that workforce shortage Axe has been keeping Taylor from filling so far.

    1. Hi! Thanks for reading.

      Your theory is most likely correct regarding picking meat off a carcass. Malbern and Birch will know Axe is going to crush Rice, so why not get a few million in the process? To them (Malvern and Birch) it’s only business, where as for Axe is it always personal. Real smart hedge fund managers try and see every situation as an opportunity, and that is what happened here!

      I hear what you are saying about TMC. However, the show hasn’t really gone into detail about the inner workings there. We know about Mafee, and the Quants, but we haven’t seen much else. Where the first 3 seasons we got to see a lot of the analysts/traders at Axe Capital, because so far the story line has been Axe vs. Taylor, we are left guessing what goes on in the trenches at TMC. Rice returning to join up with Taylor would make sense, but only if he had a really good strategy to bring with him. He doesn’t have much of a book (clients with $) left so just bringing $$ won’t cut it. Or he could bring something Taylor could use against Axe (perhaps something his Dad told him about Axe),

  4. Hi Lady T, big fan. Would love to read your book when it comes out . would love to edit it! My question is how are companies valued globally actoss several dtocs exchanges. For example, Apple has the most market cap in the world. Is that only on the Dow? How about other exchanges. If this is too much detail to go into and uoucoyou point me to a book as well, would be grateful

    1. Thank you so much for reading, and for the kind words.

      As far as I know, Apple (AAPL) is only traded here in the US on the NASDAQ (and is a component of the DJIA). It’s market cap is in US dollars, so that is how it is valued.
      Something like Anglo American, which is traded on the London Stock Exchange (and a component of the FTSE 100) has a market cap of 3.5B British Pound Sterling, which would have a different value in US dollars (or Euros).

      I guess I’m just using examples to show that companies are valued in the currency of the country in which they are traded. There are some companies that trade on dual exchanges (they are called ADR’s – American depository receipts a negotiable certificate issued by a U.S. bank representing a specified number of shares (or one share) in a foreign stock traded on a U.S. exchange). In these cases, the market caps will correspond with whatever exchange they are on.

      I hope this helps!

      1. It definitely helps. Thanks I still need to get some more research. Do you trade in foreign markets as part of your stratrst? Sometimes onbtho show, you will see them talk about hitting other exchanges before the US opens die to time zone difference

        1. I do not trade on foreign exchanges. I stick to what I know best – domestic equities. I do follow what the other markets are doing, (Asia, Europe) to see if they may have an effect on the US opening markets.

  5. Thank you Lady “T.” I have heard and seen material by Michael Lewis by way of articles and the Big Short. I will indulge in your suggested reads to include Burton Malkiel. Please publish your “read.” Perhaps it will motivate others and myself to contribute to progressive thought and whimsical thinking! Again, thank you for sharing.

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