“From the Trader’s Desk”: Crisis of Confidence?

When I was living this lie, fear was my game
People would worship and fall, drop to their knees
Powerslave – Iron Maiden


If it’s Friday, then it’s time for “From the Trader’s Desk”.

Before I get into the meat of my post, just some observations:

I was asked why MPC is claiming ownership of Winston’s software. If he developed it how does MPC have the rights to it? Well, the type of risk management software Winston is trying to sell would most certainly take months (if not years) to develop, code, back test, and debug. Which means there is no way he could have developed it overnight. If what Taylor says is correct, (that Winston used data to test his software using MPC trader transactions) then that also would make it property of MPC. By using data and equipment owned by MPC, legally Winston doesn’t own it. Could a court possibly rule that he co-owns it? Yes. Also, most funds would have a clause written in his contract that he would not be able to market any type of software for a stated period (usually 6-9 months). His best course of action would have been to offer it to MPC first to either buy him out or lease the program. If they passed, he then could have tried to get permission from MPC to market it to other firms. Just another example of unnecessary greed killing a golden goose.

What a coincidence it was to see Michael Lewis in this week’s episode. I wrote about the book Liar’s Poker in my post last week. The many “crass motherfuckers” would certainly celebrate the 35th Anniversary of one of the most (in)famous books written about Wall Street. As Wags says, some saw it as a love letter to the cut-throat culture of the Street during the 80’s and 90’s, while others would see it as totally unflattering and a cautionary tale of excess and of a “frat boy” like mentality.

Mr. Lewis is also correct that the Street is a bit more sanitized now than it was back then. I still think traders say fuck (I know I do), but strippers on the trading floor and other shenanigans don’t take place anymore less than because it’s frowned upon, but more because trading floors are dead. With most transactions taking place electronically, trading floors are basically obsolete. The NYSE keeps its trading floor more for tradition than necessity. Just look at reports from the NYSE in the 80’s and today. The hustle and bustle is all but gone. There is more excitement about who is ringing the opening or closing bell these days on the floor.

When I worked at the American Stock Exchange from 1991-1997, the only mischief I heard of was the tradition on the trading floor to take a soon to be groom, handcuff him to the pole outside of the Greenwich Street entrance, and pelt him with eggs, shaving cream, etc. It was all in good fun, but I could see how that would not be acceptable today!

Wags mentions he is surprised that more of his fellow wolves in wolves clothing haven’t decamped to Florida. In the last few years, over 150 New York based financial firms have left the city, and relocated to Florida. Big firms such as Elliott Investment Management ($71B assets under management) and Icahn Enterprises ($28B AUM) have decamped to southern Florida. Goldman Sachs has reportedly been looking to relocate certain businesses to Florida as well. The reasons are several: high taxes, increased crime, and being able to work from virtually anywhere. “The Street” is not really located on Wall Street anymore.

This week we see three characters suffering from a crisis of confidence and questioning if they have still got the magic that made them feared and/or loved. Although they go through different journeys, they all get back to themselves in the end.

We have all had been through something in our lives that may make us gun-shy. Whether it be a bad relationship, a bad meal (who knew gas station sushi wasn’t good) or some other bad experience, we have all made choices that went awry, then caused us to think twice before going down that same path again (although I think we can all agree, there’s no revisiting gas station sushi).

In the business I am in, there is no way to be right 100% of the time, or even 75% (and anyone who says they are, are fraudsters). I have made some bad trades and they have made me second guess myself. Losing money is not a lot of fun. But I know that I will miss every shot I don’t take. I can’t let my error in shorting Apple stop me from longing E.L.F. Getting a trade wrong is very humbling, but I have enough confidence in my skills and experience to not get cold feet and possibly lose out on a winning bet. It was good to see Wags, Wendy and Chuck get their belief in themselves back, all in different ways.

Chuck is back at his office in the Southern District and giving a rousing pep talk to his troops. He wants all the third rail cases they have been shying away from. As they bring case after case to him, he turns them down. He was 80-0 at one point and needs to come out of the gate with a winner. Even when a slam dunk pump and dump scheme lands on his desk, it’s a no. Ira, Chuck Sr., and Wendy all try to get Chuck back to his pugnacious self. In Chuck’s case, I totally understand why he would be cautious on his first case since being back at his old job. He has been humiliated several times and is just tired of looking like a fool. Chuck always thinks he is the smartest man in the room (even when he’s not) and I do think his hubris and arrogance has caused him to get the short end of the stick on a few occasions. It takes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to get Chuck back on the horse (I’d love to know how Ira, Chuck Sr. or Karl got that get!). As much as I don’t like Chuck, we do need him to be the “sheriff” in the Billions game of cops and robbers, so it’s good to see him going after Prince. Chuck being doubtful in his abilities I understand, Wags and Wendy on the other hand, I don’t.

At the party to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Liar’s Poker, Wags is called out by his compadres as having lost his edge. Wags is a legend on Wall Street, and his reputation was only enhanced when he worked for a badass like Bobby Axelrod. But now that he is at MPC and works for a politician, his old comrades think Wags is one step away from the glue factory.

As if that didn’t dinge his ego enough, Winston pulls his software thievery under his watch, and Taylor and Philip don’t want his help in sorting it out. You know Wags is in a bad place when he’s drinking herbal tea instead of whiskey. Wags is questioning if he has still got it, and the only one who can help is his own Dr. Mojo, Wendy.

Wendy reminds him that he is still the same person, just the circumstances around him have changed. He needs to do something that reminds him of what made him a legend in the first place. Wendy gives him the best advice: do something bold, and remember it is always better to ask for forgiveness than for permission!

Wags leaps into action. He barges in on Taylor and Philip confronting Winston, threatens Winston within an inch of his life, all the while strategically placing a listening bug that will give Hall (well hello there!) all the intel they will need to bring Winston to heel.

With additional info provided by Rian, Wags drops the mic (literally) on Winston “This Is Your Life!” style! Winston agrees let MPC license a watered-down version of the software to other firms, and Winston is a Prince Capper again, as Taylor will let him run it. And as Philip compliments Wags as being “utterly brutal” Wags wants it known far and wide that Mike Fucking Wagner is still, and always will be a legend! Crisis averted!

Out of the three characters who are having confidence issues this week, Wendy would be the last person I would think would have any issues. It was very surprising to me to see her going on this journey, and she has always been the glue that held everything  and everyone together.

Ben Kim lets it slip that he (and others at the firm) are seeing an outside therapist. As Wendy has sessions with each one, she finds out that they feel they cannot come to her with issues outside of work. They want to see a “real” doctor, even though Wendy reminds them she is a real doctor.

I could understand why maybe Taylor would see someone else (Wendy did burn her pretty good with Taylor’s Dad back in S4E7) but the rest of the gang is shocking. They all see her as just a performance coach who only cares about results, and not a therapist they can talk to about anything. Wendy is wounded by their words.

While trying to right the good ship Wags, she confesses that she’s having a confidence issue as well. This other doctor is in her head. The Wendy Wags knows doesn’t hypothesize or speculate about a rival – she finds out the 411 herself.

And that is just what she does. Wendy confronts Mayer about stealing her patients. But she also realized that this outside help has been beneficial to the Prince Cappers. Maybe they can work in tandem to get the best out of their patients.

But Mayer doesn’t think they do the same thing. And this is where Mayer loses me. She basically says that Wendy’s just a dealer keeping her addicted patients “on the hamster wheel”. What complete and utter bullshit. It can’t be that these people like what they do? It can’t be that they enjoy the feeling of being alive doing what they are good at?

If you get to work in the rarefied air at a place like Axe Capital (or yes MPC) you have gotten there by being the best of the best, being the smartest of the smartest, and relishing what you do. Oh, and one other way: by choice! Working at a hedge fund in this day and age, you know what you are getting yourself into. Yes, the large amount of money one can make is a draw, but that is not why you choose this life. You choose it because you want to, you like to and your excel at it. Not everyone succeeds in this industry; if you do it’s because you have the skills and personality to.

Now, I do think the defense Wendy uses as to why she does what she does (her patients want to earn, to fight, to win) sounds like Axe in a nutshell. The last two episodes have shown Wendy wanting to defend what she and Axe built from Prince destroying it. The business and in turn the employees are valuable to her. This doctor wants Wendy to free her patients, but I ask from what? You can want to improve yourself (and go see Mayer) but at the same time enjoy what you do and want to be the best at it (and see Wendy). I don’t see it as an either/or situation.

That all being said, I too am interested in why Wendy thinks she can’t leave now. It’s not like she hasn’t before – she left Axe Capital in Season 2 but came back. Maybe this is where she truly belongs. I’m just afraid this “doctor” is going to mess with Wendy’s head. And a sharp and focused Wendy is what’s needed for Axe later in the season.

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!

4 thoughts on ““From the Trader’s Desk”: Crisis of Confidence?”

  1. Fantastic post as always! Thank you!

    Thank you for explaining why the software Winston has developed belongs to MPC. I think this applies to other sectors as well, including mine, if you develop a product at a university, I am not sure if the university necessarily owns it, but it certainly has a lot of rights on it.

    I had no idea that hedge-funds were moving to Florida. That is why I did not understand it when they said one of the Billions spin-offs would be Billions – Miami! I see the advantage of being able to work from anywhere but if I am at any point in the world can work from anywhere I would move to NY for good in a heart beat! :)))

    1. I knew that there would be questions about Winston’s software – I tried to explain it as best I could, but you get it being in academic life!
      I think the move out of NY (and some funds are leaving Chicago like Citadel with $63B under management) are due in part to higher taxes (FL has no personal income tax), climate, higher costs of living, and an uptick in crime. It’s a sad state of affairs because these companies leaving really hit the economies of NY hard.

  2. Lady Trader – Well, I think it’s no surprise I’m happy to see Iron Maiden lyrics 😉 I was over the moon to see Billions Writers reference This is Your Life…one of the first reality shows ever, but had a game show feel. I’m all about game shows in case you haven’t figured out! By the way, I had NO idea that over 150 New York based financial firms have left the city for Florida. Wow. Like Damianista said, now the Miami spinoff makes sense!

    1. I knew you would be happy to see those lyrics! I didn’t know what I was going to use, then Powerslave came up on my playlist while I was on the treadmill, and I was like “ah ha!”.
      The exodus out of NY (and some have left Chicago and CA too) I think has to do with higher taxes in those places and the uptick in crime. It’s pretty bad here in NY. I’ve lived here my entire 53 years, only recently don’t feel safe on the subway and avoid it when I can. It’s very sad because NYC has so many wonderful things to enjoy and experience.

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