The Gateway to Algorithmic and Automated Trading

Lights, camera, Enron

Published in Automated Trader Magazine Issue 14 Q3 2009

The smartest guy out of the office might be leaving his island at last.

We fed this news into the algorithm, and it burped. There's a play coming up this Autumn, at London's Royal Court Theatre, called - wait for it - Enron. No, really. The British actor Samuel West will play Jeffrey Skilling (West's previous credits include portrayals of Gorbachev and Macbeth), and it is probably worth warning you that the playwright responsible for this, one Lucy Prebble, also dreamed up and wrote the scripts for a recent UK TV series called 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl'. Prebble is a big cheese at the Royal Court; she won the the George Devine Award and the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright in 2004, for her earlier play The Sugar Syndrome (about anorexia, not soft commodities), and according to her agent's website, she is "already attracting considerable stateside attention". Go, Lucy!Helicopter

We cribbed that bit about the awards from the press release. We are also indebted to the Royal Court's PR department for this tantalising hint that Enron's opening night might just contain a revelation. "Based on real life and using music, movement and video, Enron explores one of the most infamous scandals in financial history, reviewing the tumultuous 1990s and casting a new light on the financial turmoil in which the world finds itself in 2009". Our bold italics. Now, we've used many analytical tools in our attempt to get to the bottom of the Enron affair, and we wouldn't mind casting a new light on this year's financial turmoil. But we hadn't thought of applying, ah, The Prebble Method. Music, movement and video … hm.

Should have this whole credit-crunch meltdown volatility thing lit, choreographed and thoroughly explained within hours. Watch this space - and if you get bored with doing that, go to www.royalcourttheatre.com and book some tickets. Take the smartest guys in your office for a night out. Watch their faces as the chorus line high-kicks its way through the formation of the first offshore, off-balance sheet debt-carrying vehicles. Hear the accountants in the audience shouting: "It's behind the small print!" Learn something about the stage-management of risk.

We received the Royal Court's press release at 9am on a Wednesday morning. By 11.30, we were already busy removing the desks from the Automated Trader Research Department to make space for the new revolving stage. By the time the Editor left for an awards lunch, we were confident that our first explanatory production - a little musical number called Lehman! - would have been seen by compliance well before the tea trolley came through at 3.30. By two-ish, the revolving stage was whizzing around nicely, and rehearsals for the fight scenes (part of the sub-plot about collateralised debt obligations) were already under way.Lights, camera, Enron
But then the Editor returned from his lunch, and everything changed. Ashen-faced, the Editor told us the news: the downturn was over; the recovery well under way; and if it wasn't going to be possible to reverse the spin on the revolving stage, we would at least have to go through the issue replacing all the hindsight about the crash with forward-looking pieces about how - this time - the boom would definitely go on forever. How did he know this? Simple. Quite without provocation, on the trip back to the office, the taxi driver had slid back the glass and expressed the view that the downturn had at least another year to run.

Now, whatever else you can say for our Editor [A lot - Ed.], you can certainly say that he was there. He was there in the eighties - and the nineties - when the taxi drivers started giving stock tips. He wasn't there when that shoe-shine boy famously let J P Morgan in on a stock tip shortly before the Wall Street Crash, but he gets so grey-faced sometimes that you could almost imagine [Enough of this - Ed].

There really is going to be a play called Enron that will use music, movement and video to explain current market conditions. There really are taxi drivers forecasting long-term bad news. But unfortunately, there is not about to be a webcam at www.automatedtrader.net. We've learned our lesson. We're sticking to print.