Time to perform!
The Corporate salesman asking me the price had a client on the line with a reputation for trying to drive the market. I tried to get the guy to give me an indication as to what he thought the customer would do but he just shrugged his shoulders. It is hard to imagine feeling that alone in a room of three hundred people but as I made the quote I felt like I was alone on a desert island.
There was a five second delay while the salesman relayed the price, I used the time to line up a few calls to cover the position. Just as the I heard the words “YOURS” as the salesman told me he had hit my bid, the alert alarms on three hundred Reuters terminals sounded as if to emphasize my situation. I managed to remain focussed despite the shouts that were rising all around me of a coup in Russia. TV screens were reprogrammed to show tanks in Red Square and rumours of Gorbachev being arrested emerged.
Curiously, the DEM/FRF price had barely changed but everything was happening in slow motion. I saw out of the corner of my eye, my colleague running back to his desk to give me some assistance. By the time he reached his seat I had profitably covered fifty of the two hundred and fifty million position at a small profit.
At that point the deafening sound of the fire alarm sounded. As is natural in these situations, everyone assumed it was a drill or a false alarm, so no one moved.
Is it getting hot in here?
The pair of us were managing trade out of the remaining two hundred million in small amounts and had shifted a further fifty million before the appointed fire marshals for the trading room started to call for an evacuation as the alarm continued to sound. Like a captain who “goes down with his ship” I remained firmly in my seat phone clamped to my ear and fingers moving rapidly across my keyboard as I sold another fifty million.
The Chief dealer passed me on his way out and knowing I was clearing the trade, paused to reassure me it was a false alarm so to continue what I was doing. We had one hundred million left to sell. The market was literally see sawing as rumour and counter rumour emerged from Russia. While being long of DEM would have been my natural choice we were bouncing from 100 pints out of court to 100 hundred points in profit every few seconds.
The fire alarm was continuing to sound and I realized that I had been oblivious to the total evacuation of the room to the extent that there were just the two of us left.
We were down to the last fifty million and showing a small profit when the doors of the room burst open and a host of firemen poured in shouting and gesturing.
It appears that the fire was real, and they were sweeping the building for stragglers. Two came over to the desk trying to impress upon us the urgency of the situation. The fire was on the floor above us and we needed to leave there and then. My fellow trader concluded a deal leaving thirty million to clear and got up from his chair to leave. I was determined to close out the position and remained rigidly in place asking the fireman to give me two minutes.
As the firemen close to the door started to shout for us to “get out now”, I was hitting bids as I found them in small amounts with my broker. The fireman was starting to get anxious and was starting to pull my chair across the room. In those days we all had five metre cords on our phones so as he dragged me the cord was extending. It must have been a bizarre sight!
I was finally hustled out of the room with ten million of the two hundred and fifty remaining to be covered but I was confident that we had made a sufficient profit on the trades already executed to be able to close the whole trade in positive territory.
When we were outside the room, the smell of smoke was strong although the fire turned out to be small and well controlled.
We were allowed back into the room after half an hour and closed the balance of the trade without incident finally finishing up about square on the whole transaction.
Mr Gorbachev? Oh, he was back in power a couple of days later.