Not that I have anything against playing the stock market, you understand, it’s just that it raises a few questions that will need to be answered.
Firstly, aren’t you supposed to be working?
I know, the same can be said of surfing the Net or sending personal email on company time. But those activities don’t require a lot of time or effort in the grand scheme of things. My day usually begins with a quick look at the Dilbert cartoon for the day, which I copy and email to my wife — she can’t surf the Net from her office. That doesn’t take me too long and I’m usually doing it while checking my overnight voice mails and throwing press releases in the bin. But if I was checking my portfolio and analysing last night’s Nasdaq action, you bet I’d be paying attention. And if something needed my attention during the day, one of those moments that makes your pulse race and your hear go boom churn, I’d be online in a moment, pushing my shares around.
Think I’m exaggerating? I went to a conference in Florida once that was memorable for a lot of things not least of which was getting to watch day traders up close in their natural habitat. At each session break there was a rush for the doors as three distinct groups headed for the outside world: the smokers, the caffeine freaks and the traders. Each one grabbed their paraphernalia — lighters, mugs and cellphones respectively — and dashed for their comfort zones by the doors, urns and good reception spots. How they coped if they needed all three fixes I just don’t know. Trying to sell short with a lighter in your ear can’t be the easiest way to make a few dollars. To prove my point — and I do have one, honestly — the traders outnumbered both other groups. Heated arguments with brokers and lackeys over trades that may or may not have gone through could be heard echoing up and down the hallways, although they were replaced by the howls of anguish when the next session was called and the cellphones were to be switched off.
Last year I spoke with Designer Technology managing director Martin Oxley about DT’s Marshal software offerings. The Marshal suite of apps allows IT managers to restrict user access to certain Web sites or to certain types of attachments to email.
Oxley showed me a report from Ernst & Young that claimed up to 80% of company bandwidth usage was taken up with non-business related browsing. He claims most CIOs he spoke with were more concerned with blocking staff access to day trading sites than they were with pornography sites.
And that leads to the other side of the problem — actually having something to trade. New Zealand’s reputation as the stock market capital of the world is far from secure — in fact you could liken us to the wild west when it comes to financial markets in general, let alone actual technology stocks. Editorials in Unlimited magazine and the National Business Review have both slammed the NZSE for various reasons — too staid, too boring, yet also too dangerous for smaller investors. Technology stocks, touted as being New Zealand’s equivalent to US “Net stocks” just can’t compete, either in terms of turnover or in terms of growth, although that may not be such a bad thing if you’re expecting the net stock bubble to burst. Sure, we have a few tech stocks, but they make such small waves in the public consciousness that they may as well not bother.
Perhaps the way to look at all this is as a self-fulfilling prophecy — if we have day trading it may help promote these technology stocks, which should pick up in value quite quickly, helping to promote the market as a whole. A stronger market will mean more people willing to invest their money in shares, which means there will be more incentive for companies to go public in the first place. An active market might even attract more offshore investment, which can only be good, right? In fact, you could say you were morally obliged to trade from your PC in the office. Try that one when your boss catches you at it and let me know how you get on.
Paul Brislen is a Computerworld reporter and regular columnist, phone: 0-9-377 9902, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org