x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Golden oldies pave the way to a Mutual interest

Old Mutual, which might sound like a 1970s aftershave but is in fact the sweetest-smelling stock in my extremely fragrant bouquet of equities.

It's 1971. Apollo astronauts land on the Moon (again!), Evel Knievel and his Harley Davidson XR-750 land on the far side of 19 all-American cars, setting a new world record in a briefly airborne gesture of pre-globalisation solidarity with the US auto industry ("and I want you to know there's not a Volkswagen or a Datsun in the row"), and the barely 15-year-old Jonathan Gornall lands his first date, thanks to the magic of Old Spice.

Well, I say "date". And I say "magic". Even as I stood in a queue at the washroom mirrors with the other pimply hopefuls, preening ourselves in anticipation of that night's school disco, at which we would flap our flares, strut ludicrously to Brown Sugar and do our best to ignore the girls from the local high school - bused in for the sole purpose, it seemed, of ignoring us - I seriously doubted that the liberal application of aftershave on faces that had yet to be introduced to the cold steel of manhood would do anything to improve our chances.

How right I was. Emboldened - or, perhaps, rendered lightheaded - by the overpowering odour, I left the safety of the herd and, to the strains of Rod Stewart's Maggie May, grooved up to one likely lovely, straining not to focus on her shiny braces. The object of my Old Spice-fuelled bravado stood her ground, but what a disturbing sight I must have looked. John Denver hair, spectacularly enormous spectacles, black polo-neck jumper (ribbed) and jacket with lapels wider than a Jumbo's wingspan.

If you want the full horrific picture, pause now and type "Old Spice commercial 1971" into YouTube. Luckily, in those days mirrors didn't work properly. Unluckily, my target's own, equally enormous glasses seemed to be working perfectly, as did her sense of smell. "So, want to dance?" I shouted smoothly into her ear. She recoiled as though struck by lightning, or the premonition of some ghastly fate.

"Ugh," she shrieked. "You really, really stink!" Secretly, I think she really, really liked me. All of which brings me - older, wiser, balder and considerably less spicy - to Old Mutual, which might sound like a 1970s aftershave but is in fact the sweetest-smelling stock in my extremely fragrant bouquet of equities. What on earth is going on? This week, all bar two of the 13 stocks continued to rise, by an average of 7.6 per cent. Even the two poorest-performing improvers, Royal Dutch Shell and Sainsbury, are up 2 per cent each, while the best, Rio Tinto and Old Mutual, have leapt a startling 13 and 15 per cent respectively.

To put that in perspective, over the past 10 days the FTSE100 has been flickering up and down almost imperceptibly, its most impressive daily upswing a mere and unsustained 2.65 per cent. In other words, the sheer dumb luck of Outsider Trading is flailing the FTSE. Of course, what I should do now is absolutely nothing, but where's the fun in that? Since I began fantasy trading on June 13 my imaginary fund of £15,000 (Dh87,134) has grown by £616.75. With a bit more effort and an aggressive strategy, surely I should be able to round that up to £1,000?

So, here's my new policy: Top-End Profit-Enhanced Colour-Coded Loss-Cutting - TEPECCLC for short, or, if you prefer, "If It's Red, It's Dead". Basically - and, to be honest, basic is pretty much all it is - the moment a stock flickers into the red, ruining the aesthetic symmetry of my all-blue trading-statement scoreboard, it's history. So farewell, then, Reckitt Benckiser, bought at 3,233 pence on July 20 and now sold down at 3,107p; cheerio Rolls-Royce, 579.5p on July 20 and now shed for 563p. Minor losses, sure, but - and here's the cunning part - more than offset by the gains generated by the second strand of my brilliant new trading strategy: to sell instantly any share that improves by more than 10 per cent.

Now, obviously, I haven't done the maths, or even really thought about it very much at all, but I am convinced that this strategy cannot fail, having about it the whiff of a breakthrough on par with the discovery of a perpetual-motion machine. Of course, its success relies on a complete and ruthless absence of sentimentality and a determined vigilance throughout the FTSE trading day, which alone means it is almost certainly doomed to failure. But hey, let's give it a go.

So also out goes Rio Tinto, bought for 3,048p a share on July 20 and now sold down the river at 3,455.5p. Crazy name, crazy profit. Likewise, the new rules dictate that I should pull the plug on Rio's co-tenpercenter, our Old Mutual friend, embraced at 111.4p and now ripe for rejection at 127.6p. And yet … what was I going to do with the £4,029 cash I now had floating unprofitably in my account? Why, plough the lot into Old Mutual, of course, in sentimental recollection of disco nights, direct defiance of my new operational strategy and celebration of Old Spice's ironic reinvention and hugely successful YouTube-Twitter social media campaign.

Of course, were it not for the fact that I am limited to dealing in London-traded shares I would rather have invested in Procter & Gamble, the Old Spice brandmeister, which has doubled its Old Spice sales, essentially by mocking me, but no matter. Old Mutual might be a dull insurance company, but it's close enough and right now smelling of roses, having successfully unloaded its US Life arm, netting US$350 million (Dh1.28bn) and earning "strong buy" recommendations from a majority of brokers.

But Old Spice men don't trifle with such details; they pile in, all guts and instinct. It's the mark of a man. Or an idiot. Let's see. jgornall@thenational.ae