x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

My bravado is more silly than sensible

How has my £15,000 fantasy stock portfolio performed this week? Read on to find out.

In the 1979 film Being There, Peter Sellers plays Chance, a simpleminded gardener whose worldview is framed solely by what he has learnt on television but who is thrust by circumstances into elevated circles where his banal utterings are mistaken for insightful political and economic commentary. His introduction to an influential US presidential adviser as "Chance the Gardener" is misheard as "Chauncey Gardiner" and thereafter the homegrown guru can do no wrong. Oblivious to the effect he is having, Chance finds he becomes the toast of Washington high society and the must-have guest on TV chat shows and at all the best parties.

Senators and presenters alike find clear meaning in his clearly meaningless babble and, when the president dies, the party kingmakers can think of only one man worthy of replacing him: Chauncey Gardiner. Dear reader, I am Chauncey Gardiner. When I began this column four weeks ago, I took the trouble to attach to it a warning. It is, perhaps, worth repeating here: "Nothing I say or do should be taken as financial advice. But that, I fear, will be painfully obvious."

Not painfully obvious enough, it seems. To repeat: Outsider Trading is nothing more than a cautionary account of the hapless efforts of an amateur day trader, playing at playing the FTSE armed with nothing more than an imaginary £15,000 (Dh83,600), an online practice trading account and a complete absence of personal financial acumen. If the film Rain Man had been about day trading, I would have been Charlie Babbitt's idiot-savant brother Raymond, only minus the redeeming "savant" part.

And yet what did I read in The National earlier this week? "Financial institutions in the Middle East are understood to be considering a strategic investment in BP, the oil giant wracked by problems caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico." I blame myself. I plunged into BP shares last month, when they hit the floor at 392p. Since then that floor has turned out to be the ceiling of a basement, through which the price has continued to tunnel, passing through 322p at the close of trading last Friday on its way to excavating what could be either an underground car park or a very deep grave.

And now some of the wealthiest investors in the Middle East decide to follow my example? When I invested in BP four weeks ago, my original holding of 2,536 shares was worth £9,939.85. Now it's worth £8,366.26, which, as fellow fans of the multi-function percentage calculator on mathsisfun.com will know, represents a loss so far of 15.83 per cent. (And here's a little test. Can anyone tell me what percentage increase it would require to turn my £8,366.26 back into £9,939.85? That boy at the back of the class? That's right: 18.81 per cent. Now, is it just me, or is that downright confusing? And, "maths is fun"? Please.)

Two scenarios spring to mind. 1) Sovereign wealth funds across the Gulf pile into BP big-time, make incomprehensibly vast sums of money when the company's stock bobs back up to the surface and, being decent chaps at heart, decide to flick me a crumb or two to acknowledge that I thought of it first. Call it commission. All right, all right, I know it was sort of an obvious thing to do, but then so was flying once the Wright brothers had got it off the ground.

2) Sovereign wealth funds across the Gulf pile into BP big-time, it all goes horribly wrong and they remember that they read it here first. Whatever happens, I now find myself in a dilemma. If the Middle East does come to the rescue of BP, in effect guaranteeing the billions of dollars in clean-up costs the company faces, won't that arrest and possibly even reverse the slide of the share price? And before it does, shouldn't I be roping that mustang and riding it all the way back to green pastures? (I'm not sure where that metaphor came from; perhaps it had something to do with being raised in Peckham, England, setting of the British TV series Only Fools and Horses.)

In other words, perhaps I should be dumping all my other stocks in favour of a 100 per cent, do-or-die, market-moving endorsement of BP? Against that proposition: this column is called Outsider Trading, not Outsider Trading in Only One Stock. For that proposition: it's my column, I'll do what I like - and what I like right now is BP. So goodbye 271 shares in Royal Dutch Shell, bought as a BP hedge at 1,758p each for £4,796.86 on June 25, since when they have lost 7 per cent, oh dear.

And hello 1,368 additional shares in BP, a snip at just 322.2p each, for a total outlay of £4,437.25. That means I now officially have all my eggs in one basket - a total of 3,904 shares in BP, worth (as I write) £12,883.20. Well, one basket with a very small side order. For old time's sake, I still have my one share in Domino's Pizza, worth £3.93 (and up 4.5 per cent, no less). Not what you'd call a balanced portfolio (or diet).

And now I'm off for a couple of weeks, leaving my fictional finances in the hands of my colleague Rupert Wright. Let's hope they let me back in the country. Strictly speaking, as Rupert is the business comment editor on The National this means my portfolio will no longer be in the hands of a financial nincompoop. I fully expect to return to fictional riches beyond my wildest dreams. Watch this space.

jgornall@thenational.ae