x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Paying the price for falling asleep at the wheel

On the road to success, Jonathan Gornall finds admits he fell asleep behind the wheel of his imaginary portfolio.

I have a confession to make and an apology to offer to the manager of what used to be, I think, the Odeon cinema in Harlow.

A post-war new town north of London in the county of Essex, Harlow was - and, perhaps, still is - known for two things: the college that hosted the courses run by the UK's National Council for the Training of Journalists, and a district called Matching Tye, to the sign for which we trainee hacks never tired of adding "and handkerchief".

Well, we had to make our own entertainment in those days. In order to feed my expensive marker-pen habit, I took an evening job at the local cinema, where I learnt two things: that even the best film (and certainly the worst) loses its sheen after multiple viewings - and, word for word, every foul line that poured from the mouth of the possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist. In 1973, at least, I was a big hit at parties.

One of my many stimulating tasks in the world of movies was to climb the ladder at the end of a film's run, clutching the letters that would spell out the title of the feature that would play next and, on my last day on the job, before disappearing into the night with my final pay packet, I gave way to the inevitable temptation. Let's just say that The Day of the Jack Russell played badly in Harlow.

I have rarely been to the cinema since then - not so much for fear of assassination by sinister agents acting on behalf of Eurosceptic thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, but because I find nothing more irritating than watching a film in the company of a roomful of noisy, inconsiderate strangers. Nothing, that is, until I was tempted back to the big screen this week to watch Wall Street: Monkey Never Sleeps. Or maybe it was Money Never Sleeps. Frankly, it was hard to hear much of anything Michael Douglas or any of the rest of the cast said.

Don't get me wrong. No doubt Reel Entertainment's six-screen "premier boutique cinema" complex at Dubai's Marina Mall does offer a "differential lifestyle experience", as Emaar Retail claims, somewhat enigmatically, but what it doesn't offer is a suitable environment for watching films. With half the audience apparently unable to tell the time of day, wandering in in dribs and drabs up to 30 minutes after the start of the film, and the constant stream of uniformed servers scurrying back and forth delivering food and drink in rustling paper bags to grumbling and muttering punters, swaddled in blankets and slumped on pillows in the absurdly comfortable reclining chairs, this was more like feeding time at a home for confused old folk than a cinema.

Did I learn anything about buying and selling shares, as I had hoped? No. Suffice to say you would learn more about the mechanics of stock trading by reading this column than by watching this dull, cartoonish film that manages to make even Michael Douglas's hair appear uninteresting. What I did learn, however, from one of the tedious and formulaic publicity guest appearances made by one of the film's stars, Shia LaBeouf, is that corruption in the real world of share trading is as alive and well today as when Gordon Gekko first pronounced greed as good back in 1987.

Appearing on the ABC talk-show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, LaBeouf, sometime star of the Transformers films, told the host he had prepared for his part opposite Douglas as trader Jake Moore by training as a trader with a group of high-rolling Wall Street types. "If you're ever going to invest, and I've always kind of wanted to," he said, "this was the time to do it. So I put US$20,000 [Dh73,460] in and that $20,000 turned into $489,000."

Really? A gain of more than 2,200 per cent? This boy's wasted in movies. But it got better. "Four of the guys I was training with," he added, casually, "got arrested and are inside now for insider trading." Thank goodness that no-one at the US Securities and Exchange Commission watches the Jimmy Kimmel show, otherwise LaBeouf might have found himself getting some insider action of an entirely unwelcome sort (which would have been a nice twist for a film that begins with Gekko's release from an eight-year stretch for the same offence allegedly committed by his co-star's real-life mentors).

Incarceration for illegal profiteering is not, of course, a fate awaiting anyone who takes their tips from this columnist, who must now reveal that the value of his portfolio has slumped to a low point not seen since its fortunes were boosted in his absence during the summer by picks selected by a colleague's toy monkey. How proud I was when my original fictional stake of £15,000 (Dh87,620) grew past the £16,000 mark, and then upward and onward to more than £16,400. Ah, happy days. Now I am back down at barely over £16,000, thanks in part to my decision to wed one quarter of my fictional fortune to the fortunes of insurance giant Aviva - and, in another part, to my ability to count to seven.

If this is financial literacy week in Personal Finance, welcome to the refuge that is financial illiteracy corner. Bought at 424 pence each, my 936 Aviva shares are now down 8 per cent to 392p. Last week, I decided to make a major effort to use the tools at my disposal on the Share Centre trading platform and set an automatic stop-loss to prevent just such an occurrence. Brilliant, yes? Unfortunately, I set the stop-loss function to expire in six days, not seven and, naturally, it was on the seventh day that the price fell below my predetermined minimum.

In the cutthroat world of day trading, if you snooze you most definitely lose. Monkey may never sleep; sadly, I do.

jgornall@thenational.ae