Portfolio

August 2016

This page is under development – more recent work will be added here soon…

JvBDesk2

Below are some examples of previous work; articles written, content created and collateral produced. Because much of the documentation written or research carried out for clients and previous employers is confidential, feel free to submit a sample brief for a one-pager, free of charge.

 

THE WISDOM OF CROWDS, REALLY?

The unlikely prompt for this train of thought was Steve Carell’s appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show on ITV this Saturday. Carell was promoting his latest movie release, The Big Short, adapted from Michael Lewis’ 2010 book of the same title, about the build up to the last decade’s credit bubble and the resulting financial crash when it burst in 2008.

The story focuses on a group of individuals who bet against the ballooning collateralised debt obligation (CDO) market and similar financial instruments, which were underpinned by subprime mortgages. Home loans to skint homebuyers, in other words.

What interests me about this true story is that this small group of naysayers, ‘non-believers’ if you will, are depicted as eccentrics. The film’s main characters were regarded by the majority of their peers as oddballs, for not accepting that an economy built on quicksand could continue to prosper and would not collapse someday.

As a lowly commodities broker at the time, with no economics qualifications to his name, I wouldn’t deem to put myself in a similar bracket as these high-rolling Wall Street players. But to this observer it was clear as day back then that a collapse was not just a possibility. It was inevitable. Had no one else learned from the junk bond debacle of the 1980s?

A dysthymia diagnosis often accounts for my pessimism and reluctance to buy into mass euphoria, but in this instance, I think my atheism was at work. I refuse to believe in anything that has no basis in fact, be it fairies, leprechauns, unicorns, god, or anything else that seems too good to be true.

Brokers (read ‘salesmen’) regularly advise clients in terms of faith. “Keep the faith, the trend is your friend, the market will come back to you” is the kind of soothing language they use when markets move against hapless investors. The fact is that people take comfort from belief and in the belief of others. The whole herd can’t be wrong, can it?

The lead-up to the global financial crisis in 2008 was nothing less than a global game ofPass The Parcel, the largest Ponzi scheme the world had ever seen. At the bottom of an inverted pyramid that was holding up half of Wall Street, and the City of London, was a bunch of worthless paper backed by US mortgages that were never going to be repaid. Peter had been robbed to pay Paul millions of times over, but for as long as the plates kept spinning, no one would get hurt. It was this shared belief that caused the damage, as it had done so often before.

A notorious non-believer in anything but core value is the legendary octogenarian investor, and world’s third richest person, Warren Buffett. Investors in his Berkshire Hathaway holding company were up in arms during the internet boom of the late nineties, as he refused to ride the wave that saw any old stock with ‘.com’ after its name soar to unimaginable valuations. As the market clamoured to get on board with the latest shiny thing, on the vague promise of vast future returns, Buffett took a pasting for declining to take part in something he didn’t understand. He would buy only stocks with proper balance sheets, which meant Berkshire Hathaway grossly underperformed versus other funds during 1998/99. He would have the last laugh in 2001, after most of the internet’s unicorns had turned into plain old carthorses, fit only for the knackers yard.

History offers many examples of what has been labelled “irrational exuberance”, or the herd effect. If enough people believe in something, anything, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I do believe in fairies, I do believe in fairies, I do, I do, I do!”, as Wendy exclaimed to Peter Pan, wanting so badly to be able to fly.

Another unicorn that appears to be turning into a carthorse in front of our eyes in 2016 is China, with its centrally managed economy. Its explosive growth since 1978, to become the world’s largest economy in 2014, has been remarkable and a key driver of economic prosperity across the West.

China’s system has until now been sustained not by belief on the part of free-thinking Chinese people, but by that of the Western world, which needs China’s economic miracle to sustain it. Any economist or politician worth their salt knows that the Chinese economic bubble, which is what it is, will burst sometime soon. However, for as long as enough people believe it won’t hurt them, Chinese plates will continue to spin.

Belief works in mysterious ways. Try explaining the intrinsic value of gold (it doesn’t have one), the art market, vintage cars, antiques, the list goes on. Their market values are predicated solely on the value that others place on them. This takes balls, or willful detachment from reality.

People believe what they want to believe, after all.

Rant Alert: Dear LinkedIn

Aug 14, 2014
First, let’s get this clear, I’m a fan of LinkedIn. There remains much to like about the professional networking site I joined very many moons ago, despite the fact that it’s trying hard to turn us all into pseudo Facebookers. We’re now encouraged daily to “congratulate him, endorse her, share that”, but in between all these prompts, it remains a very useful tool for networkers and job seekers like me.
However, I was once again prompted today to “say congrats” to someone whose new status read “currently unemployed”. Lately, my network has sadly seen an increase in updates along such lines, all of which are now seized upon by LinkedIn’s crude software as an opportunity to drive traffic on the site. Having ignored its dumb, auto-generated prompts over the years, on this occasion I was irritated enough to write.
Can it be beyond the wit of man to add rules to ignore status and experience updates that include the keywords ‘unemployed’ or ‘seeking’, ‘searching’ and ‘looking’? The answer from LinkedIn was effectively “yes”, saying that these users are using the platform incorrectly. I took to Twitter:
@jvb_metals C’mon @LinkedIn, how hard can it be to prevent idiotic “Congrats” prompts like this? #simplelogic
@LinkedInHelp @jvb_metals We recommend members not to add unemployment status in Experience section, to avoid such updates. Thanks!
Now, there are two types of people in the jobs market; those that believe declaring their unemployment may be detrimental to their job-search, and those that are unambiguous about their availability to potential employers. Even if those in the latter category mean to inform their network of their new-found freedom, I suspect most wouldn’t expect LinkedIn to shout it from the digital rooftops as a cause for celebration.
LinkedIn has always been rather clunky to use compared to other social platforms, though by responding as it did to my tweet today, it suggests it’s also uninterested in helpful user feedback. In its drive to emulate Facebook — something I would firmly warn against, personally — its users now get mandatory ‘Pulse News’ in their timeline. We also get ‘influencer’ updates, promotional content, unsuitable job ads on the basis of a single matching experience keyword, indiscriminate group activity, so the list goes on. Worst of all, the “Can I get 50,000 Likes” is an increasing phenomenon, none of which has any place in a professional forum. Not that I don’t care about causes, but they are irrelevant in this context.
In its thrust for greater ‘user engagement’ (always an important driver of revenue, granted), the assault of inane emails from LinkedIn is becoming relentless. As sites like FriendsReunited found to their cost, signing up the target audience is only half the trick. The other is to get users to return regularly, or preferably, get them to keep a browser tab open throughout each day. However, the current strategy seems counterproductive, while LinkedIn forgets that as a *paying* user, I want to be able to turn some of this <polite word> ‘noise’ off.
To my remaining few contacts who continue to resist LinkedIn’s lure, I say that at its basic level, it is a great tool to keep track of folks now that the Rolodex is redundant. Not only do people tend to swap jobs more often than they change their favourite pair of shoes, but the pace of change in the organisations they work at is equally dizzying. Sites like Plaxo tried to introduce the dynamic address book some years back, but I can’t recall the last time anyone invited me to use it. For keeping up with who-works-where and in what capacity, there’s still no better place to look than LinkedIn. However, at the rate it’s going with this drive for ‘engagement’, the first funny picture of a cat in my timeline can’t be far away. And I already know where to go if I want to see those.
Please keep it relevant, LinkedIn.

 

Article contributed to trade magazine, Wire Industry, Jul 2001

 

Adverts placed in one single edition of trade magazine, Metal Bulletin, May 2001

EMETRA_brochure_thumb

EMETRA launch brochure, 2000

 

 

IBC Conferences, brochures for fund management programmes researched, produced and hosted by me, 1999-2000

 

Commodities trading software brochure, for TradeSoft, 2001

 

The Daily Telegraph, Business News p1, June 1998

DaysofWineandPoses_DailyTelegraph_19980608

 

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