Saturday, March 11, 2017

Trading Places: A True Story


A couple of days ago, Marcia put out a call for business movie/TV recommendations.  A perennial favorite on such lists is the 1983 classic, Trading Places.  That movie is about two brothers who make a bet to see whether they can pluck a man off the street and - by providing him with the proper environment - turn him into a successful commodities trader.  Its stature is such that a real-life statutory amendment, intended to plug the regulatory loophole exploited by the film's characters, is colloquially known as the "Eddie Murphy rule."  The CFTC first exercised its authority under the new rule in 2015.

Well, apparently the movie was just as inspiring to business aficionados in 1983 as it remains today.  After seeing the film, two prominent commodities traders of the era, Richard Dennis and William Eckhardt, decided to reenact the brothers' experiment.  (Except, rather than kidnap a homeless criminal and then frame one of their own employees for dealing PCP, Dennis just took out an ad in the newspaper).  Dennis selected people with a certain affinity for numbers and probability, but with no formal education in commodities, and trained them to trade.  The experiment panned out:  most of the participants (dubbed Turtles, for reasons that remain the subject of myth) not only generated extraordinary profits for Dennis and themselves, but eventually left for successful Wall Street careers.

The tale is recounted in the book The Complete Turtle Trader, and in this Bloomberg podcast.  For the podcast hosts, the unbelievable part of the story is how the methods taught to the Turtles are apparently still in use today - and remain profitable, for anyone disciplined enough to stick to them.  I'll add that I also find it kind of unbelievable that anyone decided to risk millions of their own dollars to reenact the events of Trading Places, but, to be fair, it is a very good movie.

Ann Lipton | Permalink


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