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Bull on the Bourse

By V. Venkatesan

IN THE cultured circles in which I move, I am known by the somewhat unoriginal sobriquet of "Big Bull". That I am a calorifically-endowed Taurean, much given to spouting the kind of meaningless drivel that is colloquially called "bull", has, I am told, nothing to do with this. The allusion to the horned ungulate of the bovine ilk apparently springs from the general impression that I have amassed incalculable sums of money on the stock market employing the same disreputable method that won Harshad Mehta some short-term capital gains and a long term in the slammer.

Nothing, I may say, can be farther from the truth. If anything, my occasional attempts to play the market have all ended in unqualified financial fiascoes. In fact, it seemed at one stage that I had perfected the art of losing money. Be it a rapidly rising market or a precipitously declining one, I unbiasedly contrived to unburden myself of much moolah with unfailing regularity. In the predatory world of bulls and bears, I was a perfect ass.

Once, for instance, after a careful scrutiny of the form book and after getting a earful about PE ratios and EPSs from a whiskered broker, I acquired, at a considerable price, a not-inconsiderable number of shares of a pesticide manufacturing company which was setting up a plant in southern Africa. My broker friend assured me that there was a vast, unfulfilled demand for pesticides in those parts -- apparently the natives just couldn't get enough of the stuff. My only problem, he said, would be to think up ways of spending the lakhs I was certain to make once the plant went onstream; and perhaps deducing that even such a simple task was beyond my mental capabilities, he thoughtfully provided me brochures of some round-the-world cruise operators.

Imagine my indignation, therefore, upon reading reports that the company's share price had collapsed overnight following an Unfortunate Incident at the function got up to inaugurate the new plant. Apparently, the proceedings had had to be terminated rather abruptly when a swarm of tse-tse flies overran the plant premises at about the time when the Chairman was expounding his company's mission: to rid the world of pests in their entirety.

The Chairman recovered soon enough from the sleeping sickness the flies induced, but the company never did.

On another occasion, within days of my purchasing a large volume of shares in a heavy industry, there were rumours that while on a tour of Japan to finalise a business tie-up, the company's directors -- all of whom were as heavy as the industry they represented -- had collectively renounced the material world and embraced Zen Buddhism, after making over their company's assets to a monastery in Osaka. Not even the subsequent disclosure that the rumours were untrue and had been floated by a business rival could retrieve the company's share prices from the depths to which they had descended.

Traditional avenues of profiting from the bourses were clearly closed for me; but it was not long before my keen and incisive mind came up with what I, being modest to a fault, can only call an ingenious scheme. It requires no venture capital, and my only asset is my uncanny ability to push down a company's share prices simply by going bullish on the scrip. I merely have to write to Chairmen of business houses that are planning public issues, intimate my earnest desire to procure a small stake in their company, and point out the inevitable effect such a move will have on the share price.

Such is the notoriety I have gained that before long a minion comes bearings gifts of peacocks, ivory and apes, and seeks my indulgence in making the public issue a success -- by not buying his company's shares! n

(Published in Business Line.)

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