The Trader: Forced to take stock of my future

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IT HAS been a tense week in the trading room. We have not been able to surf the Net or open a newspaper for days without coming across some pundit predicting gloom, doom and despondency, but particularly doom.

As a result, the bank's share price has plunged by around 54 per cent, and it can only be a matter of time before we are picked off by some larger fish.

The directors have dealt with the whole drama by denying everything, but nobody falls for that kind of thing these days.

Nevertheless, over the past few days the big cheeses have denied lending too much money to dodgy Russian corporates, pooh-poohed the suggestion that they might have lost more on the Far East markets than they were letting on, and hotly objected to the mere idea that they might have to sack lots of their staff.

Not surprisingly, this has left us all in a state of misery from which we can only briefly rescue ourselves by taking our company credit cards out to lunch.

Laura and I have decided that as no one wants to trade with us we may as well eat, so we are tucking away the smoked salmon and Veuve Clicquot in one of the City's more elegant eateries - not a "Dr Johnson's Platter" in sight - and discussing the situation.

We both agree that it would be illogical, stupid but not entirely unlikely of the chief honchos to make up for massive losses on the lending side by sacking half the trading room.

After all, not one of them in the boardroom really understands what a derivative is, so if they have to retrench they will make sure the businesses they hang on to are the ones they feel comfortable with - an attitude that brought us to the position we're in in the first place, of course.

On the other hand, there have been all those strongly worded statements about how the bank definitely has not lost a boatload on trading in the Far East that is somehow only now coming to light.

"I thought we'd escaped lightly on that front," I say to Laura.

"Apparently not," she replies.

We crawl reluctantly back to work, arriving just in time to hear the announcement. The management has decided that we all need a pep talk to cheer us up, so there is to be a gathering on the trading floor in 10 minutes, followed by individual appointments so we can sort out any worries we may have.

The group meeting is the usual guff - "mustn't believe all the rumours... some small losses but nothing that can't be made up... a handful of voluntary redundancies at most... Carry on team, you're doing sterling work..."

We yawn our way through it, then Laura heads off for her chat. I twiddle my thumbs for half an hour until it is my turn and then I am in a small meeting room on the ground floor near the front door.

Norman comes in looking solemn, and only then do the warning bells start going off in my head.

There are plenty of meeting rooms on the fifth floor; why am I not in one of those?

Why did Laura not come back after her 10-minute "pep talk"?

Why does Norman have a face like a turbot?

He sits down, fidgets a bit, then looks up and says, "I'm afraid we've come to the parting of the ways."

I feel as if I've just been punched in the stomach.

I long to say something witty, but instead I feel myself starting to cry.

Oh, the shame of it!

Norman uncomfortably hands me a crumpled handkerchief.

"Look," he says in a peeved voice, "this is just as upsetting for me as it is for you..."