Analysis: The day my mouse roared

Rupert Wright spends time on screen with trainee traders
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The Independent Online
In a darkened room off Cannon Street eight trainee traders are hunched over computer terminals. The only noise in the room is the nasal whine of Maria Bartiromo, the so-called "money honey" of CNBC television, who reports on the trading of the New York Stock Exchange.

But the traders are not focused on her. They are staring intently at the multi-coloured screens. They are learning to be day traders, otherwise known as direct access traders.

Forget calling your stockbroker or even executing trades via the internet: here you are pitched directly against the big boys of the bulge bracket investment banks. With one click of your mouse you can make - or lose - a fortune. This is stock trading for the Nintendo generation. Here you don't get blown away by aliens but your wallet gets wasted.

The eight traders are dressed pretty much alike: cotton polo shirts and khaki trousers. There is no need for red braces and striped shirts. They are mostly aged from 25 to 35, although there is one man aged around 50, with grey hair and a beard.

The offices are a London outpost of InvestIN Securities, a Houston-based company. Traders can execute their orders in an eighth of a second. For the privilege they are charged $14.95 (pounds 9) a trade. If you don't want to sit in a room with other traders, you can get linked up with a computer at home. Some traders make 300 trades a day, with a profit of $30,000.

The temptation to pit my wits against Wall Street's finest was too great to ignore. True, I had not woken up ready to "bite the ass off a bear", as a Salomon trader used to extol his staff, but then I seldom do.

I listened to Marcus, a 25-year-old and already a veteran of the markets, who had flown from Washington to run the training course. His pupils were clustered around him, hanging on his every move. They watch as Marcus points at the screen and taps the keyboard. "Shit, I missed it," he says. More tapping. "Thank you, Merrills," he mutters under his breath.

He has been trading Yahoo!, one of the most volatile shares in the market. Last Monday it rose over 25 per cent. That was not a time to be short of stock.

On the screen there are level one quotes. This is what you would see if you bought via the internet. Next to them is a coloured screen. This is where you see the market makers. You can tell them by their acronym. MLCO is Merrill Lynch. GSCO is Goldman Sachs.

"When you see Goldmans in the market, you want them to be on your side," says Mark Brandon. This strikes me as fairly obvious advice.

With a click of the button Brandon pulls up one-minute charts. Red indicates that the last trade was down; green up. Another tool shows up the time of trades. It is time to start trading. I suggest we start with Yahoo! There is a cry from the other side of the office. "No. Yahoo! is for experts," says Stephen Coles, finance director at InvestIN. "Get in there and we may never get out."

We start trading Amazon. There is a blotter on one side of the screen that shows we have $4,000 to trade with. There is a profit or loss column below it. At 10.04 Eastern Time we buy 30 Amazon shares at 106 29/32. At 10.06 we sell at 106 1/8. We have lost $23 plus $14.95 for the trade. "That's why I am a broker not a trader," Brandon says. "You have a go."

I settled into the seat and selected Microsoft. I bought 30 shares at 92 5/8. The market makers jockeyed about. "This is the music of the market makers," says Brandon.

The colours floated before my eyes. On the blotter I was beginning to show a loss. Goldman Sachs was selling. Then it came back, buying big- time. I sold at 92 3/4, a profit of $3.35. Thank you, Bill Gates.