The Trader: Currying up to Jane's man

"SO LET me see if I've got this straight?" I've retreated to Jane's for the evening, and Tom is explaining the stock market to me. Amazingly, I'm enjoying it. Not only does it take my mind off the agonising wait for Jaap to stop being my deputy boss and start being my boyfriend, it also gives me a chance to have a look at my friend's new man. Not that Jane's prepared to admit to them being more than just friends, but from the way she breathes out every time she says his name, it's clear she's enamoured.

The most extraordinary thing about Tom - apart from him being kind, charming and witty, and clearly really liking Jane - is that he's all these things and a stockbroker. Plainly, I've either been wrong about the breed all along or been deeply unlucky and met only the boring ones. Anyway, Tom's explanation of the stock market is the only one I've ever listened to, and it's enlightening after all this time slaving away in my own little world of derivatives. "So let me see if I've got this straight," I tell him. "The price of a share is based on the underlying profitability and prospects of the company."

Tom adds: "Well, some of the time anyway." Oh no, I think, this is just like that part of your first A-level maths class where they tell you everything you learnt in your GCSEs was a bit of a simplification. Tom continues: "That doesn't apply to all situations. My artist mate Gavin says if it hadn't been for his Internet shares, he'd have starved this year. They've gone up loads. It seems the company actually makes a profit, and that's quite rare with Internet stocks."

I ask whether that means everyone has gone completely mad? Tom thinks about it, playing with a lock of hair that keeps flopping over his forehead. "Well," he says at last, "it could be people think it's a rapidly growing industry and the profits will eventually be more than healthy. Or it may just be a bad case of ENC."

Jane and I look at him, baffled. "ENC?" we say, more perplexed.

"Emperor's New Clothes. It's when someone tells you something is great and you believe them, without any proof. There's a lot of it about."

"So much for the church complaining faith is dead," says Jane dryly. "Oh no, it definitely isn't," Tom replies. "It's just they don't have a monopoly on it anymore."

The doorbell rings, and it's the Thai restaurant with our dinner. For a moment, the markets are forgotten as we squeal with pleasure over the cartons. But by the time we've settled down with our plates spilling with coconut rice and green curry, I've another question. "So what was that business the other week when the market dropped 150 points one day and bounced up again almost at once?" I ask. "Fundamentals or expectations?"

"Oh that," says Tom. "Well, actually, the word going round is that it was sheer boredom. Apparently a team at one of the houses thought they'd see if they could knock 100 points of the FTSE just by rumour-mongering. They put out the fake news first thing in the morning, and by lunch-time people were telling it back to them. Worked a treat."

There's a silence. "Well," I say, "perhaps it's better not to understand the stock market after all."