Sunday, January 26, 2014

Forex Trading

More and more people are asking me about forex trading, whether it is a sound investment and how they can be successful in forex trading.

Personally I think investors are good to expose themselves to various forms of investment as ways to diversify their portfolio provided they understand very well the risk involved in each type of investment. Forex trading involves higher risk than the usual equity investment that requires certain trading skills and discipline. Of course all these can be trained as you go along in the journey of trading, be it forex, futures or equity trading.

So if you were to ask me if it is a sound investment, my answer is "Yes" if you trade with a plan, this plan must state clearly your entry price, target price, and your stop loss.

Next, I would like to share with you my personal views on how to be a winner in world of forex trading.


  1. Big Picture
Too many traders get too detail in the day to day, minute to minute trading which often make one get confused and frustrated. Identify the bigger trend first. For example, if you want to know which currencies are superior you need to know where the money is flowing to. In 2013 money has been flowing into the US market which caused the USD appreciated against other currencies. In 2014, analysts are expecting money should be flowing into the Euro zone markets especially the UK, hence we should expect USD, British Pound and Euro dollar are the superior currencies for 2014.

Next, which currencies are weak? The emerging market currencies are weak, the Asian currencies are weak, Yen is weak due to massive money printing, as well as commodity rich countries like Aussie dollar and Canadian dollars are weak too.  

With these big picture, we shall come to the next step: selecting the pairs.

2. Currency Pairs
When choosing the pairs, always pair a superior currency with a weak currency to get a clear trend in your chart. If you pair 2 weak currencies or 2 strong currencies together, chances are you would see a very irregular chart pattern that often lead you to no where.

3. Trading Plan
Finally always trade with a plan that spells out exactly what is your entry price and at what price you need to cut loss. Calculate your reward to risk ratio for every trade and stick to your plan strictly.

Other factors such as interest rates, current account deficits and other economic issues will affect the currency of a country too, but the above 3 items are basic ingredient for forex trading that I hope will help those who just started in currency trading to have a better picture.

Below is the USD index chart for 40 years. I see that the USD seems to follow a 7 year bull run chart pattern. 1978 - 1985, 1994 - 2001. If history repeats itself, the next bull run is 2011 - 2018. This is just my personal view that at least this is what the chart is telling me, you may view it with an open mind.


Good Luck in your trading!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bitcoins: Embrace or Beware?


A fad or the real deal?
Let's not beat around the bush about Bitcoins, the digital currency that has stirred up the financial world the past year or so.   

Bitcoins are a virtual currency, now accepted by some merchants and commercial enterprises as a form of payment for services or products. Because Bitcoins have a fluctuating market value, many try to exploit price volatility and treat Bitcoins as an investment--similar to investors who might purchase foreign currencies with hopes that volatile swings will result in handsome profits.

However, most participants are still not sure how Bitcoins came to be, who or what oversees the marketplace, and where all this is headed.  Let's be real. Any purchase or investment in Bitcoins is a speculative investment.  Uncertainty, volatility and mysterious (or mystical?) origins offset confidence prudent investors or users for payment purposes might have in its legitimacy.  As we saw in late 2013 when the Chinese government intervened to discourage its use, Bitcoins are enveloped by the unknown, and investors run for the hills when they sense something odd or peculiar in this marketplace.

This is a marketplace where even the most active participants are not sure the founder is one person with a vision for an online payment system or a horde of computer jocks out to amuse themselves. It’s a marketplace in its infancy.  As of mid-Jan., 2014, this is a $10 billion market with less than a million Bitcoins (BTC) traded or transferred daily.

Time will tell whether they will become a reliable currency for the long term.  Time will also tell whether this is a finance fad of the early 2010's or a landmark turning point in the history of monetary systems.

Transactions, trading and investing in Bitcoins are a global phenomenon now. A curiosity for some.  Just a year or so ago, the value of a Bitcoin was around $300. During the year, prices soared to $1,000, sank quickly to $500 last fall and then surged and stumbled again like laundry tumbling and churning in a dryer. (They were valued at about $780 in mid-Jan., 2014.)

Some argue Bitcoins (or their off-shoots or similar virtual versions) are here to stay. Bitcoin activity will be propelled by transactors attracted to a system that knows no boundaries, is not directed by government bodies or political systems, and allows for trades and payments in relative anonymity.  As with most financial trends or fads, this phenomenon is bound to stray in some direction--up or down, up and down, out of existence, or perhaps eventually into a nightmarish tangle of fraud, misrepresentation and legal quagmire.

For now, let's acknowledge what seems to be happening in early 2014:

1.  The price movements and upward, secular trend in value have attracted speculative investors around the world.  

Whether they believe in the system or are proponents of a politics-free, digital market for payments, they see opportunities to make money in the short term. If the price increased from $300 to $1,000, why wouldn't it increase to $2,000 over the next year or two--especially if popularity continues the current course?

Speculative investors may not care much for the algorithms and calculations that influence a Bitcoin's value. They see trends in growing demand and popularity, not always sufficiently explained, and a grand opportunity for a windfall.

2.  There appears to be a growing acceptance by some merchants and businesses to accept payment in Bitcoins (BTC).

Growing acceptance offers legitimacy and comfort to consumers who choose to participate in the system.  VirginAtlantic, the airline, joined this group late last year.

In some ways, an increase in participating businesses helps boost liquidity in the system and encourages other participants to join.  The growing number of participants may eventually cause a cry for more transparency and oversight--which exists today, but in veiled ways.

3.  A Bitcoin market depends on a class of participants called "miners," who act somewhat like "brokers" or "market-makers." 

In financial markets, brokers or market-makers facilitate and process trades. Rewarded with commissions or marked-up profit spreads, they have incentives to keep a market alive, active, and liquid.  In the Bitcoin world, miners act in that role.  Like many financial markets, Bitcoin "miners" have sprouted everywhere in surprisingly large numbers, partly because of the lure of rewards ("commissions") and partly because mining Bitcoins could be considered less risky than in investing in them.

Before others leap to join the ranks of miners, note the odd wrinkle in miners' responsibilities. Miners secure, confirm and report Bitcoin transactions. They are compensated by being rewarded with a special new supply of Bitcoins, but only after they have successfully solved a math problem that requires enormous amounts of computer power.

Think of a financial broker being rewarded with an incremental new issue of a company's stock.  Or think of the Federal Reserve rewarding big banks who confirm and expedite money transfers with new-money credits at the Fed. However, imagine being paid for the service only after solving a math problem that--by Bitcoin rules--will become more difficult to solve in the future.

Those who have access to such computing heft have opportunities to reap substantial rewards. Like market-makers and brokers in a financial market, they facilitate transactions without taking on significant amounts of investment risk. (Their initial investments are those in computer servers or in space that houses computers.)

Because they bear a little less risk than speculative investors, a cottage industry of miners (and related businesses) has surfaced in global corners everywhere--from California to Iceland. There are miners, but there are also companies that support miners by selling or leasing access to computers for mining purposes. There are investors (including private-equity firm Andressen Horowitz) that are now comfortable investing in "mining" operations.

4.  Bitcoin "money supply" is controlled, and growth is restricted, planned and charted, based on an initial algorithm. 

BTC coin supply is based not on economic policy or economic objectives, but on the complex math calculations miners are required to do with their high-power computers. 

By design, the more successful miners are in finding solutions to the calculations, the more difficult the next series of calculations becomes.  It becomes harder and harder to solve the problems to get the same reward. Miners will, therefore, invest in greater computing power to earn similar revenues. Today, miners are racing to grab revenues that might be near impossible to generate a few years from now. And racing like mad.

Those calculations have less to do with how central bankers manage monetary supply, more to do with the calculating power of their computers. Governments and central bankers, we observe, manage monetary growth based on objectives they have regarding interest rates, inflation rates, and expected economic growth.  "Money supply" is ultimately finite in the world of Bitcoins. Until supply reaches a determined maximum, it is now  determined by activity, participants, and computer power. 

5.  While "mining" helps ensure the Bitcoin market is an orderly market, nobody yet knows what will happen in the worst of cases.  

If there is a sudden crash in price --a sudden collapse or a widespread panic, who will oversee the marketplace? If there are crises or disruptions caused by technology, systems or deceitful miners, who will act to revive trading and transacting? 

6. The  system, which eased quietly into the global financial system within the past few years, will continue to attract participants--not because libertarians enjoy that governments have no part to play, but because of money-making opportunities.

A steady increase in legitimate participants may eventually force the system throughout--not just in segments--to provide a blueprint for how the system will behave in worst-case scenarios.  Furthermore, crises, disruptions and crashes will have inevitable legal implications, which of course will require governments or courts to intervene in the end.   

For now governments and central bankers have been shunted aside. The system is self-policing. But the greater the number of participants and the greater the likelihood for system mishaps, then the greater the push for order and protocol that would boost confidence in the system.

But will all that occur before the system's first panic crash, the shocking catastrophic plunge that will cause large numbers of participants to flee en masse with no confidence in ever returning?

Or will the system, supported by a phalanx of miners around the world, find ways to keep itself honest, fair, and relevant?

Tracy Williams

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What Will 2014 Bring?

Equity markets: More of the same in 2014?
If the year 2013 ended with moods, markets and sentiments on an upswing, what's on deck for 2014?

What will happen in the upcoming year? What is the agenda for banks, investment managers, hedge funds and an assortment of institutions in financial services?

Let's first sort through equity markets. Last year, we saw blockbuster returns--over 25%, depending on the index you follow. There were the usual dips, dives and concerns, but by autumn, equity markets continued to edge upward. Anybody's diversified portfolio of stocks performed well. The upbeat markets reflected perceptions by many (traders, investors, bankers, et. al.) that we had climbed out of the financial crisis, that the economy had finally reversed course, and that we could confidently move on.

But market returns above 20%, for some portfolio managers and investment gurus are nothing to rave about. They become headaches, causes for concern.  Are we headed toward another bubble, another 1987, 1998, or 2008? A debilitating nose-dive after periods of euphoria has happened before (more than once), so it can (or must?) happen again. How should we interpret recent discouraging data about net job increases across the country? What will the Fed do (or not do)?

For many in finance, 2013's soaring returns are a warning signal that we should be cautious about an impending bubble burst or should at least dissect market trends or economic behavior that portends a market slump.  Market prognosticators who see doom on the horizon are not necessarily nay-saying pessimists. After everybody was struck by knock-out blows of the last crisis, market participants just want to be prepared for the next time.

From now until about midyear, traders and research analysts will observe every move of new Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, even if many have described her as a Bernanke disciple, someone loyal to a course of maintaining low interest rates and continuing the Fed's program of bond purchases.  Some experts say this such Fed strategy explained much of last year's upturn and any plan to deviate from this could upset stock markets.  

In 2014, in equity markets, if we don't see continuing upswings, we will see more structural changes in the way stocks are traded. Over the past decade, there have been structural overhauls in stock trading. Major stock exchanges (NYSE, Nasdaq) are no longer stoic boys' clubs that monopolize among themselves  transactional volume. They have had to change, adapt, and be aggressive to stay alive. They compete with lightning-quick electronic exchanges, "dark pools" (run by major financial institutions), high-frequency traders, and markets that have no end of day. They must offer low fees and nano-quick execution or become less relevant.  

So in 2014, the heralded New York Stock Exchange struggles to find a role in the chaotic stock-trading sphere. It is no longer independent. A few years ago, it considered diversity and expansion by acquiring European exchanges and becoming NYSE Euronext. As it struggled to adapt, appease shareholders and remain profitable, it allowed an upstart electronic-futures exchange, ICE, to take it over.  Now in the upcoming year, ICE wants to dismantle parts of NYSE, hinting that it acquired NYSE mostly to grab the futures and commodities arms. It will likely hold onto NYSE as a badge of prestige, while the NYSE goes head to head with other electronic newcomers and trail-blazers.

The overall agenda for 2014 is otherwise assorted--a range of items and issues that must addressed, tweaks here and there.   

Financial regulation continues into what might be phase three--more implementation,  a few more rules, and widespread adjustments by banks, traders, funds and regulators before we head into years of strict enforcement.  Perhaps the year will finally bring more clarity in derivatives trading--exchange trading, clearing vehicles, and over-the-counter rules.

On the legal side, last year's insider-trading scandals continue through the court system. Federal prosecutors suggest there could be more indictments, although they may not match the headlines from accusations, indictments and settlements at SAC Capital.  In this realm, Round 1 involved the hedge fund Galleon Group.  Round 2 brought us SAC Capital and settlements involving its founder Stephen Cohen.  Round 3 will unfurl in the year to come, could involve others in an intricate, tangled trading network, but may not expose familiar, big names.

Global banks performed well last year, but their investment-banking units had less reason to celebrate in 2013. IB revenues across the board sagged at most places. Banks have been mired in IB restructuring (as banks adapt to Volcker rules and capital requirements), and their clients continue to approach the economic horizon with caution. Indeed in 2013, there was a welcome spate of IPO's, big deals, and debt offerings. But clients have been hesitant about expanding too far too fast, shy about acquiring other firms or doing big mergers--all frustrating investment-bank leaders. M&A activity, which suggested a back-to-glory-days trend last summer, has slowed to an ordinary crawl. Some call it humming, normal activity. Others call it doldrums.

Nevertheless, like all years, it's easy to capture and describe current moods (renewed, cautious confidence), but hard to project a specific event that could be the domino that causes market unrest. Experienced market participants and risk managers know it takes one or two correlated events to change abruptly a bright, comfortable course, one event that could pummel 2013's optimism from its pedestal.

Let's hope in 2014 no Russian debt crisis, no Bear Stearns mortgage wipe-out, no unsettling, triple-witching-hour trading day, no Long Term Capital portfolio implosion or no Drexel-like junk-bond circus looms to erode the era of good feeling 2013 brought.

Tracy Williams

See also:

CFN:  Looking Back at 2013
CFN:  Cliffs, Recoveries, Outlook for 2013
CFN:  Where Do You Want to Work in 2013?
CFN:  Opportunities in 2012
CFN:  Approaching 2012

Friday, January 10, 2014

How To Avoid Losing Money In Scams

Recently a close relative of mine was scammed away more than RM100k and I think I need to write this article to warn people about scams.

This can happen to anyone, whether or not you are educated and you have seen many times these things happened in the media, you may well be a victim of a scam. You've saved all your life and you've been investing wisely to accummulate your wealth, but one unlucky day you encounter a professional syndicated group of people who got hold of your emotional weakness and you may lose your life savings.

Internet Scams
The most common is through internet. It is reported that many scams are initiated through the Internet; victims range in age from 18 to 81 and come from all socio-economic backgrounds.
All types of advance-fee scams have one point in common – the targeted person is led to believe that he or she has a chance to attain something of very great personal value (financial reward, a romantic relationship, etc) in return for a small up-front monetary outlay.  As a general rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you feel you have been a victim of an Internet scam, please consult the publications below for help and send all reports of Internet fraud directly to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.  If the scam originated through a particular website, notify also the administrators of that website.  When it becomes apparent you are the victim of a scam, it is best to end all communications with the scam artist, rather than attempt resolution.  It is extremely rare for victims to recover lost money.  If you feel threatened in any way, you should report your situation to the local police. 

Investment Scam
It is reported that every month, RM100million is lost to commercial crime in Malaysia. The most common investment scams are gold investmet ad forex. Mohamad, an airline clerk had lost RM52,000 in a forex scam; Another victim, Yusof (not the real name) had lost US$100,000 after investing in an online get-rich-quick scheme that promised  a “guaranteed” return of US$1million.

Any person or company who commits an offence under Section 25(1) of BAFIA 1989 shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding RM10 million or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both. Any person or company who commits an offence under Section 4(1) of AMLATFA 2001 shall on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding RM5 million or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both.


Members of the public are advised to be cautious of investment schemes promoted on the internet, through phone calls or through seminars conducted by individuals or companies that are not licensed or authorized by Bank Negara Malaysia to accept deposits or to conduct foreign currency dealings. A list of all licensed institutions that accept deposits is available on Bank Negara Malaysia's website at www.bnm.gov.my.

While it is important to invest wisely to accummulate your wealth, it is even more important to prevent your money lost through scams.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Yale SOM Gets a New Look

Yale SOM's Evans Hall opens up in January (NH Register photo)
Yale School of Management, one of the Consortium's 18 schools, is opening up a new campus facility, Evans Hall, in New Haven in mid-Jan., 2014.  The school will launch the new state-of-the-art building with receptions, lectures, presentations and celebrations of what has made Yale SOM special and unique among the panoply of business schools. The week's theme is "Leadership in an Increasingly Complex World."

The new campus will feature the marvels of business-school technology and covers 242,000 square feet, at a cost of $240 million, much of which was made possible by benefactor Edward Evans, who was an undergraduate student at Yale and later CEO of Macmillan, Inc., the publishing house. Besides interview rooms and three libraries, it will even have a student gym and entertainment space.

Yale's dean, Edward Snyder, migrated to Connecticut in 2011 from Chicago's Booth School of Business. In the midst of Chicago's Gothic maze, Booth is a modern, self-contained business school campus, the kind of campus Yale SOM students and faculty might have envied.  Once Snyder arrived in New Haven, he spearheaded the completion of a new campus, a new facility featuring the latest business-school bells and whistles. And his experience in helping to open Chicago's new doors no doubt got many SOM faculty, alumni and students excited about a new campus for Yale.

Building modern facilities is a frequent occurrence at top business schools.  They know that to attract top students, schools must pay attention to their physical being. Facilities, campus and amenities sometimes rank as high as innovative course offerings, curriculum, career placement and notable faculty when students decide whether or not to attend.  While Yale SOM attracted top students over the past decades, many alumni and school leaders felt that an impressive, separate campus was necessary to lure the student that might otherwise be more interested in attending Wharton or Harvard.

Yale and Chicago are certainly not the only schools with new campuses.  Stanford now has its new Knight Management Center, home to its business school since 2011, featuring courtyards, magical classroom technology, chic ambience and sunlit, outdoor cafe settings.  Wharton and Consortium school Michigan have also opened new campus facilities.

Yale SOM has had a colorful history. When it was launched in the mid-1970s, it wanted to be different from other schools. It offered a management-education mixture of the public and private sector.  The degree it certified upon its graduates then was the "MPPM"--a master's in public and private management, arguably a combination of the MPA and MBA degree. Graduates would be steered toward Morgan Stanley, the World Bank or Capitol Hill. At one point, the "O" in "SOM" stood for "Organization."

At times, alumni, recruiters, employers and other constituents interpreted the degree in many ways. And at times, new deans pushed the emphasis one way or the other. Eventually SOM settled on the MBA degree, and it has tweaked the definition of what that means from time to time. In its first three decades, Yale SOM didn't have a separate facility, but existed in a pleasant, neighborly network of "houses" on Yale's Hillhouse Ave.

The new Evans Hall reinforces the notion that Yale SOM has become a top business school in a classical way, although the school, more than many others, tends to walk and run to its own drumbeat by remaining small and enjoying experiments with new ways of instruction or new approaches to the MBA experience. Its integrated curriculum is its latest novel approach.

Yale joined the Consortium in 2008 and has graduated dozens of Consortium MBA's since then. 

Yale being Yale, the school and new facility will seek to fit in well with the rest of the Yale campus.  Evans Hall, with blue hues, courtyards and exquisitely selected artwork, wants to be identifiably Yale, circa 2014.

Tracy Williams


Friday, January 3, 2014

A Review of 2013

In review of 2013, I made a few predictions based on my research on the historical price data that:

1. 2013 was generally a bullish trend
2. Support and Resistance was 1600 - 1840
3. Aug - Nov was volatile
4. Buy in the month of Feb, May, Aug and Nov
5. Last quarter of 2013: Oct mixed, Nov down and Dec up month

Most of them were right on except: October was a clear up month not mixed, and that the year end closing was above my 1840 resistance price target which closed at 1866.

In recall the year before 2013, that was at the end of 2012, people were generally bearish about the Bursa Malaysia due to the uncertainty in the coming election, but it turned out fine and many people make big money in the stock market. So this year 2014, although people are worried about the cooling measures of the property market and rising prices, but I think our market is quite resilient with strong support at 1680.

Last year I kept mentioning about investing in the right sectors because we had clear theme such as "Iskandar", "MRT", and projects on Oil and Gas. But this year I've been searching for investment themes and come up with few possibilities: Tourism, KL-Spore High Speed Train, MRT, health care, and plantation.

Wishing everyone Happy New Year! May this year be full of opportunity in the stock market and the property market!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Looking Back at 2013

An informal glance of the year just past
Years from now, a finance historian or a research analyst looking back at 2013 won't have a clever moniker for the notable financial events of the year.  The year was eventful, but may not even deserve a whole chapter in finance history.

And perhaps that's a good thing. It wasn't like 1987, 1994, 1998, 2008, years that conjure memories of crises, crashes, volatility, and uncertainty.

The year 2013 was not one of turmoil.  Markets behaved well. We saw equity upswings of the likes of the mid-2000's and mid-1990's, even while old hands suggested a bubble is near and we shouldn't get accustomed to double-digit percentage stock-market increases.

The fury and hoopla over BitCoins, that arcane, macabre digital currency, didn't rise to the surface until late 2013.  That, in fact, could be the bubble that bursts in 2014, and let's hope that damage won't cause debilitating financial ripples around the world.

The year 2013 featured big deals, badgering shareholder activists, headline court cases, and a few notable IPO's. One common theme prevailed, nonetheless:  financial regulation.  Regulators, politicians, and lawyers bickered about what to do, how harsh they should be, and when they plan to roll out new rules promised from Dodd-Frank legislation, now going back several years ago.

New regulation, they argued, must be at least a little painful to make up for late-2000s financial sins. But the unveiling of a new era of restraint and a new playing field has taken a long time. Basel III, Volcker rules and new rules governing derivatives and equity trading have trickled out slowly, to the pleasure of many banks still squeezing out profits from privileges about to go away.

Dodd-Frank, Volcker and Basel III are not favorite topics among bankers, but they are inevitable.  Banks paid lobbyists and waged campaigns to push back, but they know they aren't winning this tug-of-war and have begun to adapt. Compliance officers, lawyers, and business managers are combing through hundreds, thousands of pages of rules, guidelines, and capital and liquidity requirements, as they prepare for a wave of requirements set for 2014-15. Not fun, fancy tasks, but this is the new normal for the late 2010's.


Civil suits, criminal charges and legal indictments were abundant all year long, as federal prosecutors followed a determined agenda to punish those involved in insider trading.  A legal blitz on insider trading kept the mystical, aloof hedge fund SAC Capital on the front pages for much of the year--right until now, as prosecutors one by one investigate and/or indict various members of Stephen Cohen's trading circle. 


Shareholder activists charged out front and waged fierce campaigns, taking some of their battles to the front lines of the media. They pushed to get Apple to pay dividends, pushed to reshape and remake JCPenney, and battled over the legitimacy of Herbalife products--anything to boost corporate values, oust disagreeable management, wrest some value from out-dated business models, or cause fuss in equity markets. Names like Icahn, Ackerman, Einhorn and others--stubborn and persistent and sometimes irate--kept themselves busy chasing after corporate boards.


The public got used to JPMorgan Chase's billions--not quarterly profits, but a series of regulatory or legal settlements, pay-outs, charge-offs, and reserves.  A billion here, a billion there, until we saw a climatic $13 billion mortgage-related settlement that caused the public to gasp until it learned that the bank will still report handsome profits in 2013, still wields a heavy hand in banking, and its CEO  Jamie Dimon's job is not at all in jeopardy. (Recall the past springtime when a shareholder petition requested Dimon give up his chairmanship. Dimon and team, breathlessly but with confidence, waited out what was supposed to have been a close vote.)

Apple, Inc. continued to muddle over what to do with its billions in cash--billions on its balance sheet with a reluctance to reward shareholders. Investor activist Carl Icahn applied pressure, and others proposed innovative financial devices to pay shareholders. During the year, Apple relented, deciding to share the wealth via dividends with shareholders and then testing debt markets by borrowing $17 billion in a deal done mostly to show markets it could manage a debt transaction and debt payments.  Meanwhile, the company continues to amass billions more in cash from normal operations.

Twitter's IPO, in many financial circles, will be cast as the year's deal of the year. Nothing fancy about the transaction. And nothing unusual about it, even if Twitter has yet to show meaningful operating profits and long-term growth rates are uncertain (Will the fad run its course?).  Yet the deal was widely discussed and eagerly bought, if only because it signaled a comeback of sorts in the new-issue market or it proved that an IPO with high expectations can burst through starting gates without market turmoil or mechanical difficulty (like the Facebook IPO).

Other deals made headlines, too, contributing to a summer surge that flirted with bankers, who might have thought the M&A glory days had returned.  In one deal, Verizon borrowed a whopping $49 billion to make an even-more-whopping $130 billion acquisition of the portion of Verizon Wireless it didn't own. But as the fall quarter approached, banks realized corporate CEO's and strategists still harbor economic anxiety and are hesitant about making too many acquisitions too quickly.


During the year, we began to observe the slow death watch of Blackberry.  Losses continue, employees have been let go, and management--those who remain--has run out of ideas and imagination about products.  A Canadian private-equity firm had a long-running bet that things would turn around. During the year, it contemplated stepping up the bet to acquire the portions of the company it didn't own. Near the end of the year, it, too, had begun to change its mind about Blackberry.  The company stumbles, gets on its feet every few months when it announces what it perceives as a novel product offering or a strategy geared to corporates, but then it trips again.


Michael Dell had grand dreams of taking his computer company Dell private, where he could seize control of the company's strategy without the withering distractions of shareholders, research analysts, and whimsical stock prices.  Dell, however, didn't realize he had to ward off shareholder activists and prolong the process by addressing apparent conflicts of interest (with him leading both the public company and the private buy-out).

Goldman Sachs didn't make it through the year without headlines, no matter how much it preferred. It had a sideline seat in the civil trial of one of its employees (Fabrice Tourre), the one singled out as instrumental in structuring the large mortgage securities/derivative transaction that permitted hedge-fund investor John Paulson to earn billions. Goldman wasn't an accused party, but for Goldman, the trial caused headaches and reputation blemishes.

Outside courtrooms, Goldman made news when former employee Greg Smith's published his long-awaited book about why he left Goldman.  The book was widely awaited and carefully reviewed and read, although the author didn't stir up as much trouble as some might have hoped. Nor did he offer more than an insider's account of his decade working and watching Goldman drift slightly away from its firm principle of treating clients as kings and queens.

Banks, once every five or ten years, try to do something revolutionary to change the pressure-cooker culture of banking. In the past, they allowed for permissive dress codes (business casual, as it came to be) and tried to be tender-hearted about late nights and all-nighters in the workplace.  Goldman took a big step in 2013 when it announced it would forbid junior bankers (analysts) from working Saturdays t to instill a more civil, comfortable work environment.  The move was praised and appreciated, although skeptics know how little this might be enforced or how the new standard might be forgotten in the months to come. But Goldman is praised for daring to show empathy.

Cheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO, published her  book Lean In and presented pages of advice of how women can aspire to senior roles in business and how women can confront difficult business settings with a more aggressive stance or posture. No book in business in 2013 was more talked about, tossed about, and debated than Sandberg's tome. Women on both sides of the argument of the effectiveness of leaning in weighed in. But was her book applicable to all groups under-represented in business?

An eventful year, but one that didn't leave the blood boiling or cause business and finance leaders to sink into an abyss of anxiety. With bits of the recession and crisis still haunting and reminding all how bad things can be, companies and capital markets proceed into 2014 with degrees of confidence. But they cling to appropriate amounts of worry, wondering if a devastating market blow looms over the horizon.

Tracy Williams