Lagging Indicators

Lagging Indicators

by Jennifer Anglade Dahlberg

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Overview

Lagging Indicators by Jennifer Anglade Dahlberg

What happens when your career is your entire identity and it’s suddenly taken away from you?

It’s October 2009 and thirty-five year-old Mia Lewis is an independent woman at the top of her game. Sharp, attractive and the only senior female executive at Atlas Capital, she survived Wall Street during the worst financial crisis in modern history. Devoted to her job, Mia always fights for what she thinks is best for the firm—until one false move ushers her spectacular downfall.

Disgraced and broke, she escapes to a crumbling cottage in upstate New York to repair her reputation and plot her comeback. Alone and threatened by lasting unemployment, she risks becoming what she has always feared: a failure. But a chance encounter with a handsome single dad ignites feelings and a sense of longing that Mia had intentionally buried.

As she begins to consider a new life—one away from the stress and excess of Wall Street—the past comes calling, jeopardizing her whole future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781773420509
Publisher: Jennifer Anglade Dahlberg
Publication date: 07/02/2018
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

Jennifer grew up in suburban New York and graduated from Columbia University. Her first novel, Uptown & Down (Penguin/NAL), was published in 2005. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her husband and two teenage children.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

October 2009

"So" — I glanced quickly at the name on top of the resume — "Ashley. What makes you think you can sell?"

Ashley, smiling widely, met my gaze. "I'd say that selling is in my blood. My father owns a clothing store and I worked on the floor, pushing product, ever since junior high. Selling or trading financial instruments would be the ultimate sales job in the most dynamic industry in the world. And having the opportunity to work on Wall Street would be a dream come true."

Of course.

"What about your personality will make you a good trader?"

"I'm quick, self-motivated, analytical, not afraid to take risks ..."

Blah, blah, blah. Ashley was a senior at a prestigious university and my colleagues and I had been bombarded with eager, fresh-faced undergraduates all week. It was interview season on Wall Street and the recent financial crisis had only increased the number of candidates applying for jobs at the company I worked for, Atlas Capital. We were a boutique trading and investment advisory firm, but the financial crisis and implosion of many larger competitors had resulted in fewer opportunities, so positions at small, stable firms like Atlas had become highly-coveted.

The room became silent and Ashley looked at me expectantly.

Snapping back to the present, I nodded and said, "Now, tell me about a situation in which it was difficult to obtain information you needed and how you dealt with that?"

I'd been asking that question three times a day now for the past five days. Well, multiply that by ten, which is the numbers of years I'd worked at Atlas and had the dubious honor of conducting these interviews. One hundred and fifty. These questions hadn't change and I could recite them from memory. They hadn't evolved with the colossal challenges facing Wall Street and were embarrassingly out-of-step with today's savvy recruits. When I interviewed at a Top Firm in the Nineties, I had spent weeks studying the company, its strategy and key executives. There had been no guide beyond the unwritten rules on how we were expected to look, behave and dress. But today's candidates were raised on the Internet and regurgitated canned, nearly identical answers to our questions. I could almost predict Ashley's response, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. Come on, surprise me.

"Well, it involved a case study my classmates and I were doing last semester ..." she began.

I reined in my laughter. Which case would it be this time? The devaluation of the Thai baht? Or maybe the dotcom bust? I hadn't heard that one in, oh, at least two days. I stole a glance at my BlackBerry on the conference table. There was only an hour left until the markets closed and I decided to bring this tedious procedure to an end. No more generic questions.

"Ashley," I said, interrupting her monologue. "Do you think executing actual trades will be anything like what you've studied about it in school?"

"No, but I think my education and summer internships will prepare me for the job," she answered, without missing a beat. "I think I've got the tool kit to succeed in this business."

I leaned back and appraised Ashley, something I hadn't done thoroughly when I entered the conference room earlier, impatient and five minutes late. She was a petite brunette with tasteful makeup, professionally turned out in a charcoal gray skirt suit and cream silk blouse.

"Self-confidence will certainly go a long way," I said, "but nothing really prepares you for the stress, the constant action, the highs and lows." I paused for effect. "I go to bed every night worried about my positions. I wake up every morning worried about my positions. Vacations will become a privilege, not a right. Your Bloomberg terminal will become your best friend ..."

Ashley's eyes assumed a determined glint. "That's what I want."

"Being a trader these days is very different from what it used to be." I was thirty-five and with ten years in the industry, couldn't help imparting some words of wisdom. "You might not be the most popular person at a cocktail party. Why do you want do this at all?"

Her face relaxed. "Because I think there should be more women in this business. If there were more of us out there" — she pointed to herself and then to me — "maybe we wouldn't have gotten into this financial mess. I think women in general are better at managing risk. We don't let our egos get in the way of decisions."

Touché. A response Ashley probably wouldn't have given to one of my male colleagues.

"But you still need a healthy ego. It's the nature of the beast." I evened out the edges of her resume and letters of recommendation on the tabletop. "You do know what the upside is, right?" She nodded. "If you're good, you have the potential to make a lot of money — your own money."

Sliding back my chair back and rising, I added, "And that, for a woman, is not a bad thing."

I neglected to say single woman because that's inevitably what it would come down to, but Ashley would have to figure that one out on her own.

* * *

Back at my desk, I frowned at the Bloomberg information on two of my four computer screens. These screens were my lifeblood, providing me with real-time news and prices for every tradable instrument in the market from stocks and bonds to commodities and currencies. Jagged lines on the upper left hand corner showed a downward trend in the stocks I was monitoring. I had been buying stocks in large, "blue chip" companies, established household names that even ordinary folks would recognize. In uncertain times, businesses that were familiar and could offer a proven product for good value were almost always a sure bet. As Head of Equities, I had instructed my team of nine traders to "long" or increase our stake in a half dozen blue chips, predicting their stock prices would rise in the near future.

Atlas Capital had survived the worst crisis since the Great Depression on account of one simple fact: My boss, Peter Branco, didn't believe in overleveraging the firm. As a result, we hadn't been as heavily exposed to the subprime mortgages and credit default swaps that had crippled the larger banks. We were also able to exploit inefficiencies in the market, purchasing undervalued stocks for a low price and then selling high when the market started to rally again. While others struggled, Atlas cemented its reputation as a firm for sophisticated investors who valued stability.

Then why were my mature, historically reliable companies falling? Sighing loudly, I took a sip of VitaminWater. It was flavored with dragon fruit and I drank several bottles of it a day, on top of my morning cappuccino, lunchtime latte and afternoon espresso. I stayed alert, over-caffeinated and super-hydrogenated, but the side-effects also had me running to the bathroom more than I had time for.

"What's up, Mia?" asked Nick Vamvakis, the bond trader who sat across from me.

Atlas employed ten equity and eight fixed-income traders and we sat side-by-side in two rows facing each other in the middle of a large, rectangle room. There was absolutely no privacy; no place to retreat if you were having a bad day. High ceilings sharpened the acoustics and we became accidental bystanders to each other's conduct and conversation, professional or otherwise. Coupled with the noise from the televisions mounted on the wall and the frenzy of buying and selling, I often felt like I was in the middle of rush-hour traffic.

"Just trying to understand why my blue chips are trending downward."

Nick shrugged. "Market's not that excited about toothpaste or cereal."

"These companies will be standing long after we're gone."

"I bet they said the same thing about Lehman Brothers."

"Ouch."

"So, whaddya think of her?"

Clicking up a six-month earnings chart for a leading food and beverage company, I asked,

"Who?"

"The girl you guys interviewed today."

"Oh. Ashley. I thought she seemed very smart and motivated."

"You know what Tripp asked her?"

"What?" I asked. Tripp Armsden was the newest member of my equities team. Peter had hired him without my knowledge several months ago, soon after the venerable bank Tripp worked for filed for bankruptcy. Peter claimed that "time was of the essence" and he was handing me "one of the sharpest trading minds out there on a silver platter," but I was still irritated that he had left me out of the selection process.

"He asked her to guess how much money he had in his wallet."

"That question is borderline harassment!"

"You know what she answered?"

"Something rude, I hope."

"She told him he probably had no cash since he seemed like a Platinum card kind of guy!" Nick tried to laugh, but it came out more like a snort.

"Ha ha! Do you think Tripp got the subtle insult?" I always felt silly saying his name. Why had his parents gone through the trouble of giving him the illustrious title of William Arthur Armsden, III, if he would only be known by the more pedestrian "Tripp?"

"I don't think so. If he did then he wouldn't have bragged about it."

I chuckled. "True."

"Do you think Peter will make her an offer?" Nick asked.

I thought back to Ashley's last words. "I hope so. I think she'd be a good trader's assistant to start with."

"She's probably better off working for you. She'd just be a distraction to the other guys."

I crinkled my brows, an unconscious habit I'd noticed only after lines had taken up permanent residence on my forehead. "Because she's pretty?" Nick's expression became sheepish, as though he knew he was treading very close to the edge of political incorrectness. "Sorry."

In the trading world, there was an archaic myth that the mere presence of estrogen took a male trader's eyes off his business. Against his better judgment, he'd end up dating this woman, or worse, marry her. She would then have to quit her job and have been of little use to the firm in the first place. Perhaps my being an African-American woman kept such thoughts at bay among my white male colleagues or, rather, as Head of Equities, I was strictly off-limits. About a third of Atlas's staff was female, distributed in analysis, operations and human resources. I was the only female trader in a field of eighteen males, but I preferred to see my profession as gender-neutral. I wanted to be judged by my results, the volume of my trades and how much money I made for the firm. Trading was still the ultimate boys club, but it was also objective. Money was the ultimate signifier.

"What's your P&L?" Nick asked, getting back to basics.

His question was innocent enough. Measuring the profit and loss of a day's trading was standard operating procedure. Since Nick traded bonds, he reported to my counterpart in fixed income but we had been "neighbors" on the desk for the past two years. A burly, easy-going guy who had played football for Duke, we shared a nice rapport, but a nagging sense of caution prevented me from stating the truth, so I kept my poker face on.

"I'm down a bit, but I think I can make it up," I replied.

"I'm sure you'll be back in positive territory again."

I nodded. I was actually down ten percent, a $1.5 million loss for the day, on my book alone.

I cursed Peter for making me interview Ashley. Shares in a beverage company had plunged in my absence and I missed an opportunity to sell when I was down by two dollars a share. Now, I was down two-fifty. My losses had grown over the last three days in steady hundred thousand dollar increments. When was the last time I had been down so much in such a short period of time?

During those first, precarious months of the financial meltdown, my group's trades had fallen and then risen and then fallen again, mirroring the madness in the marketplace. Most of our counterparties were flooded with sub-prime mortgages and I didn't sleep for more than four hours a night for several weeks. We kept vigil at the office, scouring our systems to determine how widespread our exposure to the mushrooming catastrophe was. The shared panic galvanized Atlas and by the end of that defining year, we were out of intensive care and breathing on our own again. Storied banks had fallen, but Atlas, the small shop founded by Peter Branco — a contrarian who always believed the Wall Street establishment was too cocky and bloated for its own good — was still standing. Having survived the market meltdown, my current predicament was baffling. But the markets aren't rational. There are black swans flying around and, sooner or later, they will turn against you.

Shortly after five o'clock, I heard Nick turn off his screens. He got up and stretched his hands above his head, displaying two hundred and fifty pounds of bulk. He'd been a star football player at Duke, but fallen short of the NFL. He had, however, caught the attention of well-connected Duke alumni who facilitated the proper introductions on Wall Street. Nick's career progression typified Wall Street's "old boy network," a fact that irked me to no end. I had worked two — if not three — times as hard for my current position, but guys like Nick seemed to coast by without as much effort. Former jock? Check. Golf nut? Check. Smart, but not intimidating? Check. Perky wife and house in Connecticut? Check.

"A couple of us are gonna grab a beer down the street. Care to join?" he asked.

I also forgot to mention he was affable and a team player. I really had to shake off the negativity, but the day's losses were making me cranky.

"I better stay here and regroup, but thanks anyway."

Nick stopped by Tripp's desk and the two of them sauntered towards the front door, picking up three more traders along the way. The five of them were dressed in khaki pants, button-downs, and navy blue fleece vests, the uniform of choice for male traders and hedge fund managers. The vests were emblazoned with the Atlas logo, a variation of the Greek god kneeling on one knee, supporting a huge globe on his shoulders. Everyone assumed Peter had named the firm in homage to Ayn Rand's capitalist tome, Atlas Shrugged, but he was fascinated by Greek mythology and wanted to convey strength and globalism. I always thought Atlas Capital was an enlightened choice, particularly since Peter had resisted the impulse to name the firm after himself. I had gotten one of those fleece vests at a company off-site, but refused to wear it. The very idea of sleeveless fleece seemed like an oxymoron.

I reviewed the results for the trades my team had made that day. We had analysts who were responsible for plugging in all the numbers, but I still liked to see where we stood at the close. My million and a half dollar loss was a professional embarrassment, particularly since a losing streak had a dangerous way of replicating itself.

The rest of the team had made some profitable trades, having correctly bet on some positive news in the oil industry. Retail stocks were bringing us down, but that was no surprise since the buying frenzy that typified the last couple of years had leveled off. Tripp's supposed expertise was evaluating tech stocks and his book showed some gains with the usual suspects who dominated the industry, but an unfamiliar company caught my attention: Touchnology Systems.

"What the hell —" I muttered. The equities team always discussed the status of our positions at daily morning meetings and I had never heard of Touchnology Systems. Nevertheless, Tripp had bought 300,000 shares at sixty-five dollars per share. He had committed $19.5 million without my knowledge or approval.

Dumbfounded, I pored over Touchnology's company profile on my Bloomberg. They were a seven-year old outfit based in La Jolla, California, that developed, manufactured and marketed a line of touch screen products "with diverse applications in smartphones, video games, electronic readers and satellite navigation systems." The company went public two years ago, just as the capital markets fizzled, raising only $150 million. With tech companies vying to invent devices that could handle e-mail, e-commerce, entertainment and social media in the palm of your hand, Touchnology should have been sitting pretty, but last year's earnings were a mediocre $15 million. What on earth did Tripp see in this company?

My BlackBerry vibrated. It was Drago, my personal trainer. He was a former Serbian kickboxing champion and tortured me three times a week, showing no sympathy for my aches and pains or whether I had lost a million dollars. Drago was like a benevolent dictator and under his regime, I had built lean leg muscles, tightened my abdomen and sculpted my arms.

"Mia!" he shrieked, his voice stewing with the authority of a boot camp general. "Where are you? You are ten minutes late!"

"I'll be there in twenty minutes. Can you stay a little later today?"

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Lagging Indicators"
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Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Anglade Dahlberg.
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