Categories Billions Print Media Recap

From the Trader’s Desk: Answering Viewers Questions & Billions S3 Ep6 – May 4, 2018

How Will Wendy Solve Her Own Personal Kobayashi Maru?

by Lady Trader | Fan Fun with Damian Lewis | May 4, 2018

Source: Showtime

Greetings from the Trader’s Desk! After a brief hiatus, Lady Trader is back to answer some questions about “A Flaw in the Death Star” and my take on “The Third Ortolan”.

I received some questions regarding “A Flaw in the Death Star”: Dollar Bill’s trade, why Axe Capital would hire someone like Ari Spyros, Taylor’s meaning of “ETFs have sucked all the dumb money out of the market that hedgies used to prey on”, and last but not least, the biggest question of the season so far: Why did Axe Capital move to NY?

In “A Flaw in the Death Star” we see Dollar Bill plan to short a pharmaceutical company, Mendham. He has paid off one of the employees to blow the whistle on the animal cruelty that is going on there. A simple short for Dollar Bill and a crap load of money for Axe Capital. But, Dollar Bill has come up against something he can’t throw a duffel bag of cash at – Head of Compliance, Porsche driving, cappuccino making (and I’m guessing its cappuccino since I don’t drink coffee), and all around boorish , Ari Spyros.

Bill has gotten the go ahead for the short from Taylor and Wags, but he must get the OK from Compliance.

Ari flags the short and it’s a no go. Bill goes on a tirade, calls Ari a few choice names, and turns to the only person he knows will understand  him,  fellow outlaw, Axe.  Axe has bigger fish to fry, so he tells Bill “Help Yourself!”

Bill does just that. He longs the stock, but tries to buy Credit Default Swaps to hedge his bet. Answer to Question 1: Since Bill cannot short the stock, he longs it and uses CDS as insurance. He will still benefit from the decline in the stock price. As a buyer of the CDS, Bill receives credit protection and will be entitled to the face value of the contract, should the company default on its debt. An animal cruelty case against Mendham would certainly put the company in that situation.

Ari’s experience from his SEC days alerts him to the imaginative way Bill is still trying to get the trade through, and blocks it. Answer to Question 2: Ari may be a preening asshole, but he is an experienced one! He knows the type of things to look for that would cause red flags at the SEC, and he certainly knows Dollar Bill’s rep. Axe Capital needs that kind of expertise in-house, now more than ever. With the boss indicted, the regulators are going to be all over everything the firm does. Hiring Ari gives Axe Cap someone who will play the role of keeping (for the most part) the traders on the straight and narrow. Many hedge funds hire people from the SEC and other Wall Street regulators  for this reason. People coming from the public sector also have contacts at their old jobs, and who you know is just as valuable as what you know. Also, as the Porsche will attest to, it’s much more lucrative to work in the private sector. So, yes, Ari is a jerk, but he’s a well paid, member or the Axe Capital “family” jerk!

Taylor is still working on their quant algorithm. They have hired 2 programmers (yo! Quants!) to back-test their strategy. The results are not up to Taylor’s standards; Taylor has hired programmers, but not finance people, so they don’t know how to make adjustments when the strategy under-performs the market. Taylor knows they need to program the algo themselves, as they are the best of both worlds: programmer and finance. Answer to Question 3: Recently, there has been a move by pension funds and institutional money out of traditional hedge funds and into quant shops or passive investments (ETFs). These types of investments are less risky and are generally cheaper to invest in. They don’t have the expense of analysts, and don’t charge the usual 2 & 20. This has caused the  money pie for hedge funds to shrink. A hedge fund needs to be at the top of its game, with the best performance in order to keep getting a nice slice of the pie. This is why Taylor needs the best algo they can come up with.

And to answer  the $99,000 Question: I really don’t know why Axe Capital moved from CT to NY. My best guess is that if Axe is living in Manhattan, and the place is called Axe Capital, he’s not going to commute, so they will move the mountain to Muhammad! Also, there have been state governments that have been targeting hedge funds to pay more taxes. This has caused funds to move their headquarters to lower tax states. However, a move from CT to NY wouldn’t help much; both states have disgracefully high tax rates.

I hope that answered your questions. As always, if you have any fin-speak questions, please fire away!

When the titles for the episodes are announced, everyone here at FanFun tries to figure out what they could all mean. (We are usually wrong!)  “The Third Ortolan” was researched, but I still couldn’t figure it out, until I watched the opening sequence. I knew of this “ritual” from watching ITV’s Victoria” and watching this same creepy dinner take place in Victorian France. I guess I blocked it from my memory! It may be a delicacy, but I’ll pass. If I was ever going to have a “last supper” I’d go with my Grandmother’s homemade lasagna; but what else would you expect from an Italian from Brooklyn?

“I feel bad about a lot if things I do. Doesn’t stop me.”

In one quote, we have the perfect description of Chuck Rhoades!

Taylor receives a beautiful delivery of delphiniums from Oscar. They are the perfect geek gift for their relationship:  the leaves are clustered according to the Fibonacci sequence! The boys ($Bill, Mafee & Ben) are asking Taylor how this long-distance relationship works. Taylor lays out the logical explanation: they are both such workaholics, if they were in the same city they would never see each other, and that would be awkward. I’m not convinced Taylor really believes that – it’s just something they are telling themselves so they don’t feel the loneliness and distance.

Wendy checks in with Taylor to see how they are handling the possibility of Axe Cap without Axe. Taylor knows they need to be ready if that scenario arises, but are they? And what is Axe Capital without Axe? Yes, Wendy says, the firm can still manage money, and has a capable staff to do so, but can it grow and thrive? It will all come down to Taylor. They want the challenge, and have even imagined Axe out of the picture just to be given the opportunity to lead the firm on their own terms. Taylor measures themselves against Axe and feels they’ll come up short. Wendy gives Taylor the best advice you can give: don’t measure yourself against anyone and trust your gut – that is what Axe does at his best. I have mentioned several times how instinct is a big part of how I trade. Sometimes it is hard to trust your instinct. You have that voice in your head that tells you the opposite. Anytime I’ve ever gone against my instinct on a trade, I’ve regretted it, even if the trade was wrong. If I make a bad trade, but I went with my gut, it’s a lot easier to move on from than from one that I made against what I knew I should have done. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with Wendy’s advice to Taylor: don’t listen to the other (in Taylor’s case Spock) voice in your head, go with your gut!

Taylor is Skyping with Oscar, discussing their issue with the algo. The voice in Taylor’s head is telling them to just keep tweaking it. Oscar says what needs to be said: maybe it needs to be scrapped and gutted. Taylor knew that in their gut. Perhaps they are starting to take Wendy’s advice!

By that afternoon, Oscar has flown to New York to keep Taylor company while they program. Oscar knows Taylor can do it, but also knows what it is like to work long hours of lonely coding. A gift of “standard coding provisions” (candy!) seals the deal. Taylor’s inner voice wonders if this is the best use of Oscar’s time, but their gut says go for it! At home, Taylor and Oscar sit side by side, eating candy, coding, and just being together. It’s a look of satisfaction and happiness we haven’t seen a lot from Taylor lately. They are the Sheldon and Amy of “Billions”!

The second floor of Axe Cap is in lock down mode, as Axe, Bach and the two Halls are strategizing for a court appearance. Axe needs to find that slide and make sure it is one less piece of evidence that can be used against him. Bach suggests calling for a motion to dismiss; this will force Bryan to produce any evidence and show his hand.

As Axe and company head off to court, Ari offers his “expertise” on Bryan, but there are no takers. Ari is part of the “family” and he wants to help his Don and show his loyalty – and because this is Ari we’re talking about, it’s not going to go well.

In court, Judge DeGiulio won’t dismiss the case, even though Bryan doesn’t have any evidence – yet. So, he’ll split the baby – Bryan must produce his evidence in 1 week or the case will be dismissed. It’s a small win for Axe (who doesn’t like small wins) but he’ll take it.

This puts a big crimp in Chuck’s plans to plant the slide in Axe’s apartment. For all the illegal maneuvers Axe makes (and this season it’s a boat load) when Chuck does the same things (paying people off, using immigration status as a weapon) it just seems so much more sinister. He’ll have to find another way to get the goods planted on Axe. Perhaps an employee at Axe Capital would comply?

Axe is in full paranoid mode, and is not convinced he can run out the clock and wait the week the court has given Bryan. He needs to find that slide. It’s haunting him. Bach tells Axe something someone should have told him last season:

Don’t let your paranoia make you take unnecessary risks!

I think the Kinks said it best: paranoia, they destroy ya!

Read the rest of the original article at Fan Fun with Damian Lewis