An orange tabby cat beat professionals in a stock-picking competition. He made his selections by throwing his favorite toy mouse on a grid of numbers allocated to different companies.
It was Sunday and I was taking the second of my two scheduled naps when I woke to the sight of Rocco, our tuxedo male cat, standing with his paws on my computer keyboard.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Just checking a few stocks in European markets,” he said. He’s always been a bright cat, but I had no idea he’d opened up an on-line brokerage account.
“Sell Amalgamated Wolfram!”
“You’re not fooling around with my money, are you?”
“You? Please. Gimme a break. Don’t they call security when you walk into Charles Schwab?”
I’m not a high-roller like some of our friends, who like to brag about how much money they make day-trading. Nope, I’m the tortoise to their hare; diversification of risk, buy mutual funds and stay away from individual stocks, walk slowly and always wear your cartilaginous shell when you go outside. Still, I know a little about investing.
“No they do not,” I said defensively.
“I know, that was unfair,” Rocco said as he tapped in the Euroclear symbol for General Electric. “They ask you to go around back to the service entrance.”
“I’m overweighted in large caps. Also in my hindquarters.”
“Har-de-har-har, so funny I forgot to laugh,” I said. “Whose money are you playing with, by the way?”
“My own,” he said.
“And where did you get it?”
“If you ever read anything besides The Boston Herald, The comics in the Boston Globe . . .”
“Made famous by Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes when he said ‘What kind of newspaper puts the funnies on the front page?’”
“On the nosey. And the New York Times Book Review, you would have noticed that I’ve been winning stock-picking contests with impressive regularity.”
“My cat’s smarter than your broker.”
“You mean you’re beating the self-promoting doo-bees who expose themselves to public ridicule . . .”
“And the obloquy of all right-thinking men . . .”
” . . . by entering Future Brokers competitions?”
“You got it. I’ve attracted quite a following in our sleepy little burb.”
I should have known. Everybody wants to beat the market, and with interest rates at historic lows bragging rights for best-performing portfolio–and try saying that five times fast–are highly coveted in playgrounds of the idle rich.
“You can have the Business Section when I’m through.”
“So what do you look for in a stock these days?” I asked, not that I was going to switch to active management of my portfolio anytime soon.
“Well,” Rocco said, stepping away from the computer for a moment and gazing out the window to literally take the long view while he figuratively did so. “I try to toss my mouse up high–that way it can land on a larger number of publicly-traded companies.”
I was silent for a moment, waiting to see if he was pulling my leg. When he turned back to the screen, I knew he wasn’t kidding. “You’re taking money from our friends and neighbors . . .”
“They’re all accredited investors . . .”
“Our panel of experts includes a tuxedo cat and a catnip mouse.”
” . . . and picking stocks based on where your stupid felt mouse lands?”
“You got a better system?”
I had to admit I didn’t. Because of my innate cheapness–”Chapman” is derived from the Middle English “cheapman,’ an itinerant salesman–I try to pick stocks whose price is unfairly deflated by trivial events of passing significance, such as natural disasters, bankruptcy and massive internal fraud. This strategy–known as “catching a falling knife”–has caused me massive bleeding in my portfolio.
“Well, no,” I said. “Still–throwing a mouse?”
“Hey–I use the best and most recent information available. The print edition of The Wall Street Journal.”
“Those are yesterday’s papers, you dingbat.”
“P/E ratios are totally out of whack!”
“You need to take the long view,” he said, turning back to check the Hang Seng Index.
“I agree, but my attention span is slightly longer than a common housecat’s.”
He whirled his head around as if he’d heard a coyote. “Who you callin’ common?” he snapped.
“Oh please. You don’t seriously expect me to believe that you’re beating the Dow Jones and the Russell 2000 merely by your skill at throwing a stuffed felt toy, are you?”
“Of course not,” he said blandly. “I use performance-enhancing drugs as well.”
“No, dubo. That mouse is full of catnip.”