Sore analysts have healthy funny bones

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 1998, 12:00am

Something funny has been going on with the behaviour of an endangered species in the financial world lately: the brokerus analystus.

For the uninitiated, this collective term refers to research types at Hong Kong's investment banking houses, best known for their intricately detailed reports on the fortunes of companies.

The brokerus analystus thrived for a long time when times were good before last year's crash. The species lived amply by foraging for large salaries and even larger bonuses that were the order of the day in those bubbly times.

But in the post-boom era, the analyst breed has been most notable for being culled in large numbers by a predator species: the corporatus streamlinus.

This particular species is made up of the 'red-ink men' who have taken apart the finances of many a broking firm following the events of last October.

Interestingly, the predator breed seems to have proliferated in large numbers in recent months.

All over town, these 'slash and burn' specialists have been leaving their marks. Few investment banking budgets are being left unscathed by the red felt-tipped pens wielded by these relentless number crunchers.

In an environment where the corporatus streamlinus is now king, the poor brokerus analystus has had a particularly tough time of it - having been discarded in large numbers by its ruthless, pen-wielding predator.

There are, however, a few survivors in the analyst breed - and these hardy types are adapting in rather novel ways to their recent tough plight.

For instance, some appear to be developing - horror of horrors - a sense of humour.

Others have developed literary aspirations in their reports on companies.

Some more eccentric members of the breed have even been giving detailed accounts of banal events in their everyday lives - somehow finding some relevance in all of this to the share-price performance of companies! Let us share a few examples of this off-beat behaviour with you.

We believe the recent change in the behaviour of the humble analyst can be charted back to Jardine Fleming's regional banking analyst, Bob Zielinski.

In the wake of the start of the Asian financial crisis in the second half of last year, Mr Zielinski had fallen upon hard times. No reporter had rung him to discuss the problems that had emerged involving Asian banks, and he was starving for some attention.

He had a simple solution to this problem: he interviewed himself in Jardine Fleming's Emerging Market Focus newsletter.

What followed was a humorous banking dialogue between, well, Bob and Bob, in which it was noted that: 'Mr Zielinski displayed enthusiasm throughout'.

It was all much closer to an episode of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno than the rarified world of an analyst's report - although we've never heard of even Mr Leno interviewing himself! This early sign of unusual behaviour amongst broking analysts was a mere portent of things to come.

We soon discovered another fascinating trend among our rapidly changing species - the tough times were driving them to acknowledge their long dormant literary side.

At first we were sceptical on this one - having always pictured analysts as numbers men.

But alas, it proved to be true. We came upon Anthony Lok, an analyst at Indosuez WI Carr Securities - who, it seems, finds plenty of inspiration in the works of one Charles Dickens. His reports on HSBC Holdings are based on Dickens' novels, including A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times and Great Expectations.

Given that Dickens tended usually to chronicle the worst of times, rather than the best, his application to 1998 Hong Kong brokers' reports seems more than appropriate.

And Mr Lok's reports seem to contain more than a little gallows humour.

Some investment banking types have taken their reports on a very different tack. Albert Edwards, the Dresdner Kleinwort Benson strategist who made 'Noddynomics' a byword for students of the Southeast Asian business scene, last week unveiled a report almost totally devoted to his domestic affairs.

He talked of kids' behaviour problems, motorbike meltdowns and bus banter. He also made an analogy between the breakdown of his motorbike and dives in Asian company share prices.

What is happening to the analysts of the world? Is there some sort of eccentricity virus hitting them that coincides with the tough times in Asia - after their years of playing it very straight? We think the real factor behind their strange transformation is altogether simpler. After all, when you're living on struggle street, there are few things saner than a spot of madness.