'No man,' the New Testament advises us, 'can serve two masters. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon'. That was the choice confronting economist Paul Schulte at the end of his fourth year training for the priesthood at America's National Seminary in Washington. He opted for Mammon. 'I come from a very large Catholic family and when they grab you they grab you young - figuratively speaking of course,' said Mr Schulte, now a Los Angeles-based consultant at his research company, Taking Stock. 'I decided that it just wasn't for me. I did a four-year scholarship and finished a bachelor's degree in medieval philosophy, and then kind of changed gears and got a master's degree in political economy and a master's degree in business.' Mr Schulte looked for jobs in the Washington area relevant to his second and third degrees rather than his first, and found one in a place about as different from the seminary as possible. 'I worked as an analyst for the National Security Council for a couple of years in the White House, in the middle 80s during the Reagan administration. I was dealing quite a lot with Asia. Unfortunately that was at the height of the Iran Contra affair, and two of my bosses were indicted,' Mr Schulte said. This was not to be his last experience of high level incompetence and corruption in government. The seeds of an interest in Asia had been planted during his White House stint, and he next went to work for a Washington consulting firm that worked for several foreign governments, including that of Indonesia. 'This was the old days when Indonesia was trying to do the right thing - when there was genuine reform taking place before it was all hijacked by the first family in the middle to the late 1990s. In 1988/89 I was there, working for the Indonesian government on reforms in the capital market and banking sectors. I was working with the Ministry of Finance when they were trying to open up and internationalise the banking system.' Even after his Washington experiences the streak of idealism that had led him to the seminary was not quite expunged. He recalled 'a tremendous amount of hope and a tremendous amount of optimism' among his colleagues. It was, of course, too good to last. 'When I was in Jakarta the floor below me was Tommy Suharto's office - one office with six people. By 1995 he had a building with 20 floors in it, so in those five years he was either very entrepreneurial or very sneaky. He was 24 or 25 years old, and by the time he was 30 he was a billionaire. The poison and the rot in the system began to escalate from 1994 to 1997 and then it all blew up,' he said. By then he had left Java for Hong Kong, having been recruited in 1992 by Credit Suisse First Boston to set up a research section. Starting with two colleagues in a room with three telephones, Mr Schulte was instrumental in building up a 25-strong department. He stayed with the bank for five years before being recruited with a similar brief by ING Barings, where he stayed for four years, on the whole less happily. 'It was interesting but very difficult because there was very little co-operation inside an organisation that was being dominated during the Asian crisis by a commercial bank that did not understand investment banking. It was very difficult for everybody.' The experience of working in this environment during the Asian crisis set him thinking in terms of setting up on his own. He found the corporate climate hostile and had begun to feel conscious of a conflict of interest between the agendas of his colleagues and his own role as an analyst. 'Having been bearish on Asia in 1997, and even part of 1996, I got a tremendous amount of flak and negativity from my colleagues who simply didn't think it was appropriate to be bearish on anything. By 1998 that was difficult for me, because, having got a lot of the markets right and been one of the few, there were very few plaudits. It was not in anybody's interest to be pessimistic, so the sales force in particular was very resistant to a lot of the research,' he said. Fortunately Asiamoney, Euromoney and Institutional Investor took a different view of his forecasts, all rating Mr Schulte highly as an analyst. This, along with a serious case of road weariness, gave him an incentive to quit. 'In late 1999 I decided I'd had enough. I think I had jet-lag for three years and when I filled up my third passport I decided that was that. There was one trip where I was in 15 cities in five days. It was not a life for me.' He relocated to Los Angeles, his home town, and began doing research for hedge funds. He then took an interest in the Russian and Latin American markets, and one thing led to another. 'The momentum had gathered in such a way that I got an increasing amount of interest from other people in terms of helping them out with country picks, stock picks, some fixed income stuff, and the next thing you know I'd started a company and set up a Web site.' Taking Stock, he says is an entirely independent research company and accordingly free of the conflict of interest issues that had begun to concern him at ING. Business, and an affection for Hong Kong bring him back here regularly, but he remains bearish on many of the issues some of his former colleagues would have preferred him to be bullish about - notably China which he describes as 'a bubble with insufficient returns on capital'. 'The hope of course is that some great new company is going to come out of China, but so far we've been let down consistently. It will happen, but there's a great deal of cynicism, pessimism and a lot of bad experience in Chinese equities, and a lot of rip-offs,' he said.