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Taking stock

After college, I signed on to sell stocks, bonds and commodities (whatever they were) with Merrill-Lynch. I had something like an allergic reaction to numbers and experienced a shortness of breath over technical tendencies, Earnings ratios could cause light-headedness. Still and all, selling stock beat cleaning up after stock.

At that time in the world's progression, Merrill-Lynch sent prospective brokers to New York to study on Wall Street by day and go berserk in Manhattan by night. We were paid $1,000 on the first of the month and were dining on free weenies on toothpicks in neighborhood taverns by the 15th.

Most stockbrokers were former something-or-others: I shared digs with a former corporate vice president, a former FBI agent, a former punk and a former athlete. We lived, if you could call seldom sleeping living, in a residence hotel called the Park Royale, which was on the west side, around the corner from the Dakota, where Rosemary's Baby was filmed. After some late-nights, we felt like Rosemary's sons. The Park Royale was royale in name only. Silent, tough guys rode to the top floor. The housekeeper once fire-extinguished a roomie with a hangover, fearing that he was near death.

The purpose of the training was to prepare prospective brokers for the stock market exams. I also learned what could happen if you drank too much cherry vodka. You became deeply religious. I somehow passed the main stock market test by one point, surprising Wall Street professors and friends alike. I can only assume I hit 90-plus percent of my guesses.

I was a broker for about a year, the low-light being when I sold a judge $30,000 worth of stock without making it clear that he had to pay up in full before he could sell. Some judge, I bet. The deal was a wash and the "house" had to eat the loss on my behalf; I left the Hooterville office before it was ordered.

The point of this piece is to state that there is a similarity in gambling on stocks and wagering on horses, and when I speak of it, it's not like I'm coming from left field; deep short, maybe.

Market players have better reputations than they deserve, horse handicappers, worse.

Similarities in the gambles result from things like tips, so prevalent in both fields of skill and chance. Superior horse handicappers and stock market investors know exactly what to do with tips that are heavy toward a particular side: you immediately go big the other way.

Bias plays an important role in both gambles: The stock market reacts to crying, horses to rain.

Common sense pays well in both endeavors. With stocks, buying what you use usually works. With horses, booking a friend's wager on a turf race has its merits.

Good horse handicappers make excellent stock market players.

One, they're keen for long shots.

Two, they know manure when they see it.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.