Reminiscences of a Stock Operator - Chapter 22
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One day Jim Barnes, who not only was one of my principal brokers but an intimate friend as well, called on me. He said he wanted me to do him a great favour. He never before had talked that way, and so I asked him to tell me what the favour was, hoping it was something I could do, for I certainly wished to oblige him. He then told me that his firm was interested in a certain stock; in fact, they had been the principal promoters of the company and had placed the greater part of the stock. Circumstances had arisen that made it imperative for them to market a rather large block. Jim wanted me to undertake to do the marketing for him. The stock was Consolidated Stove.
I did not wish to have anything to do with it for various reasons. But Barnes, to whom I was under some obligations, insisted on the personal-favour phase of the matter, which alone could overcome my objections. He was a good fellow, a friend, and his firm, I gathered, was pretty heavily involved, so in the end I consented to do what I could.
It has always seemed to me that the most picturesque point of difference between the war boom and other booms was the part that was played by a type new in stock-market affairs- the boy banker.
The boom was stupendous and its origins and causes were plainly to be grasped by all. But at the same time the greatest banks and trust companies in the country certainly did all they could to help make millionaires overnight of all sorts and conditions of promoters and munition makers. It got so that all a man had to do was to say that he had a friend who was a friend of a member of one of the Allied commissions and he would be offered all the capital needed to carry out the contracts he had not yet secured. I used to hear incredible stories of clerks becoming presidents of companies doing a business of millions of dollars on money borrowed from trusting trust companies, and of contracts that left a trail of profits as they passed from man to man. A flood of gold was pouring into this country from Europe and the banks had to find ways of impounding it.
The way business was done might have been regarded with misgivings by the old, but there didn't seem to be so many of them about. The fashion for gray-haired presidents of banks was all very well in tranquil times, but youth was the chief qualification in these strenuous times. The banks certainly did make enormous profits.
Jim Barnes and his associates, enjoying the friendship and confidence of the youthful president of the Marshall National Bank, decided to consolidate three well-known stove companies and sell the stock of the new company to the public that for months had been buying any old thing in the way of engraved stock certificates.
One trouble was that the stove business was so prosperous that all three companies were actually earning dividends on their common stock for the first time in their history. Their principal stockholders did not wish to part with the control. There was a good market for their stocks on the Curb; and they had sold as much as they cared to part with and they were content with things as they were. Their individual capitalisation was too small to justify big market movements, and that is where Jim Barnes' firm came in. It pointed out that the consolidated company must be big enough to list on the Stock Exchange, where the new shares could be made more valuable than the old ones. It is an old device in Wall Street-to change the color of the certificates in order to make them more valuable. Say a stock ceases to be easily vendible at par. Well, sometimes by quadrupling the stock you may make the new shares sell at 30 or 35. This is equivalent to 120 or 140 for the old stock-a figure it never could have reached.
It seems that Barnes and his associates succeeded in inducing some of their friends who held speculatively some blocks of Gray Stove Company-a large concern-to come into the consolidation on the basis of four shares of Consolidated for each share of Gray. Then the Midland and the Western followed their big sister and came in on the basis of share for share. Theirs had been quoted on the Curb at around 25 to 30, and the Gray, which was better known and paid dividends, hung around 125.
In order to raise the money to buy out those holders who insisted upon selling for cash, and also to provide additional working capital for improvements and promotion expenses, it became necessary to raise a few millions. So Barnes saw the president of his bank, who kindly lent his syndicate three million five hundred thousand dollars. The collateral was one hundred thousand shares of the newly organised corporation. The syndicate assured the president, or so I was told, that the price would not go below 50. It would be a very profitable deal as there was big value there.
The promoters' first mistake was in the matter of timeliness. The saturation point for new stock issues had been reached by the market, and they should have seen it. But even then they might have made a fair profit after all if they had not tried to duplicate the unreasonable killings which other promoters had made at the very height of the boom.
Now you must not run away with the notion that Jim Barnes and his associates were fools or inexperienced kids. They were shrewd men. All of them were familiar with Wall Street methods and some of them were exceptionally successful stock traders. But they did rather more than merely overestimate the public's buying capacity. After all, that capacity was something that they could determine only by actual tests. Where they erred more expensively was in expecting the bull market to last longer than it did. I suppose the reason was that these same men had met with such great and particularly with such quick success that they didn't doubt they'd be all through with the deal before the bull market turned. They were all well known and had a considerable following among the professional traders and the wire houses.
The deal was extremely well advertised. The newspapers certainly were generous with their space. The older concerns were identified with the stove industry of America and their product was known the world over. It was a patriotic amalgamation and there was a heap of literature in the daily papers about the world conquests. The markets of Asia, Africa and South America were as good as cinched.
The directors of the company were all men whose names were familiar to all readers of the financial pages. The publicity work was so well handled and the promises of unnamed insiders as to what the price was going to do were so definite and convincing that a great demand for the new stock was created. The result was that when the books were closed it was found that the stock which was offered to the public at fifty dollars a share had been oversubscribed by 25 per cent.
Think of it! The best the promoters should have expected was to succeed in selling the new stock at that price after weeks of work and after putting up the price to 75 or higher in order to average 50. At that, it meant an advance of about 100 per cent in the old prices of the stocks of the constituent companies. That was the crisis and they did not meet it as it should have been met. It shows you that every business has its own needs. General wisdom is less valuable than specific savvy. The promoters, delighted by the unexpected oversubscription, concluded that the public was ready to pay any price for any quantity of that stock. And they actually were stupid enough to underallot the stock. After the promoters made up their minds to be hoggish they should have tried to be intelligently hoggish.
What they should have done, of course, was to allot the stock in full. That would have made them short to the extent of 25 per cent of the total amount offered for subscription to the public, and that, of course, would have enabled them to support the stock when necessary and at no cost to themselves. Without any effort on their part they would have been in the strong strategic position that I always try to find myself in when I am manipulating a stock. They could have kept the price from sagging, thereby inspiring confidence in the new stock's price stability and in the underwriting syndicate back of it. They should have remembered that their work was not over when they sold the stock offered to the public. That was only a part of what they had to market.
They thought they had been very successful, but it was not long before the consequences of their two capital blunders became apparent. The public did not buy any more of the new stock, because the entire market developed reactionary tendencies. The insiders got cold feet and did not support Consolidated Stove; and if insiders don't buy their own stock on recessions, who should? The absence of inside support is generally accepted as a pretty good bear tip.
There is no need to go into statistical details. The price of Consolidated Stove fluctuated with the rest of the market, but it never went above the initial market quotations, which were only a fraction above 50. Barnes and his friends in the end had to come in as buyers in order to keep it above 40. Not to have supported that stock at the outset of its market career was regrettable. But not to have sold all the stock the public subscribed for was much worse.
At all events, the stock was duly listed on the New York Stock Exchange and the price of it duly kept sagging until it nominally stood at 37. And it stood there because Jim Barnes and his associates had to keep it there because then bank had loaned them thirty-five dollars a share on one hun-dred thousand shares. If the bank ever tried to liquidate that loan there was no telling what the price would break to. The public that had been eager to buy it at 50, now didn't care for it at 37, and probably wouldn't want it at 27.
As time went on the banks' excesses in the matter of extensions of credits made people think. The day of the boy banker was over. The banking business appeared to be on the ragged edge of suddenly relapsing into conservatism. Intimate friends were now asked to pay off loans, for all the world as though they had never played golf with the president.
There was no need to threaten on the lender's part or to plead for more time on the borrower's. The situation was highly uncomfortable for both. The bank, for example, with which my friend Jim Barnes did business, was still kindly disposed. But it was a case of "For heaven's sake take up that loan or we'll all be in a dickens of a mess!"
The character of the mess and its explosive possibilities were enough to make Jim Barnes come to me to ask me to sell the one hundred thousand shares for enough to pay off the bank's three-million-five-hundred-thousand-dollar loan. Jim did not now expect to make a profit on that stock. If the syndicate only made a small loss on it they would be more than grateful.
It seemed a hopeless task. The general market was neither active nor strong, though at times there were rallies, when everybody perked up and tried to believe the bull swing was about to resume.
The answer I gave Barnes was that I'd look into the matter and let him know under what conditions I'd undertake the work. Well, I did look into it. I didn't analyse the company's last annual report. My studies were confined to the stock-market phases of the problem. I was not going to tout the stock for a rise on its earnings or its prospects, but to dispose of that block in the open market. All I considered was what should, could or might help or hinder me in that task.
I discovered for one thing that there was too much stock held by too few people-that is, too much for safety and far too much for comfort. Clifton P. Kane Co., bankers and brokers, members of the New York Stock Exchange, were carrying seventy thousand shares. They were intimate friends of Barnes and had been influential in effecting the consolidation, as they had made a specialty of stove stocks for years. Their customers had been let into the good thing. Ex-Senator Samuel Gordon, who was the special partner in his nephews' firm, Gordon Bros., was the owner of a second block of seventy thousand shares; and the famous Joshua Wolff had sixty thousand shares. This made a total of two hundred thousand shares of Consolidated Stove held by this handful of veteran Wall Street professionals. They did not need any kind person to tell them when to sell their stock. If I did anything in the manipulating line calculated to bring in public buying-that is to say, if I made the stock strong and active-I could see Kane and Gordon and Wolff unloading, and not in homeopathic doses either. The vision of their two hundred thousand shares Niagaraing into the market was not exactly entrancing. Don't forget that the cream was off the bull movement and that no overwhelming demand was going to be manufactured by my operations, however skilfully conducted they might be. Jim Barnes had no illusions about the job he was modestly sidestepping in my favour. He had given me a waterlogged stock to sell on a bull market that was about to breathe its last. Of course there was no talk in the newspapers about the ending of the bull market, but I knew it, and Jim Barnes knew it, and you bet the bank knew it.
Still, I had given Jim my word, so I sent for Kane, Gordon and Wolff. Their two hundred thousand shares was the sword of Damocles. I thought I'd like to substitute a steel chain for the hair. The easiest way, it seemed to me, was by some sort of reciprocity agreement. If they helped me passively by holding off while I sold the bank's one hundred thousand shares, I would help them actively by trying to make a market: for all of us to unload on. As things were, they couldn't sell one-tenth of their holdings without having Consolidated Stove break wide open, and they knew it so well that they had never dreamed of trying. All I asked of them was judgment in timing the selling and an intelligent unselfishness in order not to be unintelligently selfish. It never pays to be a dog in the manger in Wall Street or anywhere else. I desired to convince them that premature or ill-considered unloading would prevent complete unloading. Time urged.
I hoped my proposition would appeal to them because they were experiencd Wall Street men and had no illusions about the actual demand for Consolidated Stove. Clifton P. Kane was the head of a prosperous commission house with branches in eleven cities and customers by the hundreds. His firm had acted as managers for more than one pool in the past.
Senator Gordon, who held seventy thousand shares, was an exceedingly wealthy man. His name was as familiar to the readers of the metropolitan press as though he had been sued for breach of promise by a sixteen-year-old manicurist possessing a five-thousand-dollar mink coat and one hundred and thirty-two letters from the defendant. He had started his nephews in business as brokers and he was a special partner in their firm. He had been in dozens of pools. He had inherited a large interest in the Midland Stove Company and he got one hundred thousand shares of Consolidated Stove for it. He had been carrying enough to disregard Jim Barnes' wild bull tips and had cashed in on thirty thousand shares before the market petered out on him. He told a friend later that he would have sold more only the other big holders, who were old and intimate friends, pleaded with him not to sell any more, and out of regard for them he stopped. Besides which, as I said, he had no market to unload on.
The third man was Joshua Wolff. He was probably the best known of all the traders. For twenty years everybody had known him as one of the plungers on the floor. In bidding up stocks or offering them down he had few equals, for ten or twenty thousand shares meant no more to him than two or three hundred. Before I came to New York I had heard of him as a plunger. He was then trailing with a sporting coterie that played a no limit game, whether on the race track or in the stock market.
They used to accuse him of being nothing but a gambler, but he had real ability and a strongly developed aptitude for the speculative game. At the same time his reputed indifference to highbrow pursuits made him the hero of numberless anecdotes. One of the most widely circulated of the yarns was that Joshua was a guest at what he called a swell dinner and by some oversight of the hostess several of the other guests began to discuss literature before they could be stopped.
A girl who sat next to Josh and had not heard him use his mouth except for masticating purposes, turned to him and looking anxious to hear the great financier's opinion asked him, "Oh, Mr. Wolff, what do you think of Balzac?"
Josh politely ceased to masticate, swallowed and answered, "I never trade in them Curb stocks!"
Such were the three largest individual holders of Consolidated Stove. When they came over to see me I told them that if they formed a syndicate to put up some cash and gave me a call on their stock at a little above the market I would do what I could to make a market. They promptly asked me how much money would be required.
I answered, "You've had that stock a long time and you can't do a thing with it. Between the three of you you've got two hundred thousand shares, and you know very well that you haven't the slightest chance of getting rid of it unless you make a market for it. It's got to be some market to absorb what you've got to give it, and it will be wise to have enough cash to pay for whatever stock it may be necessary to buy at first. It's no use to begin and then have to stop because there isn't enough money. I suggest that you form a syndicate and raise six millions in cash. Then give the syndicate a call on your two hundred thousand shares at 40 and put all your stock in escrow. If everything goes well you chaps will get rid of your dead pet and the syndicate will make some money."
As I told you before, there had been all sorts of rumours about my stock-market winnings. I suppose that helped, for nothing succeeds like success. At all events, I didn't have to do much explaining to these chaps. They knew exactly how far they'd get if they tried to play a lone hand. They thought mine was a good plan. When they went away they said they would form the syndicate at once.
They didn't have much trouble in inducing a lot of their friends to join them. I suppose they spoke with more assurance than I had of the syndicate's profits. From all I heard they really believed it, so theirs were no conscienceless tips. At all events the syndicate was formed in a couple of days. Kane, Gordon and Wolff gave calls on the two hundred thousand shares at 40 and I saw to it that the stock itself was put in escrow, so that none of it would come out on the market if I should put up the price. I had to protect myself. More than one promising deal has failed to pan out as expected because the members of the pool or clique failed to keep faith with one another. Dog has no foolish prejudices against eating dog in Wall Street. At the time the second American Steel and Wire Company was brought out the insiders accused one another of breach of faith and trying to unload. There had been a gentlemen's agreement between John W. Gates and his pals and the Seligmans and their banking associates. Well, I heard somebody in a broker's office reciting this quatrain, which was said to have been composed by John W. Gates:
The tarantula jumped on the centipede's back
And chortled with ghoulish glee:
"I'll poison this murderous son of a gun.
Mind you, I do not mean for one moment to imply that any of my friends in Wall Street would even dream of double-crossing me in a stock deal. But on general principles it is just as well to provide for any and all contingencies. It's plain sense.
After Wolff and Kane and Gordon told me that they had formed their syndicate to put up six millions in cash there was nothing for me to do but wait for the money to come in. I had urged the vital need of haste. Nevertheless the money came in driblets. I think it took four or five installments. I don't know what the reason was, but I remember that I had to send out an S O S call to Wolff and Kane and Gordon.
That afternoon I got some big checks that brought the cash in my possession to about four million dollars and the promise of the rest in a day or two. It began at last to look as though the syndicate might do something before the bull market passed away. At best it would be no cinch, and the sooner I began work the better. The public had not been particularly keen about new market movements in inactive stocks. But a man could do a great deal to arouse interest in any stock with four millions in cash. It was enough to absorb all the probable offerings. If time urged, as I had said, there was no sense in waiting for the other two millions. The sooner the stock got up to 50 the better for the syndicate. That was obvious.
The next morning at the opening I was surprised to see that there were unusually heavy dealings in Consolidated Stove. As I told you before, the stock had been waterlogged for months. The price had been pegged at 37, Jim Barnes taking good care not to let it go any lower on account of the big bank loan at 35. But as for going any higher, he'd as soon expect to see the Rock of Gibraltar shimmying across the Strait as to see Consolidated Stove do any climbing on the tape.
Well, sir, this morning there was quite a demand for the stock, and the price went up to 39. In the first hour of the trading the transactions were heavier than for the whole previous half year. It was the sensation of the day and affected bullishly the entire market. I heard afterwards that nothing else was talked about in the customers' rooms of the commission houses.
I didn't know what it meant, but it didn't hurt my feelings any to see Consolidated Stove perk up. As a rule I do not have to ask about any unusual movement in any stock because my friends on the floor-brokers who do business for me, as well as personal friends among the room traders-keep me posted. They assume I'd like to know and they telephone me any news or gossip they pick up. On this day all I heard was that there was unmistakable inside buying in Consolidated Stove. There wasn't any washing. It was all genuine. The purchasers took all the offerings from 37 to 39 and when importuned for reasons or begged for a tip, flatly refused to give any. This made the wily and watchful traders conclude that there was something doing; something big. When a stock goes up on buying by insiders who refuse to encourage the world at large to follow suit the ticker hounds begin to wonder aloud when the official notice will be given out.
I didn't do anything myself. I watched and wondered and kept track of the transactions. But on the next day the buying was not only greater in volume but more aggressive in character. The selling orders that had been on the specialists' books for months at above the pegged price of 37 were absorbed without any trouble, and not enough new selling orders came in to check the rise. Naturally, up went the price. It crossed 40. Presently it touched 42.
The moment it touched that figure I felt that I was justified in starting to sell the stock the bank held as collateral. Of course I figured that the price would go down on my selling, but if my average on the entire line was 37 I'd have no fault to find. I knew what the stock was worth and I had gathered some idea of the vendibility from the months of inactivity. Well, sir, I let them have stock carefully until I had got rid of thirty thousand shares. And the advance was not checked!
That afternoon I was told the reason for that opportune but mystifying rise. It seems that the floor traders had been tipped off after the close the night before and also the next morning before the opening, that I was bullish as blazes on Consolidated Stove and was going to rush the price right up fifteen or twenty points without a reaction, as was my custom-that is, my custom according to people who never kept my books. The tipster in chief was no less a personage than Joshua Wolff. It was his own inside buying that started the rise of the day before. His cronies among the floor traders were only too willing to follow his tip, for he knew too much to give wrong steers to his fellows.
As a matter of fact, there was not so much stock pressing on the market as had been feared. Consider that I had tied up three hundred thousand shares and you will realise that the old fears had been well founded. It now proved less of a job than I had anticipated to put up the stock. After all, Governor Flower was right. Whenever he was accused of manipulating his firm's specialties, like Chicago Gas, Federal Steel or B. R. T., he used to say: "The only way I know of making a stock go up is to buy it." That also was the floor traders' only way, and the price responded.
On the next day, before breakfast, I read in the morning papers what was read by thousands and what undoubtedly was sent over the wires to hundreds of branches and out-of-town offices, and that was that Larry Livermore was about to begin active bull operations in Consolidated Stove. The additional details differed. One version had it that I had formed an insiders' pool and was going to punish the overextended short interest. Another hinted at dividend announcements in the near future. Another reminded the world that what I usually did to a stock I was bullish on was something to remember. Still another accused the company of concealing its assets in order to permit accumulation by insiders. And all of them agreed that the rise hadn't fairly started.
By the time I reached my office and read my mail before the market opened I was made aware that the Street was flooded with red-hot tips to buy Consolidated Stove at once. My telephone bell kept ringing and the clerk who answered the calls heard the same question asked in one form or another a hundred times that morning: Was it true that Consolidated Stove was going up? I must say that Joshua Wolff and Kane and Gordon-and possibly Jim Barnes-handled that little tipping job mighty well.
I had no idea that I had such a following. Why, that morning the buying orders came in from all over the country- orders to buy thousands of shares of a stock that nobody wanted at any price three days before. And don't forget that, as a matter of fact, all that the public had to go by was my newspaper reputation as a successful plunger; something for which I had to thank an imaginative reporter or two.
Well, sir, on that, the third day of the rise, I sold Consolidated Stove; and on the fourth day and the fifth; and the first thing I knew I had sold for Jim Barnes the one hundred thousand shares of stock which the Marshall National Bank held as collateral on the three-million-five-hundred-thousand-dollar loan that needed paying off. If the most successful manipulation consists of that in which the desired end is gained at the least possible cost to the manipulator, the Consolidated Stove deal is by all means the most successful of my Wall Street career. Why, at no time did I have to take any stock. I didn't have to buy first in order to sell the more easily later on. I did not put up the price to the highest possible point and then begin my real selling. I didn't even do my principal selling on the way down, but on the way up. It was like a dream of Paradise to find an adequate buying power created for you without your stirring a finger to bring it about, particularly when you were in a hurry. I once heard a friend of Governor Flower's say that in one of the great bull-leader's operations for the account of a pool in B. R. T. the pool sold fifty thousand shares of the stock at a profit, but Flower Co. got commissions on more than two hundred and fifty thousand shares and W. P. Hamilton says that to distribute two hundred and twenty thousand shares of Amalgamated Copper, James R. Keene must have traded in at least seven hundred thousand shares of the stock during the necessary manipulation. Some commission bill! Think of that and then consider that the only commissions that I had to pay were the commissions on the one hundred thousand shares I actually sold for Jim Barnes. I call that some saving.
Having sold what I had engaged to sell for my friend Jim, and all the money the syndicate had agreed to raise not having been sent in, and feeling no desire to buy back any of the stock I had sold, I rather think I went away somewhere for a short vacation. I do not remember exactly. But I do remember very well that I let the stock alone and that it was not long before the price began to sag. One day, when the entire market was weak, some disappointed bull wanted to get rid of his Consolidated Stove in a hurry, and on his offerings the stock broke below the call price, which was 40. Nobody seemed to want any of it. As I told you before, I wasn't bullish on the general situation and that made me more grateful than ever for the miracle that had enabled me to dispose of the one hundred thousand shares without having to put the price up twenty or thirty points in a week, as the kindly tipsters had prophesied.
Finding no support, the price developed a habit of declining regularly until one day it broke rather badly and touched 32. That was the lowest that had ever been recorded for it, for, as you will remember, Jim Barnes and the original syndicate had pegged it at 37 in order not to have their one hundred thousand shares dumped on the market by the bank.
I was in my office that day peacefully studying the tape when Joshua Wolff was announced. I said I would see him. He rushed in. He is not a very large man, but he certainly seemed all swelled up-with anger, as I instantly discovered.
He ran to where I stood by the ticker and yelled, "Hey? What the devil's the matter?"
"Have a chair, Mr. Wolff," I said politely and sat down myself to encourage him to talk calmly.
"I don't want any chair! I want to know what it means!" he cried at the top of his voice.
"What in hell are you doing to it?"
But that only made him see red, for he shouted, "Consolidated Stove! What are you doing to it?"
"Nothing! Absolutely nothing. What's wrong?" I said.
He stared at me fully five seconds before he exploded: "Look at the price! Look at it!"
He certainly was angry. So I got up and looked at the tape.
I said, "The price of it is now 31-1/4."
"Yeh! Thirty-one and a quarter, and I've got a raft of it."
"I know you have sixty thousand shares. You have had it a long time, because when you originally bought your Gray
But he didn't let me finish. He said, "But I bought a lot more. Some of it cost me as high as 40! And I've got it yet!"
He was glaring at me so hostilely that I said, "I didn't tell you to buy it."
"I didn't tell you to load up with it."
"I didn't say you did. But you were going to put it up---"
He looked at me, unable to speak for anger. When he found his voice again, he said, "You were going to put it up. You had the money to buy it."
"Yes. But I didn't buy a share," I told him.
"You didn't buy a share, and you had over four millions in cash to buy with? You didn't buy any?"
He was so mad by now that he couldn't talk plainly. Finally he managed to say, "What kind of a game do you call that?"
He was inwardly accusing me of all sorts of unspeakable crimes. I sure could see a long list of them in his eyes. It made me say to him: "What you really mean to ask me, Wolff, is, why I didn't buy from you above 50 the stock you bought below 40. Isn't that it?"
"No, it isn't. You had a call at 40 and four millions in cash to put up the price with."
"Yes, but I didn't touch the money and the syndicate has not lost a cent by my operations."
"Look here, Livermore-" he began.
But I didn't let him say any more.
"You listen to me, Wolff. You knew that the two hundred thousand shares you and Gordon and Kane held were tied up, and that there wouldn't be an awful lot of floating stock to come on the market if I put up the price, as I'd have to do for two reasons: The first to make a market for the stock; and the second to make a profit out of the call at 40. But you weren't satisfied to get 40 for the sixty thousand shares you'd been lugging for months or with your share of the syndicate profits, if any; so you decided to take on a lot of stock under 40 to unload on me when I put the price up with the syndicate's money, as you were sure I meant to do. You'd buy before I did and you'd unload before I did; in all probability I'd be the one to unload on. I suspect you figured on my having to put the price up to 60. It was such a cinch that you probably bought ten thousand shares strictly for unloading purposes, and to make sure somebody held the bag if I didn't, you tipped off everybody in the United States, Canada and Mexico without thinking of my added difficulties. All your friends knew what I was supposed to do. Between their buying and mine you were going to be all hunky. Well, your intimate friends to whom you gave the tip passed it on to their friends after they had bought their lines, and the third stratum of tip-takers planned to supply the fourth, fifth and possibly sixth strata of suckers, so that when I finally came to do some selling I'd find myself anticipated by a few thousands of wise speculators. It was a friendly thought, that notion of yours, Wolff. You can't imagine how surprised I was when Consolidated Stove began to go up before I even thought of buying a single share; or how grateful, either, when the underwriting syndicate sold one hundred thousand shares around 40 to the people who were going to sell those same shares to me at 50 or 60. I sure was a sucker not to use the four millions to make money for them, wasn't I? The cash was supplied to buy stock with, but only if I thought it necessary to do so. Well,I didn't."
Joshua had been in Wall Street long enough not to let anger interfere with business. He cooled off as he heard me, and when I was through talking he said in a friendly tone of voice, "Look here, Larry, old chap, what shall we do?"
"Aw, be a sport. What would you do if you were in our place?"
'If I were in your place," I said solemnly, "do you know what I'd do?"
He looked at me a moment, and without another word turned on his heel and walked out of my office. He's never been in it since.
Not long after that, Senator Gordon also called. He, too, was quite peevish and blamed me for their troubles. Then Kane joined the anvil chorus. They forgot that their stock had been unsalable in bulk when they formed the syndicate. All they could remember was that I didn't sell their holdings when I had the syndicate's millions and the stock was active at 44, and that now it was 30 and dull as dishwater. To their way of thinking I should have sold out at a good fat profit.
Of course they also cooled down in due time. The syndicate wasn't out a cent and the main problem remained unchanged: to sell their stock. A day or two later they came back and asked me to help them out. Gordon was particularly insistent, and in the end I made them put in their pooled stock at
My fee for my services was to be one-half of whatever I got above that figure. The last sale had been at about 30.
There I was with their stock to liquidate. Given general market conditions and specifically the behavior of Consolidated Stove, there was only one way to do it, and that was, of course, to sell on the way down and without first trying to put up the price, and I certainly would have got stock by the ream on the way up. But on the way down I could reach those buyers who always argue that a stock is cheap when it sells fifteen or twenty points below the top of the movement, particularly when that top is a matter of recent history. A rally is due, in their opinion. After seeing Consolidated Stove sell up to close to 44 it sure looked like a good thing below 30.
It worked out as always. Bargain hunters bought it in sufficient volume to enable me to liquidate the pool's holdings. But do you think that Gordon or Wolff or Kane felt any gratitude? Not a bit of it. They are still sore at me, or so their friends tell me. They often tell people how I did them. They cannot forgive me for not putting up the price on myself, as they expected.
As a matter of fact I never would have been able to sell the bank's hundred thousand shares if Wolff and the rest had not passed around those red-hot bull tips of theirs. If I had worked as I usually do-that is, in a logical natural way-I would have had to take whatever price I could get. I told you we ran into a declining market. The only way to sell on such a market is to sell not necessarily recklessly but really regardless of price. No other way was possible, but I suppose they do not believe this. They are still angry. I am not. Getting angry doesn't get a man anywhere. More than once it has been borne in on me that a speculator who loses his temper is a goner. In this case there was no aftermath to the grouches. But I'll tell you something curious. One day Mrs. Livermore went to a dressmaker who had been warmly recommended to her. The woman was competent and obliging and had a very pleasing personality. At the third or fourth visit, when the dressmaker felt less like a stranger, she said to Mrs. Livermore: "I hope Air. Livermore puts up Consolidated
Stove soon. We have some that we bought because we were told he was going to put it up, and we'd always heard that he was very successful in all his deals."
I tell you it isn't pleasant to think that innocent people may have lost money following a tip of that sort. Perhaps you understand why I never give any myself. That dressmaker made me feel that in the matter of grievances I had a real one against Wolff.
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