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January 1, 1999

Building a Small Empire In an Age of Mega Mergers

By John A. Byrne

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When the meeting is underway, an unusual sound for early morning is heard, the loud, rasping sound of a voice that could slice through stone.

The voice belongs to Brian Finnerty, and he is preparing the troops for the market opening.

The sound is powerful, stirring stuff, putting the traders and the other professionals on a war footing.

Still, the unusually bright winter sun does catch a sleepy eye off-guard, while most of the room, powered by strong coffee and bagels, is deep into research, sales and trading. St. Patrick's Cathedral outside is deep in silent prayer. Radio City Music Hall looks like a doll's house.

Inside, the voice of Finnerty rises even louder. Finally, he reaches the perfect pitch.

"Okay, let's get started," he says, sounding a little hoarse. "Yesterday we had the Dow Jones down 73 points, three-quarters of a percent. Nasdaq was down 11, a half percent. Overseas markets are a mixed bag. Tokyo has actually gone up to the 15,000 mark, which is sort of a pretty big resistance level, up 384 points"

The voice is raspy, but the 30 or so people gathered in the room are listening, taking notes, occasionally nodding approval at some wisdom Finnerty dispenses. Is the man running a country?

No, but Finnerty, who's 49 and a former professional baseball player for the Montreal Expos, is a man of action. Nowadays, Finnerty is a sales trader and in charge of institutional sales and trading at C. E. Unterberg, Tobin in midtown Manhattan.

Off the desk on the 22nd floor in the Swiss Bank Tower, Finnerty has national Wall Street name-recognition as a frequent stock-market commentator on CBS, CNBC, Fox and other television networks.

The power the medium bestows on respected pundits like Finnerty should not be underestimated. Just recently, the stock price of ECCS Inc., a New Jersey-based company specializing in computer-data storage solutions, jumped nearly 100 percent, albeit from a modest $1 1/2 a share to $ 2 7/8 while 1.5 million shares changed hands (the biggest volume traded on any one day most recently).

Moments before the stock price jumped, Finnerty issued a buy recommendation for ECCS Inc., which is traded by C.E. Unterberg, during a question he took from an investor in a television call-in business program. (Mind you, the stock was trading a year earlier at up to $9.)

Uncomplicated Fellow

Finnerty is breathtakingly uncomplicated. In an interview with Traders Magazine, he said his philosophy is simple: "Be yourself and tell the truth, 'cos I'm too stupid to keep track of any lies. Don't take yourself too seriously. Have a bit of fun 'cos it helps the productivity, and remember, knuckle down in moments of stress."

At the same morning meeting at C.E. Unterberg, Finnerty pipes up that some numbers are due out on this bright, winter morning. "No blockbuster numbers, just personal income and new jobless claims," he reminds everyone. "The weekly number comes out at 8:30 this morning. Home sales come out a little later, at ten o'clock."