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May 31, 1999

A Team Within a Team

By Michael L. O'Reilly

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Marc Riel built a makeshift gym in his home trading room. Sometimes, late at night, Riel works out while he's trading Asian stocks.

As a senior equity trader at one of Canada's largest stock-market investors - Montreal's Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec - Riel is responsible for all international trading at his firm. With almost 20 percent of the Caisse's $83 billion in assets under management invested in equities outside Canada, Riel and his two international traders often have little time to do anything but trade.

"I don't always have time to work out at the gym," he said. "At night I could be exercising when I'm working an order in Hong Kong or New Zealand."

The Caisse is one of the leading managers in Canada. Overall, the Caisse has an eight-person equity-trading desk divided into two parts. Nick Damato heads a four-trader team, consisting of Georgette Rioux, Steve Robitaille and Marcel Roy. The team handles Canadian stocks. Riel oversees two traders handling international trades.

With 20 equity managers and 20 research analysts each managing portfolios in their own sectors, Riel said the desk has to be extremely organized to fill orders from managers investing in markets all over the world.

"We have a central desk, and everything comes through the desk," he said. "We're like firemen. We have seven people, and if it's busy, we're on first alert. We pump it up a little. But we have points where it's a full-blown fire, and we can get through those days and be totally exhausted. Our organization has been important."

The International Team

Riel and his two international traders -Jocelyne Picher and Giovanni Romeo - divide their coverage into time frames.

Picher typically works from home, trading European stocks early in the morning. She comes into the office for the close of European markets late in the morning. Riel works in the office during normal U.S. and Canadian trading hours, handling U.S. issues and Canadian stocks interlisted on U.S. markets. Romeo trades Latin American and U.K orders during the day, and handles Asian trading from home at night.

"It's an interesting situation," Riel said. "You've really got to like it, and be part of the team."

Since joining the Caisse in 1995, Riel has made sure his team trades with brokers in the country they are working orders to, and not to an international broker in New York or London, guaranteeing the volume-weighted average price.

"I realized we were giving the New York brokers capital for trading for us, and whatever they beat the market on, they got to keep," he said. "But it's our capital they were playing with. So why shouldn't we be trading it? If we can save our managers money in a trade, they should be the ones to benefit."

The Equity Team

Technically, Riel and Damato co-manage the equity desk. But Riel maintains that Damato - a 30-year trading veteran - is the head of the Caisse's equity desk.