Excerpt from The Month of The Leopard by James Harland, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Month of The Leopard

by James Harland

The Month of The Leopard by James Harland
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    Jun 2002, 352 pages

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She looked out across the office. There must have been fifty, perhaps sixty, people. No more than ten women. Each person sat at a thin black desk, surrounded by three different computer screens: a Reuters and Bloomberg terminal plus their own personal computer. Across the top of the hall, a continuous electronic ticker fed through the news and prices from the markets; the same information was scrolling across the desktop computers, but seeing it up on the wall, Sarah reflected, made it seem more vivid and more realistic. Each trader was looking intently at the screens, some of them talking at the same time into the mouthpieces hooked around their necks. None of them, so far as she could tell, spoke to each other very much.

She could see that the rouble had been falling all through the first thirty minutes of trading in London, and looked, she judged, as if it would keep going down; all the analysis she had ever done suggested once the bears got a grip on the rouble, it usually shifted down by at least ten per cent before it stabilised. That has to be okay she told herself. Nobody ever lost money by selling the rouble. Her order this time was to short sell nine units, or ninety million dollars of roubles; the computer, she noticed, would not let her trade the other unit in her accounts, presumably, she guessed because she had already lost three million. Never mind, Sarah told herself. This should make it up.

Sarah looked at the boy at the next desk. About thirty she guessed, okay looking if you liked computer nerds, which she didn't very much; he was wearing expensive clothes but mis-matched clothes that suggested he shopped for effect rather than pleasure. When she caught his eye, she smiled in his direction. "You new," he said curtly.

Sarah nodded. "You could show me the ropes," she said, attempting a smile.

The man swivelled in his chair, looking back towards his screen. "Nothing in it for me," he said, turning back towards his terminal.

Nice attitude, thought Sarah to herself, turning back towards her own screen. The IMF had just announced it had reached agreement on the latest phase of its Russian debt rescheduling programme. Sarah could feel her heart sink. The rouble had just jumped by thirteen percent against both the euro and the dollar and it was still climbing. On the sell contracts she had placed ten minutes earlier, her loses now came to $11,700,000.

Her total losses for the morning, she calculated, were now almost $16 million.

For a moment, she fell absolutely still, paralysed by indecision; the blood was starting to pump furiously through her veins, and, beneath her, she could feel her legs starting to tremble. There was, she decided, no possibility she could admit to losing sixteen million dollars in her first morning with the Fund. Only a certain amount of humiliation could be endured. One more trade, she told herself, the words echoing through her mind like bullets through a gun barrel. That is what I need to dig myself out of trouble.

It would have to be a derivatives trade, she realised. It would be risky, she knew, but nothing else could make enough money quickly enough to recover her losses before anyone found out. Looking across the screen, she noticed the weakness in the Czech crown seemed to be turning; it was up almost two per cent against the euro this morning, and looked to be starting a sustained rally on the back of encouraging unemployment statistics. You just have to move with the opportunities, Sarah told herself. A great trader has to forget their losses instantly, just as every great striker immediately forgets a missed penalty. That was something else her father had taught her.

Her fingers moved swiftly across the keyboard, placing an order to purchase $7.5 billion dollars worth of Czech crowns. The buy options for that amount of money cost one per cent of the entire contract, $75 million dollars, which was just about what she had left her Leopard Fund account. I'll sell them in a few minutes, thought Sarah to herself. Just as soon as I have made good my losses. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and tried to calm the nerves rippling through her stomach. This should work she told herself. It has to.

Copyright James Harland, all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author or publisher, Simon & Schuster.

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