The North Korea situation reminded me of a story told by the great Art Cashin (I have heard him tell various versions of this – but this is the first time I have seen it written by his hand):
My father died when I was a senior in high school so I had to pass up the chance for a scholarship to college to work in Wall Street to help support the family. Most of what I learned came from sitting in saloons that had encyclopedias behind the bar – usually to settle bets.
The things I learned in the saloons were not the same things you learn in places like the Sloan School of Management – usually they were better.
For example there was the lesson I learned during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time I was studying with “Professor Jack” under a Moosehead, in a saloon called “Eberlin’s” down the block from the exchange. The tuition was paid in scotch “old fashions.” Classes lasted until either you ran out of money to buy drinks or Jack ran out of the ability to stand. Jack was actually a 62 year-old trader in silver stocks but he had more in his head than is in most university libraries.
Anyway, it was the Cuban Missile Crisis and there were rumors that Russia had launched rockets and the Dow took a dive near the bell.
I cleaned up my desk and raced to the Moosehead, as animated as only an 18 year-old can be. Jack was already there and as I burst through the door, I shouted: “Jack! Jack, there was a strong rumor that the missiles were flying and I tried to sell the market but failed.”
Jack said “Calm down kid! First buy me a drink and then sit down and listen to me.” I ordered the drink and meekly sat down.
Jack said – “Look kid, if you hear the missiles are flying, you buy them. You don’t sell them.”
“You buy them?” I said, somewhat puzzled.
“Sure you buy them!” said Jack. “Cause if you’re wrong, the trade will never clear. We’ll all be dead.”
That’s a lesson you won’t learn in the Wharton School.
If You Are Reading This, the World Has Not Ended (Bloomberg, October 2015)