Is trading for you?

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Short of crime and the national lottery, routes to such instant wealth are all too few.

However, as anyone interested in financial services ought to know, there is another option, even if the money is only virtual: the trading simulator at the ISMA Centre in the University of Reading.

With seats for 57 would-be millionaires, the ISMA Centre lays claim to be the UK's largest simulator for trading currencies, bonds, etc.

Computer terminals, the Reuters logo, and clocks that tell the time in London, New York and Tokyo give the trading centre an authentic feel.

It is not in the business of training traders as such, but the simulator is a valuable adjunct to the ISMA Centre's MSc and undergraduate courses in finance related subjects.

Such is the similarity to real trading that several banks also send their trainees to Reading, for a trial run on the simulator.

Traders can make a lot of money moreover, they can make a lot of money in a short amount of time. On trading floors, tales abound of people who made millions before breakfast.

The day I went to make my millions in Reading, they were trading euros. The centre generously donated $50m (E46.3m) to each of the prospective students for its MSc courses who were also testing the simulator.

Trading is not for the slow-witted. No sooner had I received my money and congratulated myself on my new-found riches, than the price of euros changed.

A rise of 2% implied that my $50m could have become $51m, had I only sold my dollars and bought euros.

As I wasn't sure how to use the software, this was not immediately possible. But it was not long before I had clicked in the right places and found a buyer for $10m at 1.104 euros.

I had no time to rest on my laurels. The price of euros kept rising, and I kept buying, keen to convert all my money into euros to boost my fortunes further.

Then disaster struck.

Having converted $40m into euros at an average price of 1.209 euros, some bad news flashed up on my computer screen: the French finance minister had been kidnapped! The euro plummeted.

I panicked. In just a few moments I sold many millions of euros at an average price far below 1.209, thereby making a loss that outweighed any previous gains.

Then the euro began to creep upwards again, as concern about the minister faded.

Hoping to recoup my losses, I began buying euros again, tentatively. As the price rose higher, I became bullish. I poured funds into euros, certain that the rise would continue.

The news was good: interest rates in the eurozone looked likely to stay high. This fuelled demand for euros as it meant that investors could earn high returns on money held in euro accounts. I began dreaming of my retirement.

Then, doom struck again. Another news flash. Denmark voted against joining the single currency, and the UK declared the currency unviable.

Again the euro plummeted. Again I lost millions. Again I could not work the computer properly.

When the euro reached 1.103, I judged that the bottom had been reached, and began trying to buy the currency again with my depleted funds.

It was too late. Nick Papageorgiou, the simulation supervisor and a former equities trader from Athens, declared the simulation over. I had lost $64m.

Trading is a dangerous game. I was at least able to console myself that an MSc applicant had lost $200m.

Papageorgiou tried to comfort me with the revelation that he had lost $50m during the first hour of trading he ever did - and that was for real.

Of course some people had made money. One astute MSc applicant had turned his $50m into $450m.

For this the ISMA Centre gave him a bottle of champagne. Maybe one day he'll make enough money to buy his own.

ISMA Centre, Reading, UK

website: www.isma.rdg.ac.uk

emails: admin@ismacentre.rdg.ac.uk

tel: &#43 44 (0) 118 931 8239 fax: &#43 44 (0) 118 931 4741

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