Easy Money By Philip Coggan; Profile Books; pounds 17.99
I have a confession to make. I've been an investment banker, a registered stock-broker and venture capitalist. I've invested in more than 100 companies in more than 20 countries, including World Online, Lastminute.com, Bookham, Pacific Century Cyberworks and Baltimore. What has all this to do with Philip Coggan's new book Easy Money? Well, I should have enough cred to comment on a work about the stock market and internet, since I was there ...
Coggan, the FT's markets editor, has written an easily digested book that is as useful to those who are not highly conversant with the stock market (the description of basic investment instruments and techniques is alarmingly clear) as to those who are but who need a wake-up call once in a while.
Since Thatcher, there has been a cultural change in Britain and Europe, which accelerated markedly with the internet. First, it became fashionable to make money. This was always the case in the US but hitherto never the tasteful thing to do in Britain. If anything, getting rich quick was looked down upon. 'Entrepreneur' became a good word and 'punter' became, if not respectable, acceptable.
Betting was liberalised with the advent of the lottery and the growth of online and offline bookmakers. It was pretty clear that everyone would find it easy to adapt to being a millionaire, although many of us would not want to appear on a TV show to win. Online stock trading came of age with the possibility of staying at home and making money through day-trading.
Coggan chronicles all these changes as being a run-up to the big internet explosion. The role of stock options as well as the rise and fall of internet hysteria in Britain are discussed with appropriate irreverence. For a short time in history, businesses were built to float rather than to last. And it couldn't last. I liked the too-real examples he gives about some of the excesses, especially Boo.com, which always makes a good read.
The big news here is that a prominent financial journalist should write such a book today (I declare that I talk regularly to FT journalists). It really highlights the fact that making money, whether by punting or trading, has caught the public's fancy, and has become part of our culture. But the moral of the story is that, even though things have changed, there was only 'easy money' for a brief time and for a lucky few. For most of us, gravity weighed in to operate just when we needed a bit more time. So if someone offers you a chance to make some easy money, buy this book first.