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True Stories by Steve Keely
He's Famous, I'm Almost
Indeed, Niederhoffer went on to make millions in Turkey while plugging the low-life indices, and remained among America’s top fund managers in the early ‘90’s. By ’97, everything he’d touched for 10 straight years turned gold, returning an average 28% a year to investors. Speculation and family are his life. “I don’t get involved in ephemera”, though he tickles midnight music on the piano. Meanwhile I lived under his basement stairwell, so proud I could bust.
Headlines: “Wall Street Gambler Niederhoffer Intuits Millions with Hobo’s Help” (New York Observer, 4-21-97). “Victor Niederhoffer - Renaissance Man of Wall Street” (Opportunity, 11-19-96), “I owe my Success to the Enquirer says Wall Street Wizard,” (The Enquirer, ’96), “Whatever Voodoo he Uses, it Works” (Business Week, 2-10-97).
He graciously mentioned me in interviews, saying the secret of business is to know what nobody else does. I rarely came out of the staircase except in search of indicators and began to turn white and develop night vision. The only sound for a year was children’s’ feet thumping and a keyboard clicking out my own autobiography.
Niederhoffer and I met in under unusual circumstances. He flew in from New York for the ’75 St. Louis racquetball nationals, while I bicycled from San Diego. Seeing each other for the first time on the same courts wearing similarly mismatched tennis shoes, a common cord was struck. It could be called a mutual indicator. Subsequently, I made stops in New York for late-night racquetball games, and some of the best shots in history were slammed there unobserved. He discovered I had almost quit veterinary school for technical analysis, and hired me in ’82 with a vet degree. I recall adding endless columns of numbers corresponding to hourly trades until my head spun, then walking into his office to resign after the first day. He anticipated it with a check that I tore it up, saying, “There’s more to life than cold money.” He smiled, and I reflect he had the check ready before I took the job. Soon after, I began gathering financial indicators for him around the world. In ’94, there was a global capitalism seeding project, and in ’95, a trip around the world emerging markets. America’s pastime is business and the stars grab the headlines, so I happily rode Niederhoffer’s coat tail into the news year after year, just a flip of the tail from being famous myself.
A life-size poster of Niederhoffer appeared on the front glass of Fifth Ave. Barnes & Noble to promote his ‘96 autobiography, but I hadn’t coaxed him into a boxcar. If only he’d hobo network to parlay his Wall Street Journal coverage into jungle appearances, he’d have a home in the unlikely scenario of a black day at the market. Unforeseen, that day arrived in ‘97. (I’m partly accountable, as explained in “Yankee hobo in the world emerging markets.”) Trapped in a large Thailand outlay, the floor of his trading operation cracked open. Shop closed, and the repercussions were greater than most understand.
If you want to know what men are made of, watch them when they lose money or fame. The speculator who got bucked off in Thailand, climbed out of the dirt by himself, dusted off, and began the slow mount to the market saddle. Niederhoffer rides high again. In ’97, I moved from his Connecticut house to California’s burning desert. My stakes from sub-teaching have carried me out to 100 countries with handfuls of close calls. I’ve learned that adventure has indicators too because it’s speculation in other arenas. I study the web of life to survive and send thoughts to my associate who says he’ll quote them in his upcoming book with Laurel Kenner, Practical Speculation (’02). “A speculator is someone who deals in making decisions about the uncertain and risky future,” he says. Nothing knits man to man like the repeated passage of information.
“Why do you keep one foot in easy street and the other in the gutter,” Niederhoffer tossed over the tennis net one day. He’s a former world squash champ and I an ex-national paddleball champ. We handicap each other with books, shoes, bricks and even bundles of bills to hit birdies and balls. “For perspective,” I stated. Don’t be afraid of a new angle.”
“But, nothing succeeds like success,” he quips. I passed him another essay.
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