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Aunt Millie goes to Bagel Land, and more jargon

Denver Business JournalOn the Money
From the March 7, 2008 print edition

There seems to be no end to the desire of one group of people to attempt to confuse another.

For example, doctors use jargon to confuse patients — and maybe to justify high fees.

Acronyms that acquire phonetic pronunciation in government are enough to send even the brightest of civilians babbling into the hills. In fact, an equally frightening phrase describes the process of creating pronounceable acronyms. It’s called “acronym-initialism-hybriding.”

Of course, the world of finance is no different. Here’s a look at some of the latest jargon, slang and acronym-initialism-hybrids.

Aunt Millie — an uneducated or unsophisticated investor. The term is considered a derogatory remark in the financial sector, often used to refer to poor investment choices.

Bagel Land — The imaginary place a stock or other security goes when its price approaches zero. This usually results from one or more major problems that may not be resolvable. This term describes a formerly popular company that has fallen from grace — as opposed to a penny stock or other historically low-priced security.

3-6-3 Rule — Refers to an unofficial rule under which the banking industry once operated. The reference describes how bankers would give 3 percent interest on depositors’ accounts, lend the depositors money at 6 percent and be playing golf at 3 p.m.

Burn rate — The rate at which a new company uses up its venture capital to finance only overhead before generating positive cash flow from operations. It’s usually quoted in terms of cash spent per month.

Chastity bond — A bond designed to prevent unwanted takeovers by having a maturity that’s automatically activated once a takeover is complete.

Diworsification — The process of adding to a portfolio in such a way that the risk/return tradeoff is worsened. Of course, this is the opposite of “diversification,” which reduces risk and can increase returns by minimizing the negative effect of any one asset on the entire portfolio.

Financial pornography — Used to describe sensationalist reports of financial news and products causing irrational buying that can be detrimental to investors’ financial health. Media’s short-term focus on a financial topic can create anticipation that clouds investors’ decision-making ability.

Spiders (SPDR) — An “acronym-initialism-hybrid” form of “Standard & Poor’s Depository Receipt.” SPDR is an exchange-traded fund that tracks the S&P 500 Index. Each share of a spider contains one-tenth of the S&P index and trades at roughly one-tenth of the dollar-value level of the S&P 500.

Straight Through Processing (STP) — A concept that would optimize the speed at which transactions are processed. Electronic information would be transferred from one party to another without manually re-entering the same pieces of information. It’s a major shift from present-day T+3 (waiting three days from the date of the trade to settle), trading to same-day settlement.

Tip from a dip — Advice from a person who claims to have inside information — such as substantially higher-than-expected earnings or government approval of corporate mergers — that would affect a stock’s price but actually doesn’t. These people should be avoided at all costs. Besides, it’s illegal.

War babies — A name given to securities in companies that are defense contractors. A gentler term is “defense stocks.” Good examples are firms that build aircraft and ammunition. When a war is imminent, these stocks tend to outperform the market because of the potential for increased business.

Salad oil scandal — It was one of the worst corporate scandals of its time.  Allied Crude Vegetable Oil Co. discovered that banks would make loans secured by its salad oil inventory. When the ships full of salad oil would arrive at the docks, inspectors would test to confirm the ship was full of salad oil.  However, the company didn’t remind anyone that oil floats on water. They filled salad oil tanks with water and put a few feet of oil on top, fooling the inspectors. The company even would transfer oil to different tanks while taking inspectors out to lunch. In 1963, the swindle was discovered, and more than $175 million worth of salad oil was missing.

There was a similar case in Colorado involving aerial photographs of collateralized cows. The rancher attempted to inflate the number of cows that had been pledged as collateral for his loan. He moved them from pen to pen, took pictures from an airplane, and then combined the pictures to make it appear that he had more livestock than were actually on the ranch.

Pot is clean — A slang phrase referring to an underwriter that’s sold all of its available shares of a public offering to investors. More formally, it’s called “fully subscribed.”

So the next time you’re feeling confused or frustrated at the doctor’s office, or if the dinner-party conversation is lagging, just say, “After the salad oil scandal, I only trade war babies. It helps my diworsification.”

© C. Stephen Guyer for American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.