I&T News has a new columnist, one of Sydney’s biggest investors and wheeler-dealers, who goes by the nom de plum, Castlereagh.

Not only has my gout flared up again after a big week on the lunch circuit, but I’m scratching my head and wondering if the financial world is passing me by.

Here’s the thing. I’m absolutely flummoxed by this thing they call portfolio construction in this new age. In my day, it was so simple: you’d grab some BHP shares, a couple of the banks, buy a few Aussie sovereigns and have a decent lick in cash set by in the event of a yearling sale, or an unexpected divorce. Oh, and you might buy an apartment block somewhere.

A bit of yield, a bit of capital gain and a splash of liquidity: it was a wonderful formula. I dabbled a bit in futures, but could never get the hang of it. Pork bellies are for eating, after all, especially when they get the crackling right. But back then, no one ever talked about risk management – a dreadful modern term which came at the same time as other appalling constructs such as “affirmative action.”

As I’ve nursed my celery juice this week (a wonderful treatment for gout), a conga line of bright young things have been parading through my offices, laptops at the ready with spectacular diagrams on alternative investments and asset allocation.

I’ve seen graphs, kinetic pie charts and all manner of visual representations on how I can make money on a galaxy of investments I have only just found out about. I really do have to take my hat off to these people for their ingenuity – and they probably are quite smart – but I really have been all at sea with it.

The trouble is that it’s just so hard to make as much money any more. The Castlereaghs will never be poor – not in this generation anyway – but even we have had a tough couple of years.

All my old favourites – the Fairfaxes and Macquaries of the world – have turned sour on me and even my old friend Rio Tinto has been a roller coaster ride. Aren’t we supposed to have just had a resources boom? Where’s mine, may I ask? And I’m kicking myself for investing in that rare earth plant in Malaysia, the one the government wants to close down!

I had the good sense to send those fools packing when they were shopping those CDOs – or whatever they were – around like door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen back in 2007, but making money in that market was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Now, in my ongoing search for alpha, I fear that I am being lured well out of my comfort zone and into the sort of adventure which could well end in tears – or at least the squandering of millions.

These wunderkinder keep telling me that it will be alright, and that there’s no way I can lose out on emerging market debt or a fund that invests in a company that produces tyres for cars in China.

I want to believe them, I really do, but I feel the way I do at Flemington in November when someone whispers a hot tip in my ear for a sure winner in race three. Given that we are on the cusp of the racing season, perhaps I should go with it and roll the dice again. Anything would be better than these flat returns I’ve put up with these last few years.


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