2023/01/13

OSR: Pamphlet: The Secret of Wealth (plus Bonds, Arbitrage, and More)

Pamphlet-writing is fun. Here's a 2-sided printable free pamphlet for Magical Industrial Revolution. It summarizes the compressed Joint-Stock procedures from the previous post. Clearly, the best way to get your players to participate in a ludicrous, convoluted, and math-based minigame is to make a pamphlet about it.

Link to Pamphlet

Also, have a bonus Memorandum of Association form, based on the wording of the 1865 Act. Who said D&D had to be fun? 

While you're here, why not read about financial instruments that I'm not even including in my game? One of my players - my actual, real-life players - read my previous post and said, "Wizards won't want to claim they own that even if they can."
 

Bonds

Bonds are a debt instrument.* Bonds are another device for obtaining money. They are debt that can be sold and traded like a share. Instead of paying a dividend based on profits, they offer a fixed return per year. They are therefore less enticing to some investors, but may be favoured by risk-adverse, deep-pocketed, or widely spread investors.

*The Walther PPK is a Bond instrument, and Bond is a blunt instrument.

Bonds have a fixed Par Value, Maturity Date, and Interest Rate. When the bond's Maturity Date arrives, the company agrees to buy it back from whoever holds it at the Par Value. The Interest Rate of a bond is set when it is created, and must be lucrative enough to attract investment. If a company winds up, bondholders are paid before shareholders.

Bonds typically have maturity dates well into the future. 10, 20, or 30 year bonds are most common. The buyer must be confident the company will exist when the bond matures. The Hawkwright Frame Co. Ltd. will probably exist. Blast-O-Pow-Der Ltd. might not exist next week if the smoke coming from their workshop is any indication. Small or financially shaky companies have to offer higher interest rates. The Bank of the Realm sells government debt bonds with 2% interest; companies might have to offer 10% or 20% to make it worth the risk.

[Par value of a Bond] = [Capital Required] / [#of Bonds][Tempting Interest]

Say you wish to raise 1,000gp. You offer 1,000 bonds at an interest of 10%. The Par Value is therefore 10gp. Each Season, until the bond matures, you will need to pay 100gp in interest, and when the bonds mature buy back the whole lot for 1,000gp.

The long maturity of bonds makes them unsuitable for Magical Industrial Revolution, where the time scale is compressed and businesses regularly explode. Stock-jobbery, bubbles, and convoluted financial schemes can come and go in a single year, or even a single week, but bonds with long maturity dates aren't interesting (from a game design point of view) if the entire setting might not exist in ~8 years. However, as they enable plenty of real-world financial chicanery, I thought I ought to mention them.

The Bond Money Printer

You buy bonds with a yield of X. You go to the bank and use those bonds as collateral to get a loan with a nice low interest rate of Y. The bank is happy to offer you this rate because it means they're getting a slice of the bond without exposure to the same level of risk.

You use the loan to by more bonds with a yield of X. You go to the bank and, with your newly increased collateral, get a loan of with interest rate Y. And you keep doing this until the bank won't lend you money anymore, or until you get giddy and have to have a lie-down.

As long as X (the interest on bonds you own) is greater than Y (the interest on your loans), you're good. You're getting money for free. And bonds are stable. If you were smart, you bought extremely stable bonds, or even government debt (the most stable of them all, if you can get a low enough interest rate on a loan). But if, for whatever reason, X is no longer greater than Y, then you are in real trouble.

This is (allegedly) one of the factors in the 2022 UK Pension Crisis.

This scheme is nowhere near as profitable as some of the ones discussed in the previous post, but it is free money.

Arbitrage

Arbitrage is a special kind of trade that relies on a price mismatch in two different markets. It's a bit complicated, but here's the simple (i.e. wrong) version.

If you buy iron bars in London, trade them for sea lion pelts in Seattle, then sell those pelts in Shanghai for tea, you're doing trade, and while you might make a colossal profit on each step, you also have to sail around the world, pay your crew, and accept a lot of risk. Everyone involved trades something they have for something they want. This, in theory, justifies the profit.

With arbitrage, you buy something and simultaneously (or as close to simultaneously as possible, given market conditions) sell it for a higher price. It's less risky (but can still fail) and generally exploits information only, not distance, risk, or inconvenience. You see that A wants to buy a stock at one price, and you know B wants to sell the stock at a lower price, so you run over, buy from B, sell to A, and collect the profit. Once people notice you're doing this, prices tend to converge. Why would they pay you when they can pay each other?

I normally wouldn't include this Shark-level concept, but arbitrage lies at the core of many schemes that turn out to be scams. The original Ponzi scheme promised returns based on stamp coupon arbitrage. Defunct cryptocurrency exchange FTX's unusually high returns were attributed to cunning risk-free international arbitrage. It's a way of making money that requires secrecy and cunning while generating (in theory) enormous profits.

In short:

  • If someone offers unusually high returns (20%, 30%, etc.), be extremely skeptical.
  • If they tell you they can offer such a high return because of arbitrage, put one hand on your wallet and back away slowly.
  • If they say it's risk-free arbitrage, laugh derisively while holding onto your wallet.
  • If they tell you their arbitrage method (what they're trading and where) sprint away while hooting like a gibbon.

Corporate Shadowfiles (and Corporate Download)

Over on twitter, Chris Williams recommended I check out Corporate Shadowfiles, a 1993 FASA supplement for Shadowrun. It holds up surprisingly well.

Corporate Shadowfiles is somewhere between an epistolary novel and a Socratic dialogue. It’s presented as a series of timestamped forum posts, where different runners offer their perspective on corporate finance, politics, and the world in general. It's not exactly immediately gameable content, but it's a good worldbuilding method, and it has some nice layout tricks like an indented navigation bar and a different visual style for each corporate background. 

It also has something to say about the world of Shadowrun and, by extension, the world of 1993 (or possibly the world of the late '80s, but it's close enough). It's insightful.

The book's replacement, 1999's Corporate Download is much less interesting. It's all metaplot. Corporate Shadowfiles spent around 113 pages on business concepts, leaving just 32 stylized pages for metaplot and fluff. Corporate Download deals with business in a vague and genre-reliant way in just 14 pages, then spends over 110 pages on metaplot and setting trivia that characterized the late '90s/early 2000s sourcebooks for all systems. Corporate Shadowfiles was written and designed by one author, the late Nigel D. Findley, and bears the signs of intention and craft. Corporate Download was written by 8+ authors, each taking on a chapter, with the expected result: a dreary forgettable paid-by-the-word mess.

7 comments:

  1. Bonds could have at least one gameable element: as treasure

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  2. A weird question: How would bondholder mechanically collect the interest on their bond? Would everyone show up at the company on a certain date, present the bond and then be paid accordingly? Or do banks hold the money in escrow until the bondholders arrive to collect?

    I ask because if bonds are freely tradeable it could be difficult for the bond issuer to track down holders in order to pay them. I could imagine lots of scenarios where a bondholder dies / loses their bond in fire or is otherwise incapacitated in such a way that they would be unable to collect. In fact, wouldn't it be good for the company if that happened?

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    1. I am not an expert but I think that before computer money was a thing there were basically two types of bonds.
      1) Registered bonds, which were made out to an individual person. There's a list somewhere that the company has of everyone who has a registered bond, the maturity, interest, etc. Kind of like a car title you can transfer/sell it to someone else but it's a bit of a process involves third parties etc so they would be less likely to trade on an open market. On the other hand if your bond, say, goes up in a house fire there's a record of it somewhere so you would still be able to redeem it.
      2) Bearer bonds, which are made out to the bearer. They probably have a serial number/fancy paper/watermarks/whatever to prevent counterfeiting but are otherwise not tracked, it's the physical bond that matters. They are therefore much easier to sell on an open market but are also susceptible to loss, theft, house fires, etc as the bond itself is the proof that you own it.

      Either way I think that before the invention of computer money you would physically show up somewhere with a mature bond and exchange it for cash. But I believe that in both cases (and definitely in the case of bearer bonds) it's on the bondholder to initiate the transaction. So if the bondholder is dead the bond is lost etc the company just made free money.

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    2. google tells me there's actually a third type called a book-entry bond where you don't even get the piece of paper, you just pay the money for essentially a line item in some ledger that details the terms of the bond.

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    3. Coupon bonds (the sort that paid periodic interest) were most commonly bearer bonds.In the days before computerized banking, they would have a detachable bit for each interest payment (the coupon) for presentation to receive the interest payment. Depending on time period and terms on the bond, they might be deposited at a bank with the bank taking the coupon and depositing funds in the bearer's account, or be mailed to the bond issuer's financial institution for redemption, or need to be presented in person either to the issuer's financial institution or to a Paying Agent who was authorized to redeem the coupons and/or bonds.
      At the end of the maturity period, the bond could be redeemed for its face value. Wikipedia has a good example in its Coupon (finance) article of a construction bond's coupons from the 1930s that paid $2.50 in gold every six months (March 1 and September 1) to the bearer of the coupon upon presentation at the Manufacturers Trust Company, New York.

      There were also perpetual bonds, like England's consols (consolidated bonds). These had no maturity date, and simply paid interest (usually at a low rate) unless and until the issuer decided to call for the face value to be paid. There's a Dutch perpetual bond from 1624 that's still active and in the possession of Yale University.

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    4. I really should have worked in the bond types, especially bearer bonds (considering I used them as loot in an earlier session), but these comments cover them pretty thoroughly. Getting paid on your interest was just as chaotic and slow as it sounds. Lots of standing in line and turning in coupons. If a shady company wanted to keep operating, it was in its best interests to still pay out the interest on its bonds, because if it didn't it could suddenly spawn an organized group of people all in one place and with the same grievance.

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  3. Thanks. That answers my question perfectly.

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