It May Be Play Money, But This Guy's Hooked

Back to Contents of Issue: March 2002

by David Cady

Jasdaq's online stock-buying contest has turned an investing novice into a market junkie. By David Cady It was when we were nearing the chimp exhibit that I realized I had a problem. My son's first visit to the zoo and all I could think about was my investment portfolio. To hell with the monkeys, I thought, fidgeting with the cellphone in my pocket. If only I had i-mode, I'd be able to sneak a peek at how my stocks were performing. To get my fix.

This habit, Internet stock trading, was all J@pan Inc's fault, of course. They were the ones who oh-so-innocently suggested I enter Jasdaq's online trading simulation contest and relate my experiences. By agreeing, I unwittingly stumbled into a world populated by characters with handles like paipapa, ming and ikillyouall, people who no doubt sport creepy Cheshire cat grins and titter when you fail. A place, I was to discover, where the pursuit of money can grow into an obsession that overshadows such trifles as family, work and sleep.

Jasdaq Market and Internet trading firm K-Zone kicked off 'JQ the Market' on Jan. 4 hoping to raise the profile of the over 900 issues listed on the bourse and attract more investors. The contest, free to anyone with an email address, uses actual stock prices, which are provided on a 20-minute-delay basis. The rules are simple: Each player starts with JPY100 million in their account, and those with the most money at the end of the six-month game win such prizes as airline tickets, brand-name bags, hotel discount coupons or, curiously, a year's supply of hamburgers.

To be honest, I didn't think I'd make it past the entry process. After all, Jasdaq is the most Japanese of all the domestic exchanges. Maybe foreigners weren't even allowed to trade on it, I thought. Another obstacle was language -- the whole damn thing is in Japanese. I know a few kanji thanks to a minor in Chinese at university, but would I really be able to decipher the trading instructions? Then there's my utter lack of investment experience.

Signing up went smoothly because my wife, who is Japanese, kindly filled out the online application, which asked me to provide a name, mailing address, phone number, user name, nickname, password and email address. Thus was rainmaker -- my trading handle -- born.

To get started, an American friend who works as a translator helped me figure out how to navigate the trading pages, showing me what icons to click if I wanted to buy and sell stocks, check my portfolio or view the rankings. Once I got the hang of the interface, I made my first purchase -- 300 shares of Japan Air System stock. It was surprisingly easy. I simply clicked the "stock buy/sell" icon, typed in JAS' four-letter company code in a box that appeared in the center of the screen, then hit enter.

I giddily clicked the portfolio button to see how my investment was coming along, only to find that my 'purchase' was categorized as an 'unfilled order.' It was then that I realized that I had jumped into the fray on a Saturday, a market holiday.

The following Monday, I learned that my JAS investment had lost JPY1,600, placing the mighty rainmaker at No. 442 out of 865 in the rankings -- just ahead of Bauhaus and Keiman2000, but well behind Jungo, who occupied the top spot with JPY105,993,419. Seeing the ranking had a funny effect on me. Suddenly I wanted to destroy all these chumps, with their silly names and their lucky winnings. My original plan to invest in wacky little firms for a laugh went out the window. I now wanted, needed, an investment strategy, a personal adviser, Jasdaq for Dummies, anything that might give me an edge over these pretenders.

It was then that I initiated the Genius Gambit, which involved buying issues that were named in a Nikkei survey of analysts and institutional investors as the most promising picks for 2002. Rainmaker meant business.

By Tuesday I had moved up to 396 out of 1,154 players, with earnings of JPY322,875, surely enough for a first-class plane ticket. Emboldened, nay, triumphant, I placed an order for 3,000 shares of restaurant operator Ootoya. This marked phase two of the Genius Gambit -- buy more stocks listed in that dang report.

Wednesday was a day of celebration. During a lull in work at the office, I scrambled to the nearest Internet console to check my stocks and discovered that -- Bam! -- old rainmaker's portfolio was worth a cool JPY101.7 million. In your face, Jungo. After gloating about my riches to my co-workers (one of whom told me he had some Monopoly money he wanted to invest), I sneaked back online and bought more Ootoya stock, which was cleaning up.

Not only was concentrating on work becoming difficult by this point, but I began furtively logging on at home when my wife left the room, not wanting her to complain about our mounting phone bill and my growing obsession with my portfolio. It was about this time that the grandiose fantasies began, ones that featured me using my new wealth to retire early to raise prize chickens in Tahiti or show up to work in a new Jaguar. "Oh this?" I'd drawl as my awed colleagues shuffled around the car. "The tech stocks have been good to me."

Thursday was a fretful, Net-less day at the zoo, and I was jonesing for a look at my portfolio. That night my wife and I got into a rare, big argument -- over how to decorate our new apartment, no less. Apparently withdrawal makes me cranky.

By the following Wednesday, just seven days after his trading debut, rainmaker had climbed to No. 98 out of 2,175,with JPY104,261,750 in his account. The kid is definitely good, but the climb to glory has not come without a price. I get the butterflies every time I check the value of my portfolio, which, intellectually, I know is worthless. I take it personally when my stocks lose and complain when I think they don't go high enough. I can't focus on my work at the office and jabber about my investment prowess to bored colleagues. I drive my wife crazy with all my Internet use. I can't shake the growing sense of unfairness over the fact that Jasdaq won't convert my earnings into cash. I'm a wreck, but I'm hooked.

I may be a vegetarian, but a year's supply of hamburgers is looking pretty good right about now. @

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