Manchester United’s performance in financial markets hardly matches its prowess on the pitch: two weeks after being issued, the club’s first bond has lost 5 per cent of its market value, making it one of the worst credit investments this year.
Old-fashioned souls may see divine justice. Before sport’s rank commercialisation, any betting on a football club would have taken place at the bookmaker’s, not in bond markets. But financial innovation has brought more surprising products than the Red Devils’.
As a harbinger of exotic asset-backed securities to come, the “Bowie bond” in 1997 offered investors future royalties from David Bowie’s music as collateral.
Derivatives offer great opportunities for the inventive. Relatively plain ones include weather derivatives. These pay in specified meteorological events, such as the temperature reaching 18°C where people tend to switch the heat on or off. But they can be tailored to any fancy: one pet food company sought a contract based on 24°C – where cats lose their appetite.
Some years ago Pentagon analysts proposed a market for terrorism futures, with payouts contingent on terrorist attacks. Through the wisdom of crowds, the futures price would help intelligence agencies to predict dangers. The idea was wisely shelved, if only because it offered terrorists the chance to make money from inside information.
“Booty futures” are not how artists and athletes insure the commercially valuable parts of their anatomies, but ways for rebels to bankroll a rebellion against claims on the natural resources to be plundered, contingent on a takeover of the state. In an informal Somali securities exchange, pirates obtain funding from local investors for a share in successful ransoms.
If this looks rather like early joint stock companies such as the East India Company, maybe it is. Finance is not that innovative: after each “this time is different”, history repeats itself with a crash.