June 29th, 2009
08:04 PM GMT
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NEW YORK – Disgraced financier Bernie Madoff stood up in court in New York on Monday and told some of his victims that "I live in a tormented state for all the pain and suffering I created."

Miriam Siegman’s life has been turned upside down by Madoff’s crimes.
Miriam Siegman’s life has been turned upside down by Madoff’s crimes.

Facing them head on, he said he was sorry - but his words rang hollow.

Speaking to us just after the sentence was handed down, many victims said if Madoff was truly sorry he would have stopped years ago and owned up to his mistakes instead of living a life of luxury.

Others felt bitter that Madoff has not told prosecutors who else was involved and where any remaining money might be hidden.

Victims, who attended a rally after the hearing, are vowing to fight on.

But many acknowledge they will never recoup their life's savings.

One woman, Miriam Siegman teared up as she told how she now lives on food stamps.

She admitted she turned and walked out of the court room when Madoff gave his statement. It was simply too little, too late.

The 150 year sentence Madoff received was the maximum allowed and was based on several factors including the number of victims, the amount of money involved and the damage caused by his acts.

In delivering the sentence the judge said he understood the ruling was largely symbolic since, at age 71, anything over 15 years would likely mean life in jail for Madoff.

But Judge Denny Chin said he wanted to send a strong message to those who would think about perpetrating similar crimes.

This is by far one of the harshest sentences ever handed down for white collar crime in the U.S., but Madoff's crime was unprecedented and has badly damaged investor confidence.

What do you think? Did Madoff get what he deserved or is 150 years overkill? Did he act alone or will the government be successful in charging any accomplices? And will the harsh punishment deter others?

June 29th, 2009
07:45 PM GMT
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LONDON, England – A bright and sunny Monday morning and I’m off to work. But my morning commute today takes me not to my usual central London destination, but to the financial heart of the capital, the Square Mile. The City, where fortunes are made and lost. I feel strangely nervous, like the new boy at school.

Open the financial pages or any investment magazine and you'll see ads from companies offering to teach you to trade. I've accepted invitations from two such companies who are going to train me to use their proprietary trading platforms. I don't necessarily endorse either of them and I certainly don't know enough yet to decide whether their services rank among the best. But I need their hospitality if I'm to stand any chance of succeeding in my goal to become a competent trader.

At CMC Markets, market strategist Ryan O'Doherty introduces me to the concept of CFDs or Contract for Difference. A CFD would allow me to trade on a financial instrument such as a share or a commodity without having to physically own it. They are a leveraged product which requires a trader to deposit only a fraction of the overall value of their trade. This is called trading on margin.

Markets fall as well as rise. CFD traders can potentially profit from falling markets too because they are trading on the price movement of an instrument. This is known, Ryan explains, as "going long" if you expect the price to rise - or "short" if you expect it to fall.

Ryan is at pains to point out that while margin trading can magnify returns, losses will also be magnified, so CFDs aren’t suitable for everyone.

A couple of hours later and my head is buzzing. It seems incredibly complicated. Ryan gives me my coursework to read and sends me on my way. I stumble out into the sunshine wondering whether I'm up to this.

Fortified by coffee and a sandwich I'm welcomed into the offices of IG Index and another classroom where chief market strategist David Jones outlines the concept of spread betting. David explains that spread betting is very similar to trading CFDs but with certain tax advantages for UK citizens.

David then goes on to teach me about currency pairs, one of the most popular spread betting and CFD instruments. It’s the volatility of the currency market that makes it so attractive. Whereas stock markets can trade within a narrow range for days, currencies often present trading opportunities many times a day.

David points out that, as a leveraged product, the potential for losses as well as gains while spread betting is magnified. He says that due to the extreme volatility I might like to think about getting to know the currency markets well over time and gaining much more trading experience before venturing in.

More coursework to tuck into my briefcase and my school day is done.

Before joining the swarm of evening commuters streaming away from the city, I pop in to see David Buik of BGC Partner, a man I’ve interviewed hundreds of times on television over the years and someone whose expertise I value.

David has kindly offered to give me "independent" advice as I attempt to become a competent trader.

Sitting in his 19th floor office, admiring the view over the Thames, David drops a bombshell. "If money isn’t one of your gods, you’re wasting your time in this environment," he says.

Oh dear.

You see, money never has been a great motivating factor in my life. Broadcast journalism is a vocation for me. I’m fortunate enough to have a fantastic employer who rewards me handsomely for what I do and I rarely give money a second thought. Sure, I'd like to have a bit of extra cash now and then - but who doesn't? Does this mean then that my attempt to become a successful trader is doomed from the start?

Perhaps it is. Perhaps I just haven't got the right attitude and never will. No time to worry about that now though. I've got several hours of coursework to get through before I can rest my weary bones.

* How does Adrian Finighan fare in his career as a rookie trader? Watch Quest Means Business Monday to Friday: 1800 GMT London, 2000 CET, 0300 HK.

June 29th, 2009
09:30 AM GMT
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LONDON, England – Just a decade ago, if I’d wanted to trade the markets I’d have had to engage the services of a stockbroker. I’d have been limited to trading, over the phone, UK and perhaps some US stocks. Every trade would have been subject to a hefty broker’s commission.

Can CNN’s Adrian Finighan cut it as a rookie trader?
Can CNN’s Adrian Finighan cut it as a rookie trader?

Today, thanks to de-regulation and a high speed Internet connection, I can trade almost anything, anywhere in the world, from wherever I happen to be at the time. I can do it 24 hours a day - and it won’t cost me nearly as much as it would have done 10 years ago.

I’ve been a financial journalist for more than 15 years. Booms. Busts. Inflation. Deflation. Mergers. Acquisitions. Hostile takeovers. Profits. Losses. Interest rates. Bond yields. Bankruptcy and fraud. I’ve covered them all over the years and I’ve learned a lot about how the markets work.

But, despite having a ringside seat I’ve never actually dipped a toe in the water and tried to make money myself.

Actually I have.

Some years ago I stupidly listened to a colleague who fancied himself as an ‘expert’ and bought shares on his recommendation. They bombed within weeks and, embarrassed by the memory, I try my best never to think of it.

But lately, as the financial markets have suffered a major meltdown and the media has vilified bankers and their "greedy, risk-taking’" traders for helping to tip the global economy into recession, I’ve begun to wonder whether I could have done any better?
As a reasonably intelligent, responsible, adult would I have been able to trade the markets without taking big risks? Would I have been able to trade responsibly and turn a modest profit without having my head turned by the prospect of big gains?

Of course, all of this is somewhat academic. I can’t answer those questions because while I know how the markets work, I know nothing of how to trade them. So, with a CNN camera crew for company, I decided to find out.

I became a Rookie Trader.

I’ll be detailing my experiences right here in this blog over the next few days.
In the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that we filmed my journey into the markets on five days across the course of two weeks in June. As the films are broadcast over consecutive days you might get the impression that I went from novice to trader in a week.

Not so.

The extra time needed to study all of the course work and additional reading material makes that impossible, as you’ll see when I go into detail later. And even now, course work and filming complete, I’m still little more than a novice with much still to learn.

* How does Adrian Finighan fare as a rookie trader? Watch Quest Means Business Monday to Friday: 1800 GMT London, 2000 CET, 0300 HK.

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