First Black Bond Trader

 

Pursuit of a Financial Genius -Remembering Travers Bell Jr.

by Rick W. Johnson

 

Martin Luther King’s birthday not only represents a time to pay tribute to his legacy, but to those who followed him through doors formerly never opened to Black people.  While most of us are familiar with the Chris Gardner story as told in the movie Pursuit of Happiness, many don’t know the story of Travers Bell Jr. Bell was the founder of the first and only black-owned member firm of the New York Stock Exchange.  While his tragic death at the young age of 46 was a great loss, his achievements on Wall Street as a successful entrepreneur and global business icon represented the realization of black genius.

In 1970 with $175,000 in capital, Mr. Bell with co-founder Willie E. Daniels opened Daniels & Bell Inc.  the first black securities bond firm on Wall Street. Under Bell’s leadership the firm focused on underwriting municipal products but the real achievement begins with being able to acquire a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In recent times the cost of a seat on the New York Stock Exchange easily runs into the millions of dollars.

Mr. Bell was raised on the south side of Chicago, and like MLK, had a dream.  His dream was starting his own investment firm after becoming exposed to the business from his own father, Travers Bell Sr. Equipped with a degree from Washington University in St. Louis and the New York Institute of Finance, his career rose quickly and soon found himself as a VP at Dempsey Tegler and Company.

Travers Bell Jr. launched Daniels and Bell, the first black owned bond trading firm in 1971.

Upon seeing his dream come to fruition in the founding of his own company, Travis reached out to black leaders and mayors to originate community financing and development deals. With a unique ability to identify underserved markets, he would use his urban background to develop relationships in the US as well as abroad.  Yet he also stresses:

“that while being a unique black owned business opens some doors, in the world of money its performance that ultimately counts”

Travers Bell’s firm which became known as the Dan Bell Group, would execute deals in Africa, had a majority ownership stake in a bank,  its own investment advisory firm, a commodity trading business, and its flagship muni bond business. Bells interest in commodities and cocoa would even steer him into acquiring Chocoline, a chocolate company.

African American pioneers can get lost in history, so upon MLK day it is fitting to pay our respects to an unsung hero from the financial world, Travers Bell Jr.

He is one of two investors I can think of who possessed the keen vision to foresee the opportunity in chocolate.  Warren Buffet would purchase See’s Candies in 1972.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bitcoin Groupie

The Bitcoin Groupie

 

by Rick Johnson

 

Stealing a lyric from the band Journey, Bitcoin worshipers pray we  “Don’t Stop Believing”. After the   fifty percent drop in price over the past few months, not everybody is worried.  Bitcoin followers fall into many types, but some are just plain old school groupies.

When we think of the term groupie, it drums up all types of music folklore about the fanatics of music and the bands they worship. Whether they waited in the rain for hours to get front row seats, or followed the band around on tour, it represents a certain kind of obsession. Before you get judgemental, following a band can be a rewarding social activity for anybody. A “groupie” does not have to be somebody waiting backstage for a hookup, but can also be a person simply supporting a local band seeking fame, fortune, and a cover on the Rolling Stone.

We develop genuine relationships with these bands and provide that initial fan base which fuels their rise to the top. Heaven forbid they actually make it big, we feel validated knowing we played some small part in their success. After all “we were there” when they were just a garage band. And “we were there” when no one showed up to their gigs.  And yes it’s a very personal thing. And so I’ve come to find many similarities in the rise of Bitcoin which indeed comes with its own devoit screaming groupies.  And like a any hot band, faces the inevitable possibility of ” here today-gone tomorrow”.

Using our garage band analogy, we can rant to the new Bitcoin followers, where were you when the price was under $5000?  Fact is Bitcoin didn’t seem to generate any media attention until it was at nose bleed bubble levels. And it doesn’t take a genius to call that top. While Bitcoin has left a lot of recent speculators underwater, many are still keeping hope alive with a religious like dedication to change the world. Like many religions, the proliferation of Bitcoin worshipers are vast and wide.

2017 must have taken the most devout believers by surprise when in a brief period of time Bitcoin rose 1000% in value. Like a garage band that just got its first record deal, the rebellious underground garage nature of Bitcoin found itself with a big top 40 hit. Bitcoin is now a daily topic in all the news media, which must seem overwhelming to the early adopters. After all, whom would expect that in just one year so much would happen in the cryptocurrency universe.

Major events such as the creation of Bitcoin futures, provided some serious validation that this currency was too legit to quit. The old school Bitcoin groupies now had to watch their favorite crypto  rise from the chat rooms to daily CNBC coverage. Keeping it real the promotion of Bitcoin was always the strategy, but nobody wanted a shooting star. If Bitcoin were a band, the 2017 rise must have felt like playing a seedy club one weekend, and playing the Super Bowl half-time show the next.

We’ve finally learned from the countless episodes of Behind The Music, that life at the top is a short stay at a Motel 6 with a continental breakfast. Who wouldn’t feel a bit jittery perched at the top of Mt. Everest under perfect blue skies? The hard part about Bitcoin is who can really say where the top is? Historians and market technicians appreciate the fact that cycles are unavoidable, where empires and assets must eventually fall back to earth. But who needs to have a doctorate in history or physics when all you need to know is the story of a few legendary musical groups. Stories that seem to always end the same way.

Nevertheless, the early believers, the true followers can feel some pride in the fact “they were there” when Bitcoin was a garage band currency. Maybe they made some money maybe not. But rest assured if there is one thing we can say about Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market, the hits will keep on coming.