Sleepless in Singapore

While I was in Singapore, a few days ago, for the SEA Games 2015, I managed to squeeze in a few slot of hours to meet up with a couple of friends who work as commodities traders.

Singapore is the busiest and the world's most efficient seaport. Naturally, one would expect the people who live in the city-island to lead fast-paced lives.

I experienced this firsthand when I caught up with my friends for dinner and supper in the lion city.

As we found ourselves a small table at a corner of a french restaurant, my friend spoke in rapid-fire pace our orders to the waiter.

In turn, the waiter, quickly tap our dinner orders on his mobile device and walked off briskly to the kitchen counter.

As I settle and soak in the chatter surrounding us, my friend excused herself to answer emails from clients as far as the Middle East on her smartphone.

She also answered instant texts from her colleagues. 

"If it's a weak market then we have to go out and sell it more actively, if it's a strong market they come and buy it from us," she said.

Sudden, big movements make it difficult for traders to be off-duty. "We can never leave our positions, even if technically we've left the office or it's the weekend," she said. 

"It really is a 24-hour job because we cannot afford to be complacent. Our income depend on how fast we respond to price spikes and plunges," she added.

"Is that why you have two phones? Is that why your phones are switched on round the clock?" I asked.

She nodded.

During supper at a midnight cafe sited beside a yachting berth, another trader friend casually mentioned his duties involved monitoring multiple computer screens on his desk, which display a bewildering array of graphs, figures, reports and message windows.

"We need to have relevant information in as near real-time possible, so we can avoid trading blindly," he said. 

His daily routine include reading analysts' notes on rival oil price forecast, currency exchange direction and chatting with other traders and business journalists, to try and get a more accurate feel of the market.

Everything from policy and tax changes or natural disasters to more mundane events such as weather pattern changes to temperatures can affect edible oil prices. For traders, it pays to be informed.

As we gained insight into each others' work experiences, I have come away with a deeper respect for traders who left the comforts of their home in Malaysia to seek better fortunes in Singapore.

Life as a trader in the lion city is indeed very stressful. If I were a trader, I would find myself 'sleepless in Singapore.'