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Scouts' Honour

by Stephen Lautens


April 5, 2002

The Canadian Securities Administrators - the good people who represent Canada's provincial securities commissions - has convinced Scouts Canada to bring high finance to the campfire.

No more of being stuck with just canoeing, rubbing two sticks together or making wallets out of leather and twine. Canada's boys and girls can now earn their "Investing Badge".

The idea of the new badge isn't to train a new generation of Enron investors, eager to plunk down their retirement money on something as secure as Florida swampland. Quite the opposite, apparently. The CSA wants to raise a new generation of financially literate youth, able to see past iffy auditors and puffed up financial statements to make sound investment choices.

I suppose the badge goes back to the days when the earliest stock brokers canoed through the forests and braved the wilderness to create the first mixed asset fund out of nothing but birch bark and a small ball of string. They were a hardy breed, those frontier day traders, in their three piece suits and coonskin caps.

To get their Investing Badge, Scouts have to track a stock's price for two weeks, browse the Internet for investing sites that "cater to children", or evaluate the risks and rewards of different investment products.

There is no truth to the rumour that the badges themselves are made out of Nortel shares, which the Scouts will continue to use to start fires since they're currently cheaper than kindling.

Let's hope this new-found appreciation for market capitalism will be used for good and not evil. I don't want to see a leveraged buy-out of the neighbour's kid's lemonade stand. Or a hotly contested proxy battle to see who gets to be goalie in a game of street hockey. Or two kids in a fight making disparaging remarks about the qualifications of each other's auditor. Or moving that dollar you borrowed from your sister "off book" to a judgment-proof offshore subsidiary. The last thing we need is a generation of pre-teen Gordon Gekkos.

I'd hate to see a document shredder added to the basic Scout kit of a pocket knife and a compass.

I imagine the talk around the campfire after a hard day's trekking in the woods could change a bit:

Billy (age 10): "I'm worried that my portfolio isn't diversified enough."

Johnny: (age 11): "You know William, there is such a thing as being too diversified. I got caught last year with no real focus to my investment strategy, and even though my gainers outpaced my dogs, when I finally pulled the trigger to crystallize my capital gain to take advantage of my loss carryforward I got caught in a downdraft and ended up with nowhere to hide. My tax liability now is bigger than my net realized gain."

Billy: "Tell me about it. I'm about to liquidate everything and plow it into bonds until the market stops penalizing risk. These interest rates are killing the world equities markets. But enough about that - wanna put a bug in Simon's sleeping bag?"

For some reason the Girl Guides decided they wouldn't join the Scouts in adding a new Investing Badge to their campfire blankets or sashes.

My guess is they've decided to wait until the Scouts have seen their investments bottom out. That way they won't stand a chance in a hostile takeover.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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