Day trippin'

Dallas' little fish swim with the Wall Street sharks at an online trading house

A 40-year-old South Korean immigrant and former owner of four Manhattan burrito restaurants, Park has a following so great now that his tips almost automatically move markets. (The SEC announced last spring that it would investigate whether Park had loaded up on shares before recommending a stock and sold them after sparking a buying spree, a shady practice known as front-running. Park insisted then that he had done nothing wrong.)

For the crowd at the trading room in Far North Dallas, however, a Tokyo Joe tip often means a fast buck. This time the tipster has recommended a company called Quorum Health Group.

Mitch Whitlock tries to buy 1,200 shares, but for some reason the computer shows he has only been sold 12. He complains out loud. A veteran trader offers cruelly from the back, "Twelve shares? Well, I got 12,000."

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Mark Graham
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Carlton Whitlock keeps an eye on the TV monitor tuned to CNBC while he plays the stock market at 1 800DAYTRADE.COM.
Mark Graham
Carlton Whitlock keeps an eye on the TV monitor tuned to CNBC while he plays the stock market at 1 800DAYTRADE.COM.

The stock briefly rises.

Carlton, meanwhile, has still not made any trades, though there are one or two paper victories. At about 10, he spots Metricom Inc., another start-up that develops wireless network products and services. Looking at the charts, Whitlock says, at first to himself, "It's probably going to go up." He then calls out in a bolder voice than he usually uses in the trading room, loud enough for the back row to hear. "Metricom is trying to come back."

For a moment there is silence as the back-row traders call up the company's charts on their screen. Rogers announces he's making a trade. Whitlock, who had not purchased the stock himself, smacks his fists together in celebration. "I love it when I make a good call," he says. "Of course, it would be better if I was in."

He returns his screen to DSL.Net. The stock is finally climbing past $22. "Wow, two good calls in a day," says Whitlock, "That's all I need."

It's 11:00. "It's late," Whitlock says, looking at his watch. "I didn't notice that." He has to leave now to make it to his son's theatrical performance. No trades, no profits, and no losses for the day.

The next day, Whitlock comes in for a quick peek at the market before he heads off to a camping trip with his church buddies. He even makes an actual trade -- his first in days. He buys 300 shares of DSL.Net at $20. Within minutes the stock moves down 7/16th a point. "I've lost $130," he says. "I've got to have patience."

He does and it pays off -- in small amounts. As he sweet-talks his computer ("Come on, puppy, come on") the stock price moves up enough for him to sell at about $130 profit. He clicks his mouse at the sell button. He can now see his proposed trade on the screen lined up with the others. For some reason, his proposed trade gets bumped twice out of line, getting behind other similarly priced orders. He raises his fist in frustration. He's afraid the stock price will move before his order is accepted. "I'm a control freak," Whitlock concedes in the heat of the moment. "This kills me."

Finally, his computer shows the trade has been completed. Take away the $44 dollars in transaction costs, and Whitlock has earned $90.

That's less than 0.1 percent of his previous salary, but it's enough to leave Whitlock feeling optimistic. After all, it's just one trade on one day. More important, it's not a loss. A few more successes, a few more weeks, and maybe Whitlock can survive his six months of schooling and take a seat at the table with the boys in the back row.

Maybe.

"If I had had 500 shares," he says, "I would have earned a lot more. It feels so good to make a good trade."

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