Perennials are so Last Year
Walking out of the office even later than usual, Julian opened up the commodities trading app on his phone, scrolling through the myriad of options; there must’ve been hundreds. Kristen told him how much money she’d made since they expanded the commodities market, giving investors a massive amount of new niches, not to mention leveling the playing field, as nobody had any experience trading in the new commodities.
Julian just wanted to dip his toe in the water, but had absolutely no clue where to start: mahogany, quartz, saffron? He’d been mulling the decision over for weeks while his end-of-year bonus languished in his bank account. If it stayed there much longer the negative interest rate would begin to take effect, as his account was over the maximum threshold.
Kristen had warned him about the risks; the new markets weren’t only as profitable as the old gold rushes, they were just as dangerous too. A lot of people had gotten cleaned out, or rather, cleaned themselves out by going all in on olives. How they didn’t know the Greek economy would collapse again was beyond him.
Getting into his car, Julian narrowed his options down to three. First, opal. Ethiopia, its main producer, had done brilliantly over the last few decades and was infinitely more stable than Greece, but opal was too expensive for Julian’s blood. He’d come back to it once he had more experience, and hopefully, a lot more funds.
Second was honey. This seemed rather promising, with several different major producers worldwide and a wide variety of uses for the product. Still, the growing aggression of bee swarms with the Mojave, Kalahari, and Deccan mutations had made supply much less stable, and synthetic alternatives were rising in popularity. Maybe the synthetics were worth investing in, but Julian didn’t have nearly enough knowledge to make a decision on that.
That left him with one last option: tulips. As pathetic as it sounded — Kristen would’ve told him he’d be better off buying dirt — tulips actually made a good amount of sense. Stable supply, several producers, with a stable primary producer (the Dutch), as well as a low price given that it was winter. He could hang onto them for a couple months then get himself a nice profit once spring came.
It may have been after-hours, but he still found a trading partner and ended up buying ten bushels of a hundred tulips for $70 each. That would hold off the negative interest rate for a couple weeks at most, but he’d have the knowledge to invest more of his bonus soon.
He told Kristen about his purchase at lunch the next day. “You bought fucking tulips? Does Jen know you’re this vanilla?” She was incredulous, her coffee sloshing onto the table as she cackled in Julian’s face.
“What were you expecting me to buy? Opal? And besides, Jen will be thrilled that I bought flowers. Though probably less happy once she knows we aren’t physically getting them.” Julian sighed.
“No, I was expecting you to buy tulips because you’re just so boring.” Kristen chuckled, cleaning up her coffee. “Not my preferred sector of the market, but I suppose it’s not the worst first investment. Low odds of being manipulated so badly that physical delivery becomes an issue.”
“That’s the nicest thing you’ve told me all week. And considering that they just went up 2% in the last few hours, I’d say my investment is a bit better than ‘not the worst.’ It’s easily better than your sense of humor.” Julian finished his lunch and went back to work. By the end of the day, tulips were up more than 4%.
For the next couple weeks, tulips kept climbing. Usually only a percent or so in a day, but on some occasions they climbed as much as six percent . There were a couple days where things stayed stagnant, and Julian took advantage, buying dozens more bushels before the ascent restarted. He now had 70 bushels of tulips which were currently worth about $95 each; he’d bought most when they were in the $79 and $86 range.
At this rate, Julian would be able to get himself a new car and easily pay off several months of rent once he cashed in when spring came. He figured April Fools’ Day would be a fitting time to sell off. Julian’s plans would be accelerated when he opened his email on Sunday.
One of Kristen’s friends had an insider newsletter. Most of his information didn’t seem much different than the mainstream outlets, but Julian still subscribed out of loyalty to his friend, even if “friend” was a bit of a strong word for Kristen. That paid off one morning.
Apparently, the Princess of Armenia was having a wedding on March 19th, and King Artaxerxes VI wanted a floral display for his daughter on the palace grounds. A very, very large display made exclusively of tulips for reasons that Julian could not have cared less about.
It wasn’t even 6 in the morning on a non-trading day, so Julian hoped that he could buy before the price really took off. He was right. The price had already jumped to $97.50 a bushel, but that was nothing compared to what was coming the next week. Julian nearly emptied his bank account, buying hundreds of bushels.
By Friday of that week, things were looking even better. The scale of the king’s project was unveiled, with acres and acres of tulips packed to make the crest of each of Armenia’s dozens of noble families, as well as a living tapestry of key events in the kingdom’s history. These scenes would be at least partially duplicated in every Armenian city. The discovery of the project’s true scale led to another spike, with the price of a bushel skyrocketing to around $160 as the king kept buying more and more.
There was only one downside to this realization: Julian’s bank account would be destroyed by the negative interest rate once he sold off. He understood the need to encourage investment, but it still stung. If only he had something to spend money on. . .
At first Julian thought about a car, or maybe some really nice vacation, but even a trip into orbit was so cheap that he’d have too much left over. That only left one thing: a house. He and Jen had shared the apartment for the last ten months, and while it was fine, they both knew it was far from a long-term solution.
Julian and Jen took the next two weeks off to find a house. Normally, people with their financial numbers wouldn’t be able to sniff one, but the promises of future returns were just too promising, not to mention that the banks had quotas to meet. After a whirlwind process where the days all crammed together, they settled on a two-bedroom not far outside the city. The lot wasn’t big, but they were both just happy to own something; neither of their families had owned anything since the turn of the millennium. They closed on the house on March 8th, barely a week before their big payout.
Julian slept his first night in the new house with Jen at his side, feeling more relaxed than he had in years. He made one last check and saw that tulips were going for $180 a bushel, down a bit from the absolute high, but that wasn’t surprising: Artaxerxes had probably finished buying the bulk of the tulips. Julian thought about selling now, but doubted anyone would buy at 1 a.m. He put his phone on the nightstand and went to bed, one arm wrapped around Jen.
Morning came, and with it another seemingly banal notification on Julian’s phone.
Opening it, he saw that he had gotten the wedding date wrong. It was set for March 9th, not March 19th. There were dozens of pictures and videos of the wedding, including the record-breaking tulip displays.
Much more importantly, the tulip selloff had already started; apparently there were plenty of leftover stock. Julian immediately tried selling what he had, but there were no takers, even well below the current price of $45 a bushel.
By the end of the day, tulips had slipped to around $.03 a bushel, a price that Julian didn’t believe, as he couldn’t sell even one of his bushels for a penny. By this point, Julian was praying for a black hole to show up in the Solar System, just so things would slow down for a fucking second. Considering how his portfolio was looking, Julian wouldn’t have minded slipping past the event horizon himself.
That Thursday, Julian didn’t get the black hole he wanted, but he got something almost as good: the physical delivery of his tulips had arrived. Right as dawn broke, a dump truck pulled into Julian’s driveway, with countless multi-colored bulbs poking above the edges of its massive, gunmetal-gray rear container. There were more than enough to bury his house. And his dreams.
At least Jen would love the flowers.
Freddie Bastiat is a futurist who’s a fan of Yoko Taro games, college football, and the restoration of the Byzantine and Achaemenid Empires. You can find him on Twitter @Bastiat_Child.