The Economy of Words

In 2011 Peter Sainsbury (Economics, 2000) started writing a blog about economics and financial markets. Six years later he has published not one but two books. Here he tells us what inspired him to start writing. 

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I studied for an economics degree at City, graduating in 2000. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 18 years since I left!  I loved my time at City and the great thing about it is the people that I met. My best friends from my time at university remain my best friends now. We’ve moved to different parts of the world, have started families and gone in directions which we perhaps couldn’t have foreseen. We rarely get to see each other now but when we do it’s a good reminder of how far we’ve all come since meeting at university.

What happened after you graduated?

During my last summer holiday before leaving university I was lucky enough to find out about an opportunity to work on trading simulations for the nascent electricity commodity market. The consultant organising the 6 week event had posted adverts in London’s universities, including City asking for students to act as ‘traders’ trying to make money buying and selling electricity. It was great fun and sparked the idea for my final year dissertation. The experience also sparked a broader interest in commodity markets.

I graduated in 2000 and went to work for a start-up company trying to revolutionise the world of energy procurement. My knowledge of electricity trading was starting to become useful. It may sound quite simple now but at the time the industry was dominated by quote by fax machines which then had to be individually entered into a computer. While working in a small start-up isn’t for everyone, you do get to do almost everything and (hopefully) see how a company goes about growing.

I then went onto to work for an energy market consultancy specialising in oil, gas and petrochemicals. Again it was a very small business, only about 10 of us, each with responsibility to cover one part of the industry. It was there that I focused on the supply side of the oil market; everything from understanding the motivations of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), to what factors affect the long term decisions of oil production companies.

Since then I’ve gone on to the world of recovered materials (think scrap metal and recycled plastics). Another commodity market!

How did the idea for your book come about?

I always enjoyed writing but never really thought about the opportunity that it would present by taking it seriously. In 2011 I started a blog about economics and financial markets with the idea that I would help investors think better about the decisions they made. My website Materials Risk focuses on commodity markets and tries to highlight opportunities for investors in areas that other research has neglected. Although the motivation has been to help other people, the very act of writing has helped me to better understand my own investment process too.

And then in 2014 I noticed that a number of the other bloggers that I followed had written and published their own books on topics relating to investment. So I thought, well I could do that. What’s stopping me?

In late 2015 I published my first book, “Commodities: 50 Things You Really Need To Know”. It’s really an introduction to commodities and commodity markets to help beginners and people with an intermediate level of knowledge. I’ve had some great feedback from private investors and investment banks that have used the book to help them and their colleagues get up to speed on commodity markets.

My next book was called “Crude Forecasts: Predictions, Pundits & Profits in the Commodity Casino” and was published in late 2017. When I was researching for topics to write about one theme kept coming back to me that was gnawing at me. Individual investors and indeed whole economies had been taken in by the prospect of rising commodity prices and part of what kept that narrative alive was the forecasts from investment banks and other pundits in the financial media. I decided to do something about it, to try and bring those forecasters to account, and at the very least make it clear to individual investors what incentives were at play.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is probably that moment half-way through writing a book when you sit down to write and start to question whether it’s really worth carrying on. Is anyone actually going to read this? Is it even any good?

Recently I found a quote by the nature writer Rachel Carson who said, “If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in… you will interest other people.” To have put in the hours day after day to write a book you must have found the subject very interesting. You, as I, are unique but we also have common interests that aren’t all that unique. If you write for yourself you will certainly find other people who will also find it interesting. And that knowledge can sometimes help to motivate you to carry on.

Now more than ever it’s possible to find readers with interests just like you. Not so long ago authors had to go through traditional publishers and chances are they would not be interested in what you had to offer. Now it’s much easier to capture those longer tail readers who the traditional publishers neglect.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

Other than the day that my books are published, or I see them in paperback for the first time probably the most rewarding experience is talking about my work and getting positive, constructive feedback. Of course whenever you get that feedback it’s important to use it to promote your work even further.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Go for it, experiment, start small and just work from there. Whatever you do in life is a process, and if you don’t enjoy that process or get a kick from it then maybe try something else instead. But you definitely need to know that focusing on the long term requires practice every day. And writing is no different to any other pursuit.

You can follow Peter on Twitter: @PeterSainsbury7