Unfortunate acronyms - Monocolumn | Monocle


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22 August 2012

Jim O’Neil, the chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, has ALTAF. In case you’re wondering what ALTAF means, let me spell it out. ALTAF: a lot to answer for.

For it was O’Neil, more than a decade ago, who coined the acronym BRIC as a convenient shorthand for the burgeoning economic supergroup of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Not long after that, we were ambushed by CIVETS, the brave new world order comprising Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa.

And then it was but a short wait before we were all feasting on CARBS, a rich medley made up of Canada, Australia, Russia, Brazil and South Africa. We have the dexterous literary talents of the folks at Citigroup to thank for that one.

The asset management titan BlackRock was the next to get in on the act, quickly coining the CASSH – which is to say: the robust quintet of Canada, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland and Hong Kong.

Perhaps the most unflattering acronym belongs to the PIGS (Europe’s ailing quartet of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). Impolite maybe, but that didn’t prevent people elegantly adding Italy into the PIGS party. It’s not easy to reflect the new variant spelling phonetically, without resorting to a rather unconvincing PIIGS to reflect that double I.

And now the man who began the whole exercise, Mr O’Neil, has identified the MIST countries – Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey – who are on the fast track to the financial big time. They are all part of a Goldman’s equity fund focusing on the “Next 11″ group of emerging economies.

Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam are also grouped in with the four, main aspirants. But they aren’t part of MIST – and my guess is that that is down to the absence of a snappy acronym at least as much as it is to their relatively slight financial muscle. Iran is one of the 11, too; you might have thought that a vowel would make them indispensable but I suppose that their pariah status rules them out. It seems it’s not only in Scrabble where vowels don’t pay dividends.

O’Neil told Bloomberg recently that he was wary of “going down in history as being the guy that just constantly created acronyms”.

Well I have a warning for him: once you create these sort of monsters they tend to take on ALOTO. That’s “a life of their own” if you’re still struggling to keep up.

Irritated yet? It’s not difficult to see why these constant agglutinations, compressions and abbreviations of perfectly serviceable country names can test the patience of even the most mild-mannered market watcher.

So I have a suggestion.

Had enough acronyms recently? Then let’s end such stupidity. HEARTLESS? Maybe, but it gets my vote.


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