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A YEAR AFTER

NYSE Pauses to Reflect

Exchange observes day amid controlled emotion

September 12, 2002|WALTER HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Outside, the New York Stock Exchange appeared grim and fortress-like Wednesday, with rows of police barricades guarding its entrance.

Inside, the scene on the normally hectic trading floor was one of relative calm and controlled emotion.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, traders were gripped by the horror unfolding just blocks away at the World Trade Center.

And six days later, when the exchange reopened, the mood was fearful and apprehensive--reflecting both concern about another attack and about an anticipated wave of selling by investors.

On Wednesday, the tone was somber but clearly reflected the passing of a year.

Traders last year returned in part out of a sense of national duty, but they privately had to deal with raw grief and anxiety. They trooped through acrid air, many wearing surgical masks, to get to work as the rescue and recovery efforts continued at ground zero.

"Everybody on Sept. 17 did not want to be here physically, and everybody fought through their emotions," said Joseph Cangemi, a broker at Francis P. Maglio & Co. But that was not the case Wednesday. "This is not a duty. This is a celebration."

The day generated a range of emotions. Traders were relieved to get past the anniversary, but many said it caused them to relive last Sept. 11 in their minds.

The tension was heightened by a government warning Monday that new attacks were possible this week, though the warnings did not single out New York as a potential target.

"The day, of itself, rips the wound wide open," said Kenneth Polcari, managing director of a small floor brokerage. Polcari's headquarters were on the 55th floor of the trade center's south tower, and he would have been there when the first plane hit if not for an 8:30 a.m. meeting at the exchange that day.

As did most others on Wall Street, many NYSE traders knew victims of the attack. Some people took Wednesday off to be with family or friends.

The exchange opened 2 1/2 hours late, at 12:01 EDT, to accommodate the memorial service at ground zero. Traders generally supported the delay, and some thought the exchange should have been closed all day.

"We shouldn't have opened at all, just out of respect," said Theodore Weisberg, head of Seaport Securities Corp.

But others said opening on Wednesday was just as vital as on Sept. 17. "You have to open because you have to send a clear message," Cangemi said. "We're here to do business as usual."

On hand for the start of the session were New York Gov. George Pataki, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey L. Pitt.

Stock prices immediately bounded higher at the open--traders cited investor relief that no attacks had marred the memorial services--before falling back.

NYSE trading had been scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. but was delayed as the memorial service ran long. The exchange's arch rival, the electronic Nasdaq Stock Market, launched trading at 11 a.m. Nasdaq's computers already were programmed and could not be reset at the last minute, a spokeswoman said.

On Wall Street, life for many traders has been a struggle over the last year. The emotional aftermath of the attacks has been compounded by the stock market's woes, as share prices overall have continued to slide and financial firms have retrenched with a series of grinding layoffs.

The NYSE building was not damaged by the attacks on the World Trade Center, which was about a five-minute walk away. But communication lines and transportation systems were damaged, and the NYSE chose to stay closed for the rest of that week to avoid hindering recovery efforts.

The four-day closure marked the exchange's longest shutdown since the bank holidays of the 1930s. The resumption of trading the next Monday was hailed as a symbol of the country's financial and economic resilience, even though share prices dived initially.

The attacks have had a lasting effect on the expansion plans of the world's biggest stock exchange. Before the disaster, the NYSE had planned to build a larger trading floor across the street from its current site.

The plans included a 35-story office tower to be leased to private tenants. The city would have helped subsidize construction, recouping its outlays through a higher tax assessment on the improved site.

After the attacks, however, the NYSE scrapped the idea of expanding in Lower Manhattan, in part out of concerns about erecting a marquee and potentially vulnerable tower there.

The exchange now plans to create a second trading floor within New York state but outside the city's financial district. The two sites would run simultaneously, thus splitting the Big Board's operations for the first time. NYSE Chairman Richard Grasso has said he expects the new site to be up and running within five years.

The proposal has generated consternation among some traders, who say they understand the need to disperse amid terrorism fears, but worry that a companion floor in a borough or suburb would increase their daily commutes if they are assigned to the new facility.

"I understand the concept," said Arthur Cashin, director of floor operations for brokerage UBS PaineWebber. But "if it triples my commute, should I be crazy about it?"

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