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BEAR MARKET ANNIVERSARY

Tales From the Market's Dark Side

March 16, 2003|E. Scott Reckard

The history of a bear market is generally told with charts and graphs and through the dry reflections of pundits and academics who, long after the fact, tell us what went wrong.

But already there are countless personal stories about what happened when "the greatest legal creation of wealth in history" -- as the '90s stock boom once was described -- turned into the worst market collapse since the Great Depression.

Dreams have been put on hold or abandoned altogether. Futures that seemed secure and bright have become uncertain and dark. Lives have been disrupted -- sometimes for the better.

Three years ago this month, the bull market hit its peak and began its slide. Here are some stories from the belly of the bear.

Eyal

Giladi

Day-trading impresario

Dirt mars the marble floor that Eyal Giladi installed in another era -- 1998 -- to impress the hundreds of stock speculators who flocked to his day-trading center in Irvine.

Ceiling tiles hang askew above the now-vacant office in which Giladi and his partner once set out vats of free cereal at 6:30 a.m. for traders at 200 stations, boosted staff morale by awarding free cruises and built a trading desk so long it was known as "the landing strip."

When the market was rewarding audacity, day traders were the most audacious of all, executing rapid-fire trades and rarely owning a stock for more than a few minutes or hours.

Giladi was the enabler for that high-wire existence. "People kept asking, 'Where do you get the energy?' " Giladi recalled. "We worked all day and partied all night, all the time. But we knew we were the best."

He recalled the TV news crews stopping by; the novices forking over $3,000 a week for "boot camp" at his day-trading school; the investor who paid $2.5 million for 10% of the business; the offer -- rejected because "we were stupid" -- to take the company public for $100 million.

Born in St. Louis, raised in Israel and an early Internet devotee, Giladi created an online home-listing database in the early '90s. But he made more money buying, repairing and reselling homes after the 1994 Northridge quake.

House-flipping profits helped him and his partner, Eyal Shahar, set up their day-trading operation in 1997. Wisely, Giladi did little trading himself. "I was not a gold digger," he said. "I was the one providing the shovels and picks and jeans."

When stocks peaked in March 2000, the brokerage and school employed 50 people and he was sending instructional squads to France, Canada and Russia. Only late that summer, as the market's swoon deepened and his trading floor emptied, did the dream dissolve.

A year later, the business was down to half a dozen employees and Giladi's marriage was on the rocks because of job stress. His partner bought him out and moved to smaller quarters.

Giladi has resumed his early career, fixing up and reselling apartments, contracting for room additions -- making a buck off the new gold rush in Southern California housing.

Between travel and work with youth groups, Giladi waits for a chance to build another elite team to take on another new venture. "Something even bigger," he said.

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