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Wall Street Plans Business as Usual

Financial institutions in New York and D.C. tighten security but tell workers to report.

August 02, 2004|Walter Hamilton and Thomas S. Mulligan | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Authorities in New York, New Jersey and Washington on Sunday encouraged people to take a business-as-usual approach to the start of the workweek, despite heightened terrorism alerts.

In a show of support for New York Stock Exchange employees, Chief Executive John A. Thain and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they planned to be at the exchange to greet workers this morning. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was scheduled to ring the bell to open a regular trading session.

"You should go about your business," the mayor said at a news conference. "We have to get up, get on the subways and enjoy the freedoms of New York."

There were few indications that people would steer clear of the financial institutions the federal government said were potential Al Qaeda targets or that New Yorkers wouldn't follow the mayor's instructions.

"I'm not going to stop taking the subway, nor will anybody I know alter their plans because of this alert," said Keith Estabrook, head of corporate communications at Sony Music Entertainment at Madison Avenue and 55th Street. "We've been living like this here since 9/11. You have to be cautious of course, but as far as I'm concerned, it's just another day."

David Dreman, a mutual fund manager in Jersey City, N.J., across the river from Lower Manhattan, said New Yorkers had become inured to the litany of terror alerts since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Certainly some people will be frightened and will not want to go to work," Dreman said, noting that none of his roughly 30 employees had contacted him Sunday. "But we've been on [high] alert over a dozen times and they've all gone by and been dropped."

A Prudential Financial Inc. spokesman said the firm fully expected all employees of its Newark, N.J., headquarters to report for work as usual today. Citigroup sent employees an e-mail telling them its security department was taking new, unspecified measures and was making "every effort to ensure your safety at all times and particularly in light of recent reports of possible threats and the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York City."

For Wall Street, the terrorism warnings follow a dismal month in the stock market, when key indexes slumped amid concerns that the economic expansion had slowed. The market was just beginning to regain its footing late last week, after the blue-chip Standard & Poor's 500 index and the Nasdaq composite slid to new 2004 lows early in the week.

In Washington, International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials said they were advising about 2,400 IMF employees and 7,000 World Bank staffers who work there to report for duty as though it were any other day.

"We're just telling people it's business as usual. There will be increased security measures, but nothing that would require them not to come," Damian Milverton of the World Bank said. "People at the bank are used to increased security measures for things like the annual meetings and also for other events in Washington, such as NATO conferences and that sort of thing."

During the IMF's and World Bank's spring and fall meetings in Washington, concrete barricades and police cordons block vehicular traffic around their headquarters, which have been the target of raucous anti-globalization protests in recent years. No such barricades have been put in place at other times, but officials indicated that might change in response to the heightened threat.

Spokesmen said there were no immediate plans to postpone or relocate the institutions' fall meetings, expected to occur in late September or early October. The sessions attract as many as 12,000 participants to Washington, including official delegations from the 184 member countries, representatives of scores of non-government organizations, and hundreds of print and broadcast journalists.

Milverton said the response to the new threat advisory was proceeding smoothly. "We're informing staff, we're working with authorities and we're fully briefed on what they know," he said. "We're in constant contact with Homeland Security.... We're very good at sharing information."

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Times staff writers Warren Vieth in Washington and Tom Petruno and Chuck Philips in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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