Executives of Life Sciences Research Inc., a medical research company frequently targeted by animal rights activists, were having breakfast in the ornate dining room of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, excited about their new listing on the Big Board.
But at 8:40 a.m., they were told by NYSE officials that the listing was to be postponed. And no reason was given.
"I would love to know why," said Richard Michaelson, the company's chief financial officer, who was at the stock exchange that morning. "They have told us nothing."
Controversy has surrounded Life Sciences for years. Its testing includes the use of animals, which has drawn the wrath of activists who have gone so far as to target company employees with hate mail, death threats and even beatings. It got so bad that the company, formerly Huntingdon Life Sciences, moved from Cambridgeshire, England, to East Millstone, N.J., in 2002.
Big Board officials like to call an NYSE listing the "gold standard" for public companies. Requirements for NYSE-listed companies are often more stringent than for those listed on other exchanges, and companies applying for listing are thoroughly vetted.
Life Sciences' finances and its business practices appeared to pass the test. NYSE President Catherine Kinney was even quoted in Life Sciences' Aug. 22 news release announcing the listing.
That makes the NYSE's abrupt postponement all the more unusual. NYSE spokesman Ray Pellecchia confirmed Thursday that Life Sciences' listing was postponed, but he declined to comment further.
"It is frustrating, really hugely disappointing, to not know the issue for this reexamination, if that's what it is, or the criteria upon which they'll ultimately make a decision," Michaelson said.
"They have not raised anything in terms of a change in the circumstances of the company."
Michaelson suspects that animal rights activists may have made threats or otherwise changed the NYSE's thinking. Pellecchia declined to comment. The company, which closely monitors the websites and activities of its opponents, said at least one group had launched a campaign against the NYSE for agreeing to list Life Sciences.
On the website of the activist group Win Animal Rights, or W.A.R., a link on the camouflage-pattern home page led to a page entitled "Puppy Killers on the New York Stock Exchange." Readers are encouraged to write "polite letters and e-mails and make polite phone calls" to the exchange.
The exchange's address and phone numbers are listed, along with the names and work numbers of two public relations staffers.
W.A.R. founder Camille Hankins confirmed that an unknown number of W.A.R. supporters made calls to the exchange. Hankins said she did not advocate threats or violence, and she urged members to be reasonable and make well-informed arguments against Life Sciences.
But she added that she had no control over what others might do.
"Animals are being tortured and murdered, and we do understand why some people would take actions to the next level. We don't do that ourselves," Hankins said. "We do understand that's part of the struggle for animal liberation, and that it's an effective tactic," she said. "Do you think the NYSE would be postponing this if all they were facing were letters and phone calls?"
Hankins promised daily protests at the NYSE and further letter-writing and phone campaigns targeting the exchange, Life Sciences' specialist firm, the trading firm that handles Life Sciences' stock, and investors should the company ultimately be listed.