YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Gloom sweeps NYSE floor

October 11, 2008|Erika Hayasaki and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — As Wall Street yo-yoed through another day of breathless ups and downs, a pall of dejection and despair hung over the august New York Stock Exchange, the epicenter of the country's economic malaise.

Harried traders frantically tried to recover from a week of spiraling losses, emerging grim-faced outside the exchange's imposing marble facade to puff on cigarettes. The sense of powerlessness was palpable.

"It's hell -- what do you think?" snapped one blue-jacketed employee at midday when queried about the mood.

Inside, traders banged on keyboards next to trays of half-eaten French fries. Television crews clattered across the wooden floor, drawn by the sounds of yelling or clapping.

Jeffrey Frankel, a trader at Stuart Frankel & Co. for 20 years, said he was keeping his confidence up, even though the Dow Jones industrial average was down nearly 500 points by midafternoon.

"I'm not going to give up hope," he said, standing in front of his booth. "There's still time."

All day, eyes were on the clock. How would the day end? Was there good news to be found?

It was hard to shake the gloom in the room.

"It's our eighth session of being down," Frankel said. "It's a sad time, as tough a time as I've ever seen. . . . Everyone is rushing for the gates."

Historically, financial shifts hit the New York Stock Exchange about six months before the rest of the country, he said, but this time the effect will be more immediate. "Everyone borrows money," he noted. "Farmers in Iowa need to borrow. It's not just people on Wall Street. This is a crisis for everyone."

That's what worried the crowd of tourists and suit-clad passersby gathered outside.

"We've been trying to send positive vibes into the building, but I don't know if it's working," said tourist Kent Scarborough, 28, a respiratory therapist from Denver, as he and his wife sat on a bench, watching traders slump against metal barricades outside the building.

Some couldn't bear to look.

Wearing a blue pinstriped suit and red tie, Jim Weitner, 33, slogged through the throngs of people, trying to avoid reading the numbers on the electronic ticker outside the exchange.

"I'm over it," said Weitner, a financial advisor who was laid off from JPMorgan Chase & Co. two months ago.

Weitner used to earn $175,000 a year. Now, he's living off savings and contemplating moving back to Atlanta, where he would earn about $30,000 a year working for a gym. On Friday afternoon, he had just come out of a job interview at a health club, his last shot at staying in New York.

"It's surreal. An industry just collapsed," he said, leaning against a wall, his shoulders slumped. "Everything I've worked for is gone."

Nearby, business developer Anthony Brown, 35, said he had been watching the market swings with fear.

"I think it's time to buy a few acres in Vermont and grease up that shotgun," he said. "It's bad. I think we should buy as much gold as we can."

Some people stopped to vent their anger on a giant portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke propped against a wall across the street from the exchange. Artist Geoffrey Raymond handed out brown Sharpie markers, inviting people to write their thoughts on the piece, titled "The Annotated Fed."

"You should have seen this coming -- we did," read one typical comment.

"For me, it's about letting people have a voice in a situation in which they are otherwise voiceless," said Raymond, who recently did a similar portrait of Lehman Bros. Chief Executive Richard Fuld.

Joseph Lalicata, 38, the head of partnerships at a financial firm, stopped to pen the words "irrational exuberance" on the canvas.

Lalicata described the atmosphere in his office as "morbid." He hadn't slept more than three hours a night for the last week, he said, because he had been staying up to follow the overnight markets.

"I think we're already in a depression," he said. "We skipped over the recession. Soon enough, we're all going to be wearing fedoras and standing on the corner, asking for bread."

The glumness was felt up and down the street. Hot dog vendor Mohammed Abjelrahim, 23, said that in the last week he's had about half the customers as usual at his cart, positioned across the street from the exchange.

Down Broad Street, the posh Hermes store was nearly empty. A salesman handed one of the only customers a small orange bag, then asked hopefully if he could help him with anything else.

"Maybe when the market comes back," the customer said cheerlessly.

By 2:30 p.m., Gary Krasinsky, a floor clerk at the exchange, needed a break. He stepped out into the balmy afternoon to guzzle a bottle of water.

"You just hope it works itself out, somewhere, somehow," said the 44-year-old, crushing the plastic bottle flat between his hands.

Inside, trader Doreen Mogavero of Mogavero, Lee & Co. kept busy in front of two computer screens, watching the shifting numbers. She knew the world was waiting for the last hour of trading, which has been the most action-filled on the floor lately.

"It could be particularly frantic," she said.

At 3:17 p.m., traders let out a brief cheer. The market was only down 90 points.

Mogavero said she was looking forward to an after-work drink, and a much-needed weekend rest.

"People want me to say the world is coming to an end," she said, "but I'm not going to."

By 3:58 p.m., the commotion picked up. People ran across the floor, yelling into their headsets. Traders tapped their keyboards faster.

At 4 p.m., the bell rang. The Dow closed with a loss of 128 points.


Los Angeles Times Articles