Nerves give way to smiles Rally: The Baltimore offices of Ferris, Baker Watts were tense at the opening bell. But traders need not have worried.

Trading

October 29, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

The stock market's opening bell was 20 minutes away, and broker Mark V. Dyer sat forward in his desk chair, elbows on knees, head down.

He concentrated on a voice crackling over the squawk box on his desk. It was Rob Brown, Ferris, Baker Watts' market analyst, who was setting the stage for stock trading the day after oone of the market's worst plunges.

"The rising tide lifting all ships is over," Brown's voice hissed through the speaker, sounding far away and hollow like a World War II announcer. "Indeed, with the tide now going out, we'll find out who is wearing the bathing suits."

Dyer stood up, did a few stretches side-to-side. He wasn't worried, he said. He was excited. But he had fielded calls from anxious clients until almost 8 the night before, then woke up at 5: 30 a.m. thinking about the day and came on in to the office.

"I'm not happy about what's going on," he admitted. "But as I told my clients, this is part of the price of participating in the good times."

Traders on the floor above waited silently at terminals in the dark, warm center of the trading floor at the company's downtown Baltimore headquarters.

Six well-barbered young men sat on the Nasdaq side -- only one gray head among them -- and another five traders worked stocks listed on the New York Exchange.

At 9: 30, trader Brian J. Rudick jingled a small brass bell atop his terminal. A picture on the side of his desk read, "The End is Near." Phones lighted up, mouses clicked, trading was under way.

Orders piled up quickly. Branch offices sent them in by fax, brokers from downstairs left orders at a central window. Most were sells, but a few of the white sheets had a hasty X by the big letters "BUY."

Several of the Dow Jones industrials stocks delayed opening, waiting for buyers, and when they finally started, they fell. The Dow, the high-profile index of 30 large company stocks, was down 105 points after 20 minutes.

The trading floor, quiet as a study hall up to this point, began showing signs of stress.

"Oh, man, I need help here," said Nasdaq trader Bob Bianco, in his fifth day on the job, as a snow drift of orders piled up on the fax by his desk.

"What the hell's Phil doing?" yelled a voice across the room.

"Hey, we're all swamped," called another.

The NYSE side stayed fairly quiet, most of its business conducted over the computers. But the Nasdaq traders worked the phones, negotiating prices. And as the sell orders continued to outpace the buys, the traders grew increasingly frustrated, unable to make transactions without buyers.

"At $30!" Bob Lazurek suddenly barked to another trader. "What does he want me to do? Tell him it's not April Fool's Day."

By 10: 06, the Dow was down 174 points. The volume of trade orders at Ferris, Baker Watts was something like 10 times normal for that time of day. The fax machine ran out of paper by 10: 15. In the middle of it all, technicians kept elbowing past the traders to dive beneath their desks, laying cable for a new computer system.

As the morning wore on, Dyer, downstairs, worked the phone almost as constantly as the traders. This was unusual for a senior vice president for investments, but his line just kept lighting up as one client after another called to check on portfolios.

One man called from his million-dollar yacht en route to Florida for the winter; one woman called to say her husband and she had scraped up $2,000 to invest.

Dyer would dig their files off the table behind him, punch up some numbers on his terminal and maintain a constant patter of upbeat reassurances.

"No, no, this is the fun stuff," he said to one caller. "This is what we get paid for."

"It feels great," he said to another. "What's the line from the movie -- 'I'd rather be on the roller coaster than the merry-go-round?' "

"Hey there. Your accounts are doing fine. Absolutely."

His repeated point was two-fold: don't panic, and wait until later this week to do some serious buying. Dyer agreed with his market analyst, Rob Brown, that the market would rally on this day and then "test the lows" again later in the week. It would be a chance to get some good deals on upper-tier stocks.

"We're having a sale in the market," he told a client. "When Nordstrom is having a sale, you buy. So go ahead and buy."

"Times will get even scarier than this morning's paper, but I'm very comfortable with what you've got," he reassured another.

Back on the trading floor, Dyer's rally started shaping up by 10: 30.

The Dow nosed into the green, trailed off, then headed into a steady climb. The silent tension that marked the first hour began melting into irritable joke-making.

Lazurek bellowed out a question about a stock symbol, and two traders answered.

"Anybody know but you two guys?" he shot back by way of thanks.

"We're gonna stay after the close and go over all the symbols," said a voice across the room.

"Yeah, you guys have a lot of fun," Lazurek said. "I've got a bottle of Absolut that says I'm not here."

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