Markets get a green light for trading

Tests of communication, computer systems were successful, officials say

Terrorism Strikes America

September 16, 2001|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

The New York Stock Exchange and the other major markets successfully tested their computer and communication systems yesterday and said trading will resume at 9:30 tomorrow morning.

The stock market hasn't opened since Monday; terrorists hijacked two jetliners early Tuesday and smashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, sending the buildings crumbling to the ground in thick clouds of smoke and debris.

The shuttering of the NYSE, the world's largest exchange, has been the longest since World War I.

Telephone and utility workers labored yesterday to reconnect services, but Richard A. Grasso, chairman of the NYSE, said that "our systems are all go."

The NYSE is about five blocks from the World Trade Center and suffered no damage. But a local telephone switching operation was knocked out, severing some of the communication systems used in trading.

A number of investment firms suffered damage that forced them to relocate some operations and re-establish computer links.

The building housing the American Stock Exchange was closer to the trade center than was the NYSE and sustained enough damage that the trading floor isn't usable. Its operations have been temporarily relocated to the NYSE and other regional markets.

The Nasdaq stock market, which doesn't have a trading floor but is connected through a vast computer system, also conducted a successful test of its systems.

"Everything is positive. Everything worked," said Gregor Bailar, executive vice president of operations for Nasdaq.

Firms in Baltimore also worked yesterday to make sure their systems could communicate with brokerages, money managers and clearinghouses.

"I was told [yesterday] morning it [the test] was going well," said James S. Riepe, vice chairman of T. Rowe Price Group Inc., the Baltimore-based mutual fund company. "I think it was all very positive. As long as we know the communication links are up, that is the key thing. This is really a plumbing issue, a mechanical issue, and so we needed to make sure all of those connections and all of those key components are going to work."

F. Barry Bilson, senior vice president of finance at Legg Mason Inc., the Baltimore-based asset management and brokerage firm, said employees were testing data and communication lines.

"The systems were fine," he said. "We are highly confident that the securities industry in general and Legg Mason in particular will be ready to serve our clients in an orderly and efficient manner come Monday."

Other firms, such as Baltimore-based Lombard Securities Inc., made sure their systems worked.

"We tested our systems really all during the week," said Daniel T. McHugh, Lombard's president and chief executive. "I think everybody will be OK. I think it is important they get the markets opened to show some confidence. So far as I am concerned we are ready to roll and have had no problems."

To make tomorrow's opening go smoothly, the NYSE will have about 50 private buses ready to shuttle its 3,200 workers into the financial district, Grasso said.

"We won't need them, but it is a contingency," he said.

The exchange will also pass out about 5,000 face masks to help protect workers from the swirling dust that still hangs in a haze over lower Manhattan, Grasso said.

"The perimeter of every major financial institution will be air-tight," Grasso said. "Restricted access is a small cost to pay."

The market's opening comes with great anticipation since it has been slumping, and some experts fear the attack could have enough impact to tip the economy into recession.

All eyes will be on the NYSE tomorrow when U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill rings the opening bell. "These first trading sessions, anything could happen," said Alan Ackerman, market strategist at Fahnestock & Co., a New York-based brokerage house. "History has shown that markets tend to be tentative and that many people wait and see what might happen. Prospective buyers might sit on the sidelines a bit."

But Ackerman said that the market "may surprise us."

"After many hours of downward pressure, we may see some attempt at stabilization," he said. "All bets are off if there is another attack."

McHugh said he believes the market will be "much calmer than people think it will be."

"I think people are ready to support the market," he said. "To keep the markets closed anymore would be making a negative statement. We are ready to go."

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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