Despite omens, Wall St. laughs at all the fuss

March 01, 2007|By Robert Little | Robert Little,Sun reporter

NEW YORK -- The signs were everywhere, all of them bad.

A television commentator standing on Wall Street chattered on about the Nikkei index in Japan, which had plunged almost 3 percent. A stock ticker inside the deli around the corner rolled through the results of every market from London to Hong Kong, most of them startlingly negative and printed in red, like blood. The American markets, it seemed, were doomed.

Yet, as traders in colored vests and men in black trench coats disappeared inside the New York Stock Exchange yesterday to resume trading after the market's largest percentage drop since March 2003, they shrugged off the omens with a smile or a wink.

"Just watch," said a floor trader named Jimmy, as he grabbed a bag of bagels on Exchange Place and darted inside for the opening bell. "There'll be a 100-point rally in the first half-hour."

It was an 80-point rally, actually. In the first 10 minutes.

Wall Street has always reeked of optimism, from the stacks of pre- made sandwiches for sale along Broadway to the signs overhead declaring it "the financial capital of the world." And yesterday, as stock traders plowed through one of the heaviest trading days in the market's history, optimism materialized in the form of nominal gains in the nation's major stock indexes, despite the signs of panic from other parts of the world.

There's still some work to do to recapture all of the $600 billion in stock value that vanished Tuesday, but few were quibbling on Wall Street yesterday over a few hundred billion dollars.

"We got what we deserved yesterday," said an investment adviser leaning against the H&R Block office across from the exchange, as televisions inside displayed a 102-point gain in the Dow Jones industrial average. "If you quote me on that I'll probably get fired. But come on, the market can't go up like that indefinitely."

"Hey, if you can't tolerate a swing like that, what are you doing in the stock market in the first place?" asked Arthur Feldman, a 42-year-old real estate broker from Manhattan. He said he took a bath in Tuesday's market, "but it was a lukewarm bath."

The market's recovery started tenuously, rising and falling early in the day as television crews milled about outside. But by lunchtime, Feldman was laughing at all the fuss.

"Sorry, no crash today," he said.

Across Broadway, the revolving door to Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC spat out a stream of investors who had come to trade stocks, check their portfolios or just watch the day's trading transpire on television and computer screens. All of them said they had lost money the day before, and none of them much cared.

"I walked a few extra blocks to get here, if that's what you mean," said Rich Sherman, a 32-year-old investor from Staten Island, when asked if Tuesday's decline had provoked any reaction from him. "Nobody likes losing money, but I'm in for the long term, not a quick profit."

Added another investor: "I'm back to where I was in November. So what?"

The closest thing to skepticism came from an investor named Michael, who said he arrived at the brokerage early to unload some shares of the insurance company American International Group Inc., worried about volatility in the financial services industries. He wouldn't give his last name because he didn't want to advertise his wealth - and because he was a little embarrassed about how much he'd lost.

"I feel jittery about yesterday. I'm worried people are going to get out and make whatever money they can, while they can," he said. "But I feel that way a lot."

But jitters were hard to find. Once word spread that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke thought the market was "working well," and that someone at the White House considered Tuesday's sell-off an "anomaly," the market's gains had taken hold and the television cameras were mostly gone. After the market closed, traders and exchange employees burst out of the building as though they were leaving a football game - a win.

Sharon Charles, a tourist from Northern California, stood at Broad and Wall streets aiming her camera phone over the black metal fence that surrounds the exchange. A day earlier, just a few yards from that spot, she figures she lost about $2,000 from mutual funds in her retirement account.

Charles earned a small chunk of it back yesterday, but brushed off any further questions about finances to concentrate on snapping a picture of Martha Stewart stepping out of a black Chevy Suburban.

"This is such a typical New York moment," Charles said. She meant the commotion outside the exchange, though the activity inside might have qualified.

robert.little@baltsun.com

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