Hurricane Sandy brought wind and rain to the streets of New York City on Monday, but on Wall Street, it also brought a day of eerie, almost unsettling calm.
With U.S. stock markets closed and bond markets closing early, traders had little to trade. Banks talked to executives about whether they should delay initial public offerings planned for this week, a decision complicated by the U.S. presidential elections next week.
Although internal conference calls to discuss hurricane planning were endless, actual conferences and client meetings got lots of rain checks – or, rather, hurricane checks.
“There’s nothing to do, so I’m just relaxing,” said one New York-based equities trader at a large global investment bank, who spent most of the day in his pyjamas, staying in touch with his boss and clients via telephone and e-mail.
Steve Gerbel, who runs hedge fund Chicago Capital Management, said that, when he called a Goldman trading desk on Monday, he got to talk to employees from its Salt Lake City office for the first time.
Since markets were closed, Mr. Gerbel said he would spend most of the day dealing with paperwork that he typically put on the back burner and that his employees would do the same, or clock out early.
“I predict my office will never be cleaner than it will be today,” he said.
Hurricane Sandy is expected to be the worst weather event to hit New York City since at least 1938, when the Long Island Express, one of the strongest hurricanes in history, blew through.
The city shut down train and subway service, starting Sunday evening, followed by bridge and tunnel closures on Monday, making it difficult if not impossible for tens of thousands of employees to get to work.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s headquarters, located on the Hudson River, was closed on Monday, surrounded by sandbags. A few dozen employees considered critical to the operation were hosted at hotels, mainly in Midtown, where evacuations had not yet occurred.
Citigroup Inc. employees that had to be on a trading floor worked out of a remote location in New Jersey, because the bank’s trading floor in Tribeca is in an evacuation zone.
Morgan Stanley, which is based in Times Square, is not in an evacuation zone, but had few employees working from headquarters.
About 20,000 Morgan Stanley workers live in areas affected by the storm and more than 15,000 of those were connecting to internal networks from home or other locations. Many of its wealth management offices on the Eastern seaboard were closed, but financial advisers remained in touch with clients through e-mail and phone calls.
Bankers, traders and financial advisers had little to do that was pressing, but for operations and back-office staffers, it was a big day.
Walter Dearing, vice-president of recovery services in customer care and support at SunGard Data Systems Inc., which runs backup data centres and support for financial services firms, said his team has been working non-stop since late last week.
“For the part of the business responsible for the data centres and keeping everything flowing and running, there is a very heightened sense of urgency and absolutely every conversation is time sensitive and time critical,” he said.
But for many of Wall Street’s money makers, it was a day of checking BlackBerrys, dialling into conference calls, watching television and spending time with their families.
“I’m going to try and not drive my wife crazy as I work from home,” said Dan Fuss, vice-chairman and portfolio manager at Loomis Sayles, which oversees roughly $182-billion.