NYSE prep ahead of Irene ensured Monday opening

AP News
Posted: Aug 29, 2011 5:34 PM
NYSE prep ahead of Irene ensured Monday opening

Some traders at the New York Stock Exchange said goodnight to Irene by sleeping above the trading floor so they could be there for Monday's opening bell.

Inside the New York Stock Exchange, the bell rang exactly at 9:30 a.m., allaying another kind of fear: that the storm that hit New York over the weekend might cause stock trading to be delayed.

The round of cheerful applause from the trading floor offered reassurance.

Everything was back to normal. But it wasn't by accident.

Huge efforts were made to make sure people got to work, Larry Leibowitz, the NYSE's chief operating officer, told The Associated Press. As he was speaking, Leibowitz glanced up at the board showing the Dow Jones average up 116 points in the first few minutes of trading. The Dow wound up surging 254 points to close at 11,539 Monday, largely over relief that Irene caused less damage than many had expected.

It was smooth sailing _ just a stroll from harbor waters that could have flooded Wall Street.

Leibowitz said the exchange had brought in dozens of cots so employees could sleep there, a floor above the sea of electronic screens on the floor. The overnight guests included families forced to evacuate from nearby Battery Park City.

"Some of them slept in the board room, others in a medical facility we have here, wherever we could put them," Leibowitz said.

At the circular trading desk of Mogavero Lee & Co., Inc., only one of its six floor traders was absent Monday.

"He had to stay home in Jersey because a tree fell on his house, and he has to get the hole in the roof fixed," said Doreen Mogavero, the firm's president and CEO.

Looking relieved, she assessed stock exchange staffing as she glanced across the bustling floor. "This is lighter than usual, but not because of Irene, it's because many people take vacations in late August."

In fact, Mogavero noted, a number of traders came back to work early. "It was important that the exchange operate normally, even if some people couldn't make it in."

Mogavero woke up at 3 a.m. and drove in from New Jersey, as usual. There were "no floods, no nothing."

On Sunday, she was on the phone with colleagues to organize commutes.

Taking into account the possibility of a mass transit slowdown, the NYSE contacted parking garages in the Wall Street area to warn them more spots might be needed if more people had to drive in, Leibowitz said.

NYSE officials booked as many hotel rooms as possible.

As Irene reached Manhattan that afternoon, stock exchange officials made a decision, along with the Securities and Exchange Commission: the New York Stock Exchange would open Monday morning, on time.

Insurance stocks rose sharply after it became clear the damage from the storm was less than many analysts had anticipated. Allstate Corp. rose 8.5 percent, and Chubb Corp. rose 4.6 percent.

Irene rolled through the South, spreading damage and flooding before it weakened as it approached New York. In Manhattan's Financial District, the only visible trace of Irene was debris from fallen trees, including bits of branches and ripped leaves on stairs leading to Wall Street from nearby subway stations.

Leibowitz said another precautionary decision was made Sunday.

"We asked non-essential personnel not to come in, so those working on the floor would have enough parking places," he said, adding that staff such as attorneys and accounting experts could work from home computers.

Some nearby gourmet cafes that are favorite stopping points for NYSE employees opened late Monday morning. Leibowitz pointed to a perk offered on the floor because of Irene: "We have a table with coffee and pastries, for free."



New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com/

Twitter: (at)VerenaChirps