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Wall Street left with skeleton crews down as blizzard bears down

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 - 06:37
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A blizzard bearing down on New York hollowed out Wall Street offices on Monday, leaving most investment banks and fund managers with skeleton staffs as many employees opted to work from home.

[NEW YORK] A blizzard bearing down on New York hollowed out Wall Street offices on Monday, leaving most investment banks and fund managers with skeleton staffs as many employees opted to work from home.

The storm, which threatens to dump up to 3 feet (90 cm) of snow on the East Coast and disrupt travel for tens of millions of people, prompted some retail banks to close branches in the region, though major exchanges said they would remain open as usual. "No one will give me a medal for making it to work after a five-hour commute," said Anurag Bhardwaj, a managing director who works with hedge funds at Barclays Capital in New York, who expected to work from home on Tuesday.

Big investment banks, which serve a broad array of clients globally that were not hit by the storm, emphasised they were open for business.

And some die-hards were looking for ways to get to the office on Tuesday in a snowbound city. "Most brokers down here have already gotten a room in the city and mostly right downtown near the financial district,"said Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.

Stock exchanges including Intercontinental Exchange Inc's New York Stock Exchange unit, Nasdaq OMX Group, and BATS Global Markets said their exchanges were expected to stay open for normal operating hours Monday and Tuesday.

The last time foul weather led to the closing of the stock markets was in October 2012 when Superstorm Sandy hit the East with flooding, punishing winds and widespread power outages.

Regulators asked the exchanges to revisit their business continuity plans following that storm to prevent further closures. NYSE and BATS have backup data centers in Chicago, while Nasdaq's backup is in Ashburn, Virginia.

Heavy snowfall has led the NYSE to adjust its hours on several occasions, but the last time the exchange was closed for an entire day due to snow was on Feb. 10, 1969 when a storm dumped 15 inches on New York.

But the kind of open outcry trading sessions that predominated in that era have been largely superseded by electronic exchanges, making it less necessary for large numbers of market makers to gather on a physical trading floor.

Many Wall Street professionals said there was no reason for them to come to work.

Jason Weisberg, a trader for Seaport Securities Corp, said his clients were not working at all. "The business I am in, we are not saving lives here and I'm not driving a snow plow. I buy and sell stocks for my customers," he said. "There are 365 days of the year of which 200-plus are trading days, I can miss a day. I'd like to think the world would spin off its axis because of that, but common sense dictates it is not going to," he added.

The US Treasury rescheduled some government debt auctions to avoid the worst of the weather, and in a separate series of decisions, more than US$1 billion of municipal bond sales were postponed including a US$1 billion general obligation debt sale from Pennsylvania and a US$12 million sale from cash-strapped Atlantic City.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association recommended the domestic bond market remain open, and said it expects markets to be open on Tuesday as well.

Retail banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup Inc, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and Wells Fargo all said they would shut some area branches early and keep them closed through Tuesday, though cash machines would remain open.

Some Chase branches on Long Island were being closed earlier because of declarations of a state of emergency, a company spokesman said.

Traders were keeping tabs on possible highway closures and disruptions to buses and trains. "We were told to go to skeletal staff before the afternoon,"said Karl Haeling, a bond trader at Landesbank Baden-Wurttemberg in New York. "Right now it's business as usual." Alex Tarhini, a portfolio manager at a New York hedge fund, said brokers he deals with were not planning to be in the office at all on Tuesday even if markets were open, and planned to work from home instead. "I've personally had meetings come to a halt," he said. "I had to move a local meeting to a Skype call today. The storm is rightfully causing stagnation in the city as people prepare and hide out inside." The Depository Trust and Clearing Corp, which ensures that US stock, bond and mutual fund trades are paid and accounted for, said it was suspending deposit, withdrawal and other services for certificate-based securities for more than 24 hours as a result of the storm. Services will close from 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday through Tuesday, the DTCC said. Most bonds and other securities today trade electronically without physical delivery of certificates.

REUTERS