Trading floors fall silent as dealers forget speculation

Financial World
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London's giant investment banks, usually abuzz with the noise of fortunes being won and lost, have become hushed places as brokers seek news of friends, colleagues and clients in New York's devastated financial district.

London's giant investment banks, usually abuzz with the noise of fortunes being won and lost, have become hushed places as brokers seek news of friends, colleagues and clients in New York's devastated financial district.

Yesterday, the City's dealers felt faintly ashamed to be making money. European markets are still open, but after two days of heavy trading – when investors dumped shares in companies they felt would suffer in the aftermath of Tuesday's atrocities – there has now been a marked decline in activity.

"It is pretty subdued and we have been trying to keep a lid on everything," said one dealer at a US-owned bank. "There are very few people doing speculative trading at the moment, which is a good thing. I know markets are there for people to make and lose money, but there's a moral issue, too.

"Everyone in the City knows someone who was affected."

The investment banking world is a small one, and the links between London and New York are close. Many British bankers spend time in the US and will have worked with their American counterparts closely.

Andrew Hood, managing director of European equities at Lehman Brothers, said the bank had been overwhelmed with calls of support as it struggled to account for its World Trade Centre employees. By last night, it was able to say that that "substantially all" its workers were safe.

"But we have still got friends at other firms that we haven't been able to account for," he said. "And the people in our New York office have seen things no one should have to see ...We are still doing business for clients who want to trade, but our profit-and-loss account is of secondary importance."

Most of the speculative excess of the dealing rooms was absent yesterday. The hedge funds, which gamble with borrowed shares, were not trading; pension and insurance funds that lend them shares called back the stock. Investment banks were onlyspeculating for clients, not themselves. Dru Edmonstone, of Durlacher, said investor interest had dried up. "You could hear a pin drop in here, and it is the same across the City. There are tiny bits of business, but it is very quiet."

Dealing rooms will fall completely still at 11am today as the London Stock Exchange stops trading to respect the European Union's three minutes' silence. They will reflect on the frantic search for news of the past few days and, in many cases, the ghastly absence of news.

The disaster at Cantor Fitzgerald, which had three floors and 700 employees at the top of the north tower, weighed heavily. Many had family and friends killed, and the British offices of the brokerage have been deluged with offers of support.

While City employees have been waiting to hear, New York survivors have been struggling to contact worried friends. John Wakefield, who had been transferred from the London offices of his investment bank in July, escaped from the World Trade Centre complex after the second plane hit the towers. "I had left all my contact numbers in the office and my computer was in there. Overnight, I left my London secretary a message because I knew people would have been e-mailing me."

Morgan Stanley, whose private banking division had 50 floors in the twin towers, set up a central telephone number to co-ordinate calls from worried relatives and friends and to allow survivors to phone in and report news of colleagues. It has also been constantly updating its internal websites.

Investment banks have been groping for a tasteful way to reassure investors that it is "business as usual". Philip Purcell, Morgan Stanley chairman, walked that tightrope in an address to staff and clients. He said: "The US and global financial systems are highly resilient, and this firm is resilient as well. In the last two days, people in our firm, like so many in New York, have demonstrated great character and courage, even heroism.

"We are deeply grateful to all those who have risen in the face of these challenges to give the best of themselves, and we appreciate their efforts to get on with the demands of their daily lives, despite grievous challenges," he said.

London's dealing rooms will remain quiet this week, though. Britain often takes its cue from New York so the closure of the Stock Exchange on Wall Street, probably until next week, and the subdued atmosphere is likely to hang over London for some time.