Glum mood on Wall Street

October 9, 2008 4:42:28 PM PDT
The extravagance of Wall Street is proudly on display at Bobby Van's Steakhouse in lower Manhattan: The restaurant features J.P. Morgan's original bank vault, the walls are lined with antique deposit boxes, the filet mignon costs $44.95, and the macaroni and cheese side dish is made with lobster. But on Thursday at 5 p.m., it was hard to find many people willing to extol the wonders of Wall Street. The Dow Jones had just tumbled another 700 points to dip to its lowest point in five years, and the mood in the establishment was downright dejected.

Shell-shocked traders and bankers milled around empty beer bottles and mixed-drink glasses, looked back on another dreadful day and wondered how it could possibly get any worse. One Wall Streeter joked that things had gotten so bad that he might have to apply for a job as a waiter at the restaurant. A visibly drunk man in a suit rambled on about what a bad day it was as he smoked a cigarette - and everyone tried to fathom what was in store for tomorrow.

The glum mood that pervaded Bobby Van's was evident across the financial district. At a bar down the street, a trader from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange - a man in a pinstriped suit who quoted John Maynard Keynes - talked of the virtues of patience in riding out this stock market maelstrom.

"The public needs to realize it's a marathon and not a sprint, and if not, the entire world is going out of business," the trader said as he drank with a group of his stock market friends. He refused to provide his name, citing company policy that forbids talking to the media about the stock market.

Alan Valdes spent a topsy-turvy Thursday on the floor of the NYSE, watching the market take a precipitous decline as the Dow sank lower and lower below 9,000. The director of floor operations for Hallard, Lyons, summed it up this way:
"It was an ugly day, there's no ways to put it," he said. "Guys were frustrated, just fed up. ... We're in an area no one has been in since 1930."

At a coffee shop around the corner from the stock exchange, software engineer Sandeep Bhanote reflected on the grim day with a Wall Street friend. Despite another bad day, they saw no need to panic.

"Fear is the most dangerous emotion. It can really do the market a lot of harm when maybe it is not necessary to be afraid," Bhanote said. "I have a client who lived through the depression and wars and everything. And he said 'you know we survived and you will too."'

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