Monday, May 10, 2010

The Closing Bell

The anticipation was electric. A surge was building; the pressure was growing as the opening bell approached. Suddenly with a resounding clang the market took off like a rocket, rising more than 3% in minutes. And in short order the market regained loses incurred on Friday due to still inexplicable market glitches. Market leaders and regulators were in the process of putting measures in place to avoid such hazards in the future.

Meanwhile, across the pond, this rebound was also being driven by global confidence. The European market countries raised a trillion dollars to backstop Greece, whose economy teetered near default. Portugal, Spain and Italy also were hanging on by a thin margin, and this fund would if needed keep them above water.

Near the end of the day the Dow Jones Industrial average was up more than 4% and the mood on the floor was surreal. I know because I arrived with a team from the Mental Health Association of New York City, where I am a chairman of the board. I was joined with representatives of C.B. Richard Ellis, a powerful commercial real estate company based in New York. CBRE had made a generous donation to the MHA-NYC for its annual gala, which was being held at the NYSE that evening.

The rooms of the NYSE are all ornate, grand and large. The floor is massive, filled with cubbyholes and monitors. I saw mostly men dressed in blue trading jackets and wearing badges often on their toes poised to leap into action. The pace is intense, as traders are either on the phone, scanning terminals or viewing monitors. There is no rest here.

We crossed the floor and ascended a rear stairway up one flight and turned to our right and walked through a worn wooden door. Suddenly we emerged onto a narrow balcony overlooking the floor where scanned the traders and MHA-NYC staff members below. Here's the drill. We arrived at our position at 3:57, or three minutes to closing. One of our party of five was to ring the bell and the other was to pound the gavel. There were five of us crammed onto the small balcony, which was made smaller by the console housing buttons and the gavel.

At 3:59:20 we were instructed to start clapping, and our audience below joined in. At 3:59:45 we were instructed to press the button that rang the bell. As the clanging continued, at 4:00:00 we were instructed to pound the gavel closing the exchange. We lingered for a moment more on our perch and then descended. It was a pretty exciting day because the Dow Jones Industrial average closed up more than 400 points! And MHA-NYC not only had a wonderful and financially successful gala.

Take a look:

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