Watching the screens in his office Monday afternoon, Jasper R. Eanes, chief financial officer of BankAtlantic Bancorp, could only shake his head as proceeds from a planned three-million-share offering began to evaporate.
Its value fell by $2 million, $3 million, then finally $4.5 million as shares of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company slid 11%, to $13.125.
The volatility gave banking executives across the country a fresh reminder of how their industry is entwined with the global capital markets.
Mr. Eanes, for his part, bet that "the fundamentals" would work in favor of BankAtlantic's offering and forged ahead. And indeed, the shares had recouped one-third of their lost value by Wednesday's close.
But the turbulence shook up the work lives of people whose jobs in banking give them a front-row view of the markets. Five of them-a chief economist, an investor relations director, a brokerage chief, a trader, and Mr. Eanes-recounted their experiences for American Banker.
The Chief Economist
From the time the market went sour Monday afternoon until its close Tuesday, Nicholas S. Perna, chief economist of Fleet Financial Group, was a popular man. He spent 17 hours briefing Fleet's senior management, its mutual fund brokers, reporters, and bank customers.
"It has been absolutely wild," Mr. Perna said Tuesday. "The phone just hasn't stopped ringing. I go from one call to another while trying to provide information internally."
Mr. Perna was speeding down the Massachusetts Turnpike from Hartford to Boston when the Dow Jones industrial average started tumbling. "I kept hearing on the radio that it had fallen another 100 points," he said.
He did three media interviews en route, before arriving in Fleet's Boston office, where he said he was on the phone nonstop through the evening. He appeared nationally on CBS radio and gave interviews to scores of local papers.
Mr. Perna never heard from Terrence J. Murray, Fleet's chairman and chief executive. But Fleet's treasurer, Douglas L. Jacobs, called at 10 p.m. to schedule a 7:15 a.m. briefing.
It was midnight before Mr. Perna could get to bed in a Boston hotel. "It was difficult falling asleep," he said. "I wasn't worried, but this kind of stuff gets your mind going. I even woke up before the alarm went off."
Up at 5 a.m., he flipped on CNBC. By 6:30 he had scanned the Bloomberg News wire in his hotel lobby and five newspapers.
After the meeting with Mr. Jacobs, he discussed the crisis with visiting bankers and businessman from Ireland. Then Mr. Perna dashed off for an 8:15 a.m. conference call with Thomas M. O'Neill, Fleet's chief investment officer.
Mr. Perna's next stop was Portland, Maine, where he met with bankers and customers to discuss the market. He also did a conference call with more than 100 of the bank's mutual fund brokers.
"There is a certain high attached to this," Mr. Perna said. "I'm so incredibly busy that I feel like I've only been working for a half hour."
The Investor Relations Chief
SunTrust Banks doesn't operate in the volatile Asian market that triggered the worldwide selloff Monday. But that didn't stop its shares from being hammered, much to employees' and directors' consternation.
On Monday the value of SunTrust shares insiders hold through retirement and other programs fell from $20.1 billion, to $18.6 billion. The figure is based on the 14% stake they have in the Atlanta banking company's 212.3 million outstanding shares.
Colleagues "were sticking their heads in and asking me what was going on," said James C. Armstrong, investor relations chief.
SunTrust's 401(k) plan is a big buyer of the company's stock. Employees knew the market was plummeting and wondered how their nest eggs were faring.
Mr. Armstrong fielded a lot of good-natured "guff" from staffers while also reminding them there was nothing fundamentally wrong with SunTrust. He also pointed out that much of the selling was by automatic index programs that begin unloading when shares fall to a certain level.
For the most part, employees were calmed by his reassurances. "Their mentality is that of long-term holders" who sit pat during volatility, Mr. Armstrong said.
Institutional investors also rode out the storm, Mr. Armstrong said. Those who called "just wanted reassurance that nothing panicky was going on at the company."
The veteran investor relations chief-he's held the slot for 17 years- felt he handled matters well. "Maybe I spent more time looking at the market than I usually do," he said. "But the day ended up pretty calm."
The Currency Trader
For Mark Gargano, managing director of foreign exchange at First Union Capital Markets, the correction couldn't have happened on a worse day.
Mr. Gargano, who leads a group of 10 currency traders, was out of the office all day Monday at meetings. He was keeping abreast of market news when he could and making trades over the phone when he could squeeze them in.
"It was quite difficult," he said in an interview. "It was just bad timing. We picked the wrong day" to be off the trading floor.
When he got back at 5 p.m., he immediately hit the phone and didn't leave it for five hours straight, talking to his traders in an attempt to get a fix on the situation.
"People were nervous," he said. "It's not a very liquid market, it's close to the end of the year. There's a lot of volatility. It's hard to know what currencies will do because they were all going down at the same time. There were a lot of questions."
Part of the challenge for Mr. Gargano was that some of his traders have only been in the business for two or three years and Monday was their first experience with a large market downturn.
But he said the group's response was "very mature." They are continuing to trade, although he believes the market will take another drop before the notorious month of October is over.
"We want to stay involved but we're focused on the equity market. We're watching the fixed-income market, but stocks will probably make a new low before the end of the week," he said.
The Bank Brokerage Chief
J. Edward Diamond, president and chief executive officer of Dime Securities, said he worried during Monday's mayhem that the bottom could fall out of the U.S. stock market. "Of course, you always have those fears," said Mr. Diamond. "It was shocking how fast and how far it fell."
On Tuesday morning he held an emergency conference call with the brokerage's 70 financial representatives. He wanted the Dime Bancorp subsidiary to present a unified front to its customers.
Mr. Diamond said "there was quite a bit of calm," among the Dime troops during the call. The reps were confident that they had made the right recommendations during Monday's turmoil, he said.
And after tallying up Monday's order activity, it emerged that not all of Dime's customers were sellers during the free fall. "We actually saw some buying," he observed; the ratio was three sellers to one buyer. "We had more volume than we've ever seen before and our systems held up well," he said.
But despite the market's recovery since Monday, Mr. Diamond is still skeptical. "Market valuations are still high, I don't think we can sit back and say 'That's over with, now we're going to march on to 9,000 on the Dow,'" Mr. Diamond said. "That's irrational."
The Chief Financial Officer
Mr. Eanes of BankAtlantic decided to go ahead with the planned secondary stock offering Monday, even as the New York Stock Exchange halted trading.
"We still believed the fundamentals were there and the stock market would come back up," Mr. Eanes said. The $2.8 billion-asset banking company had been planning its secondary stock offering for weeks.
For a reality check, Mr. Eanes began tracking shares of Walt Disney & Co., and was satisfied to see they were being trounced as well on Monday. "That says something about the irrationality of the market fall," he said. "Very profitable, solid companies were caught up."
Mr. Eanes also said he was calmed by the tone of calls with Ryan, Beck & Co. and Tucker Anthony Inc., the offering's underwriters. They pointed out that the stock offering wouldn't officially be priced until early next week. And by then, they reckoned, share prices could be back up to pre- crash levels or higher.